1. McDonald’s All-American Simi Shittu was ranked as the the 11th overall recruit in the Class of 2018 and was the headliner of Vanderbilt’s top-15 ranked recruiting class in the country. The freshman forward has been as good as advertised thus far for the Commodores. Shittu is currently leading the team in scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots. The Ontario native is averaging 14.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.8 blocks, and 0.8 steals per game. At 6’10” and 240 pounds, Shittu is a load to handle in the paint and he also has the ability to step away and hit a mid-range jumper, however, his range usually doesn’t extend to the three-point line. Shittu will probably match up with Kentucky’s PJ Washington in a tough match up for the both of them. Washington hasn’t been playing great as of the last two games for the Cats, and Shittu probably hasn’t played against many guys in college that have the skillset that Washington does. It will be interesting to see which of the two players will take advantage of the other’s weaknesses. Shittu has been turnover prone, leading the team in turnovers, so if Kentucky can exploit carelessness with the ball, they can stop the freshman from getting in a groove early.
2. In the last two games for Kentucky, the opponent has started smaller, more athletic lineups, which is the opposite of the starting lineup for Vanderbilt. The Commodores have been starting a ton of size as of late, with only one player starting under 6’7″. Currently, their first five are 6’2″ Saben Lee, 6’7″ Joe Toye, 6’8″ Matt Ryan, 6’10” Simi Shittu, and 6’10” Yanni Wetzell, creating a height advantage at four of the five positions. The problem with this size for Vanderbilt, is that they are sacrificing athleticism that Kentucky should be able to take advantage of throughout today’s game. I think a potential match up nightmare for Vanderbilt is trying to defend Keldon Johnson with Matt Ryan. Ryan typically stays out beyond the three-point line on offense, as 90 of his 116 shots this season have been threes. Johnson has both a speed and skill advantage that should allow for him to take Ryan off the dribble whenever he pleases.
3. Head Coach Bryce Drew had the Commodores out to a hot start to the season, starting 4-0 and ready to try to contend with the top teams in the SEC. However, in a stroke of extreme bad luck during their fifth game of the year, Vanderbilt’s best player Darius Garland went down with a meniscus injury that ended his season. Vandy went on to lose that game to Kent State, and lost four of their next nine games as well, on their way to a current record of 9-5. They have a 15 point loss to now 15th in the country NC State, an 11-point loss to Kansas State, a 10-point loss to Ole Miss, and on Tuesday they lost by 19 to Georgia. Vanderbilt was a team that was built to make some noise come March, but now they’ll be struggling for an at-large bid to the big dance.
4. I mentioned star guard Darius Garland in my last point, but for those who don’t know the name, I’ll give a little insight. Garland was the second overall true point guard in the Class of 2018, behind Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans. Garland was a stud through four and a half games for the Commodores, averaging 16.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and hitting 47.8% of his three-point shots. Bryce Drew has had to completely revamp both the style of play and substitution pattern for Vandy since losing his best player, and the Commodores still haven’t recovered fully as a team. Four different players have entered the open spot in the starting lineup since Garland went down, and Drew hasn’t necessarily settled on who the full-time fifth starter will be. Kentucky’s guards should be able to take advantage of the lack of Garland in the backcourt and cause issues for Vanderbilt on both ends.
5. The kryptonite for Kentucky on defense this season has been giving up open outside shots and allowing even not good three-point shooting teams, to make them in bunches. Maybe some good news for Kentucky to start to try to remedy that is that Vanderbilt struggles from long distance on the season, but that doesn’t stop them from taking a large amount. Despite being 12th in the SEC in three point shooting percentage without Darius Garland, at 32.7%, Vanderbilt still manages to attempt the 4th most threes in the conference. For comparison, Kentucky has been nearly the opposite in both categories. The Cats are shooting well enough to be the 4th best three-point team in the conference, but are dead last in attempts.
Go Cats. Beat Commodores.