The Kentucky Wildcats are riding high after beating an NCAA Tournament-caliber Auburn team by 32 points and re-entering the Top 25 rankings this week, coming in at No. 23.
On Wednesday, the Wildcats will look to carry their momentum into their last home game of the season, against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
This will be the second matchup against Vandy this season as Kentucky played one of their better games in a 69-53 victory at Memorial Gymnasium back in January. This time around, the Commodores are playing an improved brand of basketball, winning six of their last seven games, including a win over Tennessee.
This game is important as there are SEC Tournament implications for both teams. For Kentucky, they will lock up a 3-seed with a win. Whereas for Vanderbilt, a win would allow them to keep fighting for a 5-seed.
With that being said, let’s take a closer look at the matchup.
Limit Vandy from Deep
One of the biggest reasons for Vanderbilt’s hot stretch of late is their 3-point shooting. Over their last seven games, the Commodores have made 10 or more 3s in five games.
A big reason for this is the shooting of Myles Stute and Trey Thomas, who combine for more than 4 made 3-pointers per game. In their first matchup, Kentucky did a good job and held the duo to just 1-5 shooting from deep. However, another player, Malik Dia, made a career-high four 3-pointers despite entering the game with seven made 3s on the season.
Kentucky will need to limit Stute and Thomas once again, staying on them through screening action. If another unproven shooter has a career shooting night from deep, that is something that you risk.
Carry Momentum, Keep Confidence High
While Kentucky’s turnaround has been impressive, John Calipari believes this team can only improve by “1-2%” at this point of the season. However, he has noted that there is one where they can improve, individual confidence.
Fortunately, the Wildcats are coming off a statement win where they displayed a level of confidence that had not been seen all season. Given how long it has taken to build up their confidence, the Cats can’t afford to have a letdown game in the last week of the regular season.
Therefore, Kentucky needs to show progression and prove that they consistently perform at that level. While a 32-point win can’t be expected, a 10-15 point wire-to-wire win would sustain their level of confidence going into a big-time game against Arkansas.
Enjoy and Celebrate the Seniors
With it being the last game, it is also Senior Night and will be some Wildcats' last game in Rupp Arena. On Monday, Kentucky announced that there will be six players participating in Senior Night activities: Brennan Canada, CJ Fredrick, Antonio Reeves, Jacob Toppin, Oscar Tshiebwe, and Sahvir Wheeler.
UK Athletics was sure to note that due to the extra COVID year, “all six still have eligibility for the 2023-24 season, decisions on the future will be made at a later date.” With that said, three of those players – Toppin, Tshiebwe, and Wheeler – are expected to leave at the end of the season. Whereas the others have more of a decision to make.
While none of these players played at Kentucky for four full seasons, they have all given their heart to this program in their time here. Rather than concentrating on what could happen, let’s enjoy these players for the remainder of this season and support them through what is hopefully a long run in March!
Kentucky Basketball (20-9) vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (16-13)
Time/Date: 7:00 pm ET on Wednesday, March 1st, 2023
Location: Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY
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 10-point favorite. ESPN’s matchup predictor favors the Wildcats heavily, giving them an 89% chance to win. Bart Torvik is still heavily confident in Kentucky at 80%, the same as KenPom.
Predictions: Bart Torvik picks Kentucky to win respectably, 79-70, also the same as KenPom.