Everything you need to know about Kentucky vs Vanderbilt
Who: #18 Kentucky 11-3 (1-1) vs Vanderbilt 9-5 (0-2)
Where: Rupp Arena
When: 8:30 Saturday night
Television: SEC Network
About the Commodores: After reeling in the best recruiting class in school history, this was supposed to be a special season for Vanderbilt. That all got derailed when star freshman point guard Darius Garland was lost for the season due to an injury, just five games into the year. He was their leading scorer and many thought he was the best point guard in the country. He will likely never play another game for Vandy because he will almost certainly enter the draft after the season. They can still be a solid team but there is no one on their roster that can fill the hole left by Garland. Their top scorer is five-star freshman big man Simi Shittu who averages 15 points and 8 rebounds a game. At 6’10 and 240 pounds he is a force inside the paint. Keeping him off the glass will be a key for Kentucky. Reid Travis has been bothered when he faces length and athleticism this year, so it could be a tough match-up for him. Sophomore Saben Lee is now the teams primary point guard and he has been very solid this year. He averages 12 points and 3.7 assists per game as a slashing guard that likes to get to the free throw line. He has shot the ball very poorly from the 3-point line this season so forcing him to take long jump shots would be wise. Joe Toye is a 6’7 swing man who does a little bit of everything for the Commodores. The senior averages over 10 points a game and is a threat from beyond the arc. Matt Ryan is a 6’8 transfer from Notre Dame that has a reputation as an elite shooter. He averages 10 points a game as a stretch 4 and is making 38% from the 3-point line. Aaron Nesmith is another member of the big recruiting class hauled in by Bryce Drew. He is a 6’6 wing that averages 8 points a game and is capable of getting hot beyond the arc. Outside of Shittu they have very little in terms of scoring the ball inside. If he gets in foul trouble it will be a big problem for Vandy. Defending the 3-point shot will be extremely important for Kentucky because the Commodores can get hot from deep. They have more talent and are a better team than Texas A&M so the Cats need to take them serious.
What does this game mean for Kentucky: The Cats looked very good in stretches against A&M on Tuesday night, but at times they struggled quite a bit. Against Vanderbilt it would be nice to see them play well for 30-35 minutes instead of doing it for just 20-25 minutes. A loss in Rupp to a very average Vanderbilt team would really hurt the Cats NCAA tournament resume. A win would help them build up some confidence before heading on the road in their next two games. The main questions that I have going into this game are the following. How will Reid Travis, PJ Washington and Keldon Johnson bounce back after down games against A&M? Will Ashton Hagans continue his ascension to becoming the top point guard in the SEC? Can Tyler Herro improve his season 3-point percentage for a 6th straight game? Will Nick Richards and/or EJ Montgomery begin to establish their role a bit more? Can the team avoid another slow start? Will Kentucky get a lead and then stretch it out of reach, instead of letting Vandy hang around?
What will happen: I have a feeling that Kentucky will come out more focused and ready to play on Saturday night. I will be somewhat surprised if they dig themselves an early hole once again but you just never know with a young team. The Cats should have a very big advantage on the backboards and I expect them to exploit that in this game. Shittu should be able to defend either PJ or Reid fairly well but whoever he is not guarding should have a big night. I am assuming that the Cats size advantage in the paint will push Vandy to play some zone. That will make it very important for Kentucky to make some shots from deep. This team is going to have a big shooting night sooner or later and this would be a great opportunity for it. As for the outcome of the game, I expect Vandy to put up a fight but be overcome by the Cats depth. It will probably be a game that stays within 5-10 points either way for most of the contest. In the end Kentucky will pull away with an 81-68 win.