I think Matthew said it best as he began his recap of Kentucky’s win over Florida on Saturday,
“After games on the road, I spend my 500 words lamenting the lack of toughness displayed, the missed opportunities and our collapse down the stretch leading to a close loss. After home games, I talk about how well we hustled, how our shots fell and how someone really stepped up and played huge on the way to cruising to an easy win.”
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There’s no denying that this version of the Kentucky Wildcats resemble the stylings of Jekyll and Hide. At home, they are aggresive and confident. On the road, they are passive and soft. At home, they win. On the road, they lose.
Well, just as they got a chance at home to redeem a road loss on Saturday, they get to do the same on Tuesday. This time against the Vanderbilt Commodores. The same Commodores that currently occupy the 2-seed in the SEC East, which comes gift-wrapped with a first round bye in the SEC Tournament.
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The story last time out against Vandy was Kentucky’s usual inability to close out games on the road and John Jenkins. After getting his stuff served last year by John Wall, Jenkins went 6-10 from the three point line en route to a career high 32 points. His 32 combined with 26 points from Vandy’s big men ultimately proved to be too much for the ‘Cats.
This is a good Vanderbilt team and they are led by the aforementioned John Jenkins (6-4, 215). The sophomore leads the ‘Dores with 19.5 points-per-game and his 84 made threes are also a team-high. The kid can strait shoot it from deep. Last year he connected on 72 threes, while shooting 48-percent. This year his percentage is down a bit at 41-percent.
Because of his ability to strait shoot it, opponents key in and play up on him. When that is the case he has proven that he has the ability to get the ball into the lane and convert at the rim. He is also effective at getting to the line and when he gets there it’s automatic as he is shooting 89-percent from the charity stripe.
Their defensive stopper and second best scorer is junior Jeffery Taylor (6-7, 225). A year ago, Taylor was a good scorer without any real perimeter game. This season that has changed. His average is up a bit to 14.5 points-per-game, but his improvement from beyond the arc is somewhat meteoric. Last year, he made one three. One. This season he has knocked down 36, while shooting 38-percent.
He is also agressive on the glass. He is third on the team with 5.5 rebounds and is exceptionally good at picking up rebounds off the offensive glass.
At six foot seven, he is long and quick, which gives him the ability to guard many positions. The kid can guard. He is very similar to Kentucky’s Deandre Liggins in his ability and effort to lock down the opposing team’s best player.
Underneath the basket, the ‘Dores rely on junior Festus Ezeli (6-11, 255). Ezeli is third on the team in scoring with 12.4 points and is shooting 56-percent from the floor. He is a 56-percent career shooter. Needless to say, the majority of his shot attempts come at the rim.
Ezeli is second on the team in rebounding with 6.1 per game and nearly half of his boards come on the offensive end. Junior Lance Goulbourne (6-8, 225) leads Vandy in rebounding with 7.1, while scoring 6.9 points. Ezeli is an effective shot blocker, with 2.6 per game, but in his last four games he has been doing his best Jarvis Varnardo impersonation. He had seven blocks at Georgia. Five at Auburn. Four versus Tennessee. And six on Saturday at LSU. That is 22 blocks in four games. Crazy numbers
I know this is a broken record, but just like everyone else in the country, look for Vandy to give Ezeli and Goulbourne the ball on the block in an attempt to get easy buckets and to get Kentucky’s front court guys in foul trouble.
But, like Kentucky, Vanderbilt lacks depth in the frontcourt. If Kentucky can turn the tables and get Ezeli in foul trouble, it will definitely increase their chances. In Tennessee’s comeback win over the Commodores, one of the key factors was their ability to foul out Ezeli late in the contest. With him out of the game, Kevin Stallings does not have anyone else to go to who can score in the post.
Their floor general is junior Brad Tinsley (6-3, 210). He is a decent scorer and another threat from deep, but it is his job to get Vandy into their offense and to deliver the basketball to Jenkins, Taylor and others in the right spots. For Jenkins that means the perimeter. For Taylor that means pretty much anywhere on the court. For Elezi that means on the low block.
Kentucky enters this game as the highest scoring team in the SEC, with 77.6 points-per-game. The Commodores are second with 77.1. Vandy leads the league in three-pointers made with 229. UK is third with 213, but the Wildcats lead the league in percentage, making 40-percent of the three-point attempts. The Dores shoot 39-percent.
Kentucky has struggled defending the three at times this season. They have to get out and put a hand in the face of Jenkins, Taylor, Tinsley and even guys like Steve Tchiengang, who unexpectedly went 4-for-5 from deep against the Cats last time out.
This team can score it and they can shoot it, so this should be a fun one to watch. Two explosive offenses going at it. To win, the ‘Cats are going to have to get production from guys other than the freshman. When Darius Miller and Deandre Liggins provide that fourth and fifth scoring option, the ‘Cats look that much better.
And in their last two home games, it appears that Darius Miller has finally came to the realization that he is 6’7″ and really good at basketball. I like UK’s chances if Miller puts up another 20-spot.
I also like Kentucky’s chances if they can “D” up. You have to crowd Jenkins and blanket him everywhere he goes. He is great scorer, but at times he gets frustrated when he is defended well, and that frustration leads to him not working hard enough to get around screens.
Look for the Wildcats to extend their half court defense and force the Commodores to penetrate and deliver the ball into the post. Vandy is two games removed from a 60-51 loss to Tennessee at home. In that game, the Volunteers’ perimeter defense caused them all kinds of problems, as Vandy shot just 3-for-16 from deep.
If you limit their effectiveness from beyond the perimeter, your chances of winning increase exponentially.
The game’s at Rupp, so the ‘Cats win.
Kentucky 84, Vandy 79