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 second on the team in scoring, first in rebounding, and first in blocked shots. The Ontario native is averaging 13.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.6 blocks, and 0.7 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 as he did in the first match up, as well as some time matched up with Reid Travis. Washington and Travis are fresh off monster performances against Kansas on Saturday. Shittu struggled against UK in the first match up, as most of the Commodores did, finishing with 8 points on 4 of 10 shooting, 5 rebounds, and 3 turnovers.
2. In the last game for Kentucky, Kansas started a smaller, more athletic lineup, 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, 6’6″ Aaron Nesmith, 6’8″ Matthew Moyer, 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 tonight’s game. Vandy used their size in the last match up to play an extended zone and force Kentucky to only be able to throw perimeter passes. If you remember watching the first game between the two teams, it was incredibly slow-paced and low scoring. The Commodores cannot keep up with Kentucky in a fast-paced game so look for them to try to slow it down whenever possible.
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 record of 9-5 at the time of the first Kentucky game. Unfortunately for Commodore fans, Vandy has lost four straight since losing to Kentucky and their current record sits at 9-10 on the season. Their last win was back on New Year’s Eve over UNC-Asheville, so the Commodores have an 0-6 SEC record. Given that the Cats have been pumped for games against three straight ranked teams, there is worry for a let down this week during two road games. The Cats need to come out quick and stomp away any early Memorial Magic down in Nashville.
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. Multiple 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. The continued emergence of Ashton Hagans since the the last Vanderbilt match up could be a key to Kentucky’s victory tonight.
5. The kryptonite for Kentucky on defense earlier this season has been giving up open outside shots and allowing even not good three-point shooting teams, to make them in bunches. In the last game against Vanderbilt, the Commodores hit a bunch of threes early, but missed a ton in the second half to finish 7 of 25 from deep. Despite being 11th 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 7th best three-point team in the conference, but are dead last at 14th in attempts. Kentucky’s defense has improved in leaps and bounds in the last few weeks, so it will be interesting to see if Vanderbilt can find ways to score throughout tonight’s game.
Go Cats. Beat Commodores.