Please mind your language, Kevin.
On Thursday, Kentucky will begin SEC play, doing so with an all too familiar foe. The Cats will take on Vanderbilt in Nashville, renewing a decades old rivalry (or decades long beat down, your choice). Since John Calipari took over as head coach in 2010, Vanderbilt has constantly produced some of the biggest challenges in Kentucky’s quest for conference titles. The two teams have matched up seven times since 2010 and Kentucky owns a 5-2 record during that span. However, that record doesn’t reflect how competitive most of those games were, three of Kentucky’s five victories were within six points. This speaks volumes of the job Vanderbilt coach, Kevin Stallings, has done in his time as Commodore head man. While Vanderbilt has been excellent by their standards in recent seasons, this year is a completely different story. The 6-6 Commodores enter Thursday’s contest as heavy underdogs, which is understandable when you can only muster up 33 points at home against Marist. No, this isn’t the Vanderbilt of recent years, but they do have players capable of giving Kentucky problems.
You know it’s a down year when the 103rd ranked defense (according to Kenpom.com) is the strength of a team. The Commodores don’t excel in any statistical manner, in fact they’re average in every “Four Factor” category, but they’re very balanced in how they defend. They rank 136th in effective field goal defense, 140th in turnover percentage, 143rd in defensive rebounding percentage, and 113th in free throw rate. The Commodores only find themselves inside the top-100 in one defensive category, three point defense, ranking 93rd nationally (31.4%). As a team, they certainly won’t wow you defensively, but they do have certain individual players who can cause trouble in different ways. Kedren Johnson and Kyle Fuller are the team leaders in steals, averaging 1.6 and 1.0 per game respectively. While no player averages more than one block per game, Rod Odom and Josh Henderson rank 443rd and 317th nationally in block percentage, respectively swatting 3.1% (.8 per game), and 4.0% (.7 per game) of opponent two point attempts.
While the Commodore defense is barely above the D-1 average, their offense is struggling to find any form of effectiveness. At the moment, they rank 207th nationally in offensive efficiency and are only doing so with three point shooting, sinking 35.5% of attempts (94th nationally). Unfortunately for Stallings’ squad, that’s the only category offensively in which they excel. They rank 184th in turnover percentage, 288th in offensive rebounding percentage, and 226th in free throw rate. Also, if you think Kentucky is a poor free throw shooting team, wait until you behold the train wreck that is Vanderbilt at the charity stripe. The Commodores rank 345th nationally in free throw percentage, shooting only 57.9%. So they’re certainly not going to hurt your from the foul line. When it comes to individuals in their offense, the outlook isn’t much brighter. Vanderbilt only has one real weapon in 6’4” Sophomore guard, Kedren Johnson. Expect to hear his name often on Thursday, he leads the Commodores in three point shooting, two point shooting, assists, fouls drawn, and possessions used. Outside of Johnson, Kyle Fuller is Vanderbilt’s only other offensive threat, he averages 11.9 points and 2.6 assists per game.
This Vanderbilt team isn’t the same one that’s challenged Kentucky in recent seasons and the computer ratings show it. According to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, Kentucky is a 12-point favorite for Thursday’s contest. Jeff Sagarin’s ratings see it similarly as Kentucky is favored by nine. Regardless of which computer rating you find to be more accurate, Kentucky is the unanimous favorite. It’s difficult to envision a scenario where Vanderbilt can come out victorious, their defense is only slightly above average and their offense, to put it kindly, is atrocious. Pair that with Kentucky’s 3rd rated defense and 25th most efficient offense and you have a recipe for a mismatch.
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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