The Kentucky Wildcats will suit up for their 20th game of the season on Tuesday night with the wind in their sails.
After suffering an inexplicable home loss to South Carolina, the Cats have strung together three-straight conference wins and are starting to show signs of promise.
Up next are the 10-9 Vanderbilt Commodores, who’ve shown that they can play with just about anyone this year and will be confident in their ability to send the Cats back to Lexington with a loss.
Kentucky will be tasked with overcoming the dreaded 9:00 pm ET weeknight tip-off on the road. The game will be televised on the SEC Network and will ideally produce fewer replay reviews than we saw on Saturday.
The home crowd definitely played a role in helping UK secure a hard-earned 76-67 win against Texas A&M over the weekend. John Calipari and his 13-6 Cats won’t have the advantage that Rupp Arena brings Tuesday night, but you can always expect a lot of blue in Nashville.
On January 14th, Vandy had an impressive win over the Arkansas Razorbacks, pouring in 97 points in regulation. They followed that game up by losing to #4 Alabama by just a dozen points, far more competitive than UK’s effort against the Crimson Tide.
Here is what you need to watch for when Kentucky faces Vanderbilt.
Keep Feeding Oscar
After averaging 22 points and 20.2 rebounds per game last week, there is potential for another monster game when the Cats face the Dores.
Vanderbilt is now without its best player in 7-foot senior center Liam Robbins, who is out with a bad ankle sprain that’s expected to sideline him for several more weeks. Robbins leads the team in points (13.2), rebounded (5.9), and blocks per game (2.9). He’s missed the team’s last two contests, the 78-66 home loss to Alabama and an 85-82 road win over Georgia.
Vanderbilt is also without backup center Lee Dort, a 6-foot-10 big man with the length that can bother Oscar Tshiebwe in the post. With no Robbins or Dort, the potential is there for Tshiebwe to have another big game.
Continue on the quest for continuity
This lineup. That lineup. Him at the three. Him at the four. Don’t play player A and player B together.
At this point in the season, we’ve heard it all, but the bottom line is this will be the 20th game of UK’s season, and it’s time for John Calipari to define roles.
Kentucky has shown signs of improvement offensively in comparison to just a few weeks ago. A big part of that has been Kentucky’s death lineup of Cason Wallace, CJ Fredrick, Antonio Reeves, Jacob Toppin, and Oscar Tshiebwe. According to basketball analytics guru Evan Miyakawa, that group is the best five-man lineup in college basketball.
However, five men a roster does not make. Kentucky still needs to continue establishing roles for guys like Sahvir Wheeler, Chris Livingston and Lance Ware heading into the bulk of the SEC schedule.
Results from long range
Many were excited to see the Cats hoist up 32 three-pointer attempts on Saturday, ultimately propelling them to a gritty win.
11 makes on 32 attempts isn’t the worst-case scenario for this team, but it also left much to be desired, especially when looking at CJ Fredrick’s performance.
After making an early three and jawing at the A&M bench, Fredrick would go cold, missing shot after shot and finishing just 2/10 from deep. Kentucky fans have to keep the faith that he’ll knock down those open looks with regularity at some point.
On the flip side, Antonio Reeves caught fire during various segments of the game and ended with five triples all by himself.
Chris Livingston was another bright spot from behind the arc, making both of his three-point attempts.
Consistent perimeter play from the entire backcourt and making open shots will be a simple but important key to this game.
It finally feels like this team has all the momentum in its favor both on and off the court.
A good showing on the road in a wacky arena would be a great way to keep this team chemistry that’s been slowly taking form. This team laughing and smiling together may be the best thing to keep track of over the next few games.
After all, multiple players admitted the team wasn’t having fun during their rough start to the season, but the switch has been completely flipped there over the last three games.
Part of that has been due to John Calipari finding ways for the team to bond more.
Keep up the positivity!
Kentucky Basketball (13-6) vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (10-9)
Time/Date: 9:00 pm ET on Tuesday, January 24th, 2023
Location: Memorial Gymnasium Nashville, Tennessee
TV Channel: SEC Network
Online Stream: WatchESPN, ESPN+, SEC Network+ or ESPN app
Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).
Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has Kentucky as a 5-point favorite. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives the Wildcats a 65.2% chance to win. Bart Torvik has it at 42%, while KenPom is at 56%.
Predictions: TeamRankings has the Cats winning 74-71. Bart Torvik picks the Dores to succeed in a nail-biter, 72-71, while KenPom is going with a 73-71 victory, Kentucky!