Jarred Vanderbilt is a game-changer for the Kentucky Wildcats.
In Kentucky’s last three wins, three of its best performances all season, Vanderbilt was a major factor inside for the Cats, which is why he earned his first SEC Freshman of the Week honor earlier today.
In those past three games, Vanderbilt has 33 points and 33 rebounds, an average of 11 and 11 in each of the wins. His best performance was in the victory over Missouri this past weekend when he grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds and blocked a career-high three shots in a career-high 27 minutes of play.
The emergence of Vanderbilt has meant less playing time for Nick Richards, and even less for Sacha Killeya-Jones. With all due respect to those two big men, I don’t know if they’ve combined for 15 rebounds in many games, if any, which is why Vanderbilt is seeing more opportunities, despite being a little undersized and out of his natural position when he plays inside.
It seems crazy after where Vanderbilt was not so long ago, but he is rebounding at an insane rate with numbers we’ve never seen at Kentucky. He gets a rebound every 2.1 minutes he is in the game, a ratio that cannot be matched in the program’s history. No Wildcat rebounded at a better rate than Vanderbilt, going all the way back to when they began recording the stats in the early 1960s. Of all the greats we’ve seen over the years, he is rebounding harder than all of them.
Here’s another crazy stat for you: Vanderbilt’s offensive rebounding percentage is 23.1. That means he rebounds 23.1 percent of his team’s missed shots. So of every five missed Kentucky field goal attempts, Vanderbilt grabs at least one of them to keep the possession alive. Wanna go a little further? It’s the highest offensive rebounding percentage recorded in the Sports Reference database, which begins with the 2009-10 season. Not just the highest at Kentucky; the highest in all of college basketball, over nine years.
Vanderbilt’s play has earned him many comparisons to NBA great Dennis Rodman, who also dominated the glass against bigger competition. John Calipari even said so, too. After Kentucky’s recent win over Alabama to spark the three-game streak, Calipari told reporters, “I’ll tell you who I’ll compare him to: Dennis Rodman. That’s who he is. How about this, be Dennis Rodman. He did all right. He can guard every position. He rebounds offensively, defensively. He can pass. He’s skilled. Made his free throws.”
What’s equally exciting about Vanderbilt’s rebounding prowess is his ability to then turn and start the fast break. Instead of looking to get the ball into a guard’s hands, Vanderbilt can take it himself as soon as his feet hit the floor, and he has proven he may be the team’s best passer in open space. It makes for a nasty combination of skills and it will lead to many easy baskets off missed shots, especially when UK’s halfcourt offense is slacking and they’re trying to push the tempo. Not many teams have that kind of weapon.
With all that said, it’s pretty easy to realize what an important addition Vanderbilt has been to Kentucky, and the team is getting better as he is getting more acquainted and caught up with the game. If he can continue to do exactly what he’s done over the last three games, Kentucky may have just what it needs to scare some people in March. The team will of course need its other pieces to do their part, but what Vanderbilt brings to the table is so unique and so valuable, and he’s only getting better by the game. He’s a game-changer and hopefully a difference-maker in what the Cats will do in a couple of weeks.