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Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt viewing info, what to watch for, and predictions

Kentucky will look to end a two-game skid vs. Vanderbilt.

Wildcat Mascot Logo Cheer Dylan Ballard - A Sea Of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats are entering a big week, and that’s putting it lightly.

After losing back-to-back games at home to Tennessee and Florida, at Rupp for just the eighth time since opening in 1976, the Cats are hoping to have a get-right game against the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Vanderbilt did beat Kentucky twice last season, including the first round of the SEC Tournament. However, they lost several key pieces and are much worse this season. Of their six wins, just two have come against teams ranked in the top 300 of the NET.

It is February, and for Kentucky, this needs to be a game with little doubt, where they get out early and never look back. Will that happen?

Here’s what to watch for in Round 1 of Cats vs. Dores.

Ball Screen and Driving Defense

Vanderbilt is one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country, 340th in fact. That said, a lot of their scoring comes off ball-screen offense and drives, highlighted by guards Ezra Manjon and Tyrin Lawrence, who really hurt the Cats last season.

Manjon is Vanderbilt’s leading scorer, but when he drives, he is just as dangerous as a passer and will look to take advantage when the defense is over-helping.

Of course, ball-screen defense and staying in front of a defender have been two of Kentucky’s biggest defensive weaknesses, among a plethora of them. Given just how bad of a shooting team Vanderbilt has been, Kentucky should feel confident in giving space to prevent penetration.

Ball-screen defense is all about knowing your personnel and communication.

Find the Fight

Vanderbilt’s offense last season was their calling card, as they were close to an NCAA Tournament birth. This season, it’s far from it. Ranked 30th in offensive efficiency last season, the Commodores are 233rd this season, by far the worst of the SEC.

That said, Kentucky’s defense this season has been far from their calling card. Giving up 90+ in three straight home games, there is much to be desired. If the Wildcats want to put themselves back into the Final Four contender conversation, they have to show improvement on that side of the ball, and that starts with playing well against a Vandy team currently among the worst offenses in Power Five basketball.

After the Tennessee loss, sophomore Adou Thiero was asked about the Wildcats’ defensive struggles. Putting it bluntly, Kentucky has to find the fight to win on defense.

“We just got to find the fight in ourselves and stop letting teams come in and do whatever they want.”

The Wildcats have a good opportunity to do so against an offensively deficient Vanderbilt team that averages just 66 points per game. If they give up more than that, it will lead to more worry.

Dominate the Boards

While Kentucky’s defense has been the biggest area of concern, it’s not the only one. Rob Dillingham cited rebounding as an area the team needs to grow more consistent at, himself included.

“I feel like we didn’t fight as hard as we could,” Dillingham said. “Not boxing out, letting them get second chance points, not rebounding the ball. It’s the little things. Either we want it or not.”

Vanderbilt has not rebounded well all season and, on paper, should not have the size to compete with Kentucky on the boards. The guys playing the bulk of the minutes at the 3 and 4 spots for Vandy are 6-foot-6 Evan Taylor, 6-foot-8 Ven-Allen Lubin, 6-foot-8 JaQualon Roberts, and 6-foot-6 Malik Presley. Kentucky’s 7-footers need to dominate this game.

If Kentucky truly wants it, they will win the rebounding battle handily.

Opposing Players to Watch

G Ezra Manjon 6-0, 170 lbs

  • 14.7 PPG (16th in SEC)
  • 3.4 APG (14th in SEC)

G Tyrin Lawrence 6-4, 200 lbs

  • 14.2 PPG (18th in SEC)
  • 5.4 RPG

Kentucky Basketball vs. Vanderbilt Commodores

Time: 8:30 PM EST

Date: February 6th, 2024

Location: Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee

TV Channel: SEC Network

Online Stream: WatchESPN and the ESPN app.

Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the radio call on the UK Sports Radio Network.

Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).

Rosters: UK | VU

Stats to Know: UK | VU

KenPom: UK | VU

Team Sheet: UK | VU

Odds: No DraftKings spread just yet, so check back Monday evening. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives the Cats an 87.2% chance of victory. EvanMiya is at 83.2%, while BartTorvik is at 83%. DRatings is at 84.8%, and KenPom sits at 84%.

Predictions: Bart Torvik and Haslametrics have the Cats winning 82-71. EvanMiya is going with an 80-70 win for the road team. KenPom projects an 82-72 victory for Kentucky.

How do you see this one playing out? Sound off in the comments section!