Saturday night in Morgantown, we saw our young Wildcats take a jump in the right direction with the huge win after one of the best comebacks in program history. Tonight’s match up against the Vanderbilt Commodores has the recipe for a stereotypical hangover game. Coming off a big win plus an upcoming game against a far inferior team would lead to a lot of team’s thinking ahead or getting overly confident. Coach Cal mentioned yesterday that the coaching staff has been on the players about the potential for a let down, so we’ll see how the Cats respond. I’m sure Rupp Arena will be plenty loud to welcome the squad back.
Since losing to Kentucky in the first match up, the Commodores have gone 2-2 with wins over LSU and TCU to bring their overall record to 8-13 on the season. Despite the loss of two games, the biggest loss for the Commodores was the loss of senior guard Matthew Fisher-Davis for the season to a shoulder injury.
Let’s take a look at the probable starting lineup for Vanderbilt without Fisher-Davis.
#11 Jeff Roberson, Senior Forward, 6’6″
Jeff Roberson is now a four year starter for the Vanderbilt Commodores. He was the team’s leading rebounder last season, despite the presence of 7-footer Luke Kornet in the lineup. Roberson has been named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll in two out of his first three years.
The senior is the leading scorer for this Vanderbilt squad, at 15.6 points, and leading rebounder as well, at 7.0 rebounds per game. He can score from both inside and outside, and his shooting touch is the best its been his entire collegiate career. He’s shooting 38.7% from three-point land and 86.1% from the free throw line.
The Commodores lack a lot of size on their roster, and in this projected starting line up, Roberson is the second tallest player. At 6’6″ and 220 pounds, he will be at a real size disadvantage in his match up with Kentucky’s PJ Washington. Washington has the length of a real power forward and outweighs Roberson by just under 20 pounds. PJ’s streak of good games as of late means that he should be able to play some bully-ball in the paint with Roberson, but defending Roberson on the perimeter should be a challenge, as he had 20 points and 7 rebounds against the Cats last game.
#13 Riley LaChance, Senior Guard, 6’2″
Riley LaChance is in the midst of his 47th season at Vanderbilt…or at least it feels like it. The senior has been a starter since stepping on campus at Vanderbilt. His freshman season was actually his best, as far as averages go, and he was named to the 2014-15 SEC All-Freshman Team. He missed three crucial free throws down the stretch in the last match up against the Wildcats, but finished with 6 points and 4 assists.
The third senior in the starting lineup, LaChance is also the third dynamite outside shooter in the starting lineup. LaChance shoots 42.7% from the outside and nearly 83.3% from the free throw line. He’s averaging 11.3 points, 2.8 assists, and 2.7 rebounds per contest on the season. LaChance played the point guard position last year, but has made the move to the two-guard position for a lot of this season.
LaChance starting at the two -guard position would mean he would match up with Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo, but if he starts at the point, he’ll be defended by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. If Diallo is matched up with LaChance, look for Kentucky to try to feed Diallo for scores, similar to the second half against West Virginia in the lane.
#0 Saben Lee, Freshman Guard, 6’2″
Saben Lee has been starting opposite Riley LaChance in the backcourt and is setting up to be a big contributor for the future for Bryce Drew. Lee was a three-star recruit out of Corona Del Sol High School in Arizona. He chose the Commodores over Louisville, Stanford, Florida State, and Nebraska.
Lee hasn’t been a starter all season, but he is playing over 25 minutes per game as a freshman. He’s giving Coach Drew 10.5 points, a team-leading 3.3 assists, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game. He’s not a great outside shooter, only hitting 26.3% of his threes, but can definitely score going to the rim. He finished with 12 points, 3 assists, and 3 rebounds against the Cats a few weeks back.
The freshman starting at the point guard position means he’ll most likely match up with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Gilgeous-Alexander roasted Lee for the majority of the last match up, racking up 22 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds in 39 minutes, as Quade Green sat out injured. With Green back, look for Kentucky to continue to take advantage of this match up.
#12 Djery Baptiste, Sophomore Center, 6’10”
Djery Baptiste was originally a four-star prospect out of Plano, Texas. He redshirted his first year in Nashville and played less than 8 minutes per contest last season. Born in Haiti, Baptiste speaks four different languages and actually hopes to be a diplomat for his native country after his basketball career.
The redshirt sophomore is the resident big man in the starting lineup for a lot of this season for Bryce Drew. He’s currently contributing 4.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, and a team leading 1.2 blocks per game. He’s a blue collar type player and is a strong presence in the paint. He hits 71.4% of his free throws.
At 6’10” and 235 pounds, Baptiste is a solid sized big man to match up with Kentucky’s starting center Nick Richards. Last game against the Cats, Baptiste had 2 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks, while Kentucky’s Nick Richards didn’t give the Cats much of anything, finishing with 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 12 minutes.
#1 Payton Willis, Sophomore Guard, 6’4″
Payton Willis has been the player starting and taking the minutes that were left open with Matthew Fisher-Davis went down to injury. Willis started 12 of the 35 games he played last season as a freshman, and is working to earn playing time before Bryce Drew’s big recruiting class comes in next season.
A third guard in the starting lineup for the Commodores, Willis brings another outside threat. The sophomore is currently averaging 4.7 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.4 assists. He’s currently hitting nearly 35% of his threes on the season, but the free throw line has been a struggle at 59.3% on the year. He scored 8 points, pulled down 3 rebounds, and had 2 steals in Vandy’s loss to Kentucky earlier this year.
Willis, despite being just 6’4″ and 182 pounds, will be stuck playing the small forward role against the Wildcats tonight. Not good news for Willis is that Kevin Knox mans that position for Kentucky and he’s coming off the best performance of his college career. After Knox scored 17 last time the Cats took on the Commodores, look for Kentucky to continue to exploit the match up nightmare.
Go Cats. Beat Commodores.