I’m pretty excited about this afternoon. After transferring to Vanderbilt this fall, one of the things I’ve been looking forward to the most is Kentucky’s annual trip to Memorial Gymnasium. Growing up a Cats fan, I always hated when UK had to play at Vanderbilt. The elevated court, the baffling location of the benches, and the general awfulness of Memorial’s interior have always been particularly challenging for the Wildcats. One of the low points of my young fanhood was watching Kentucky get shellacked by 41 points at Vanderbilt during Billy Gillispie’s first season. However, this afternoon’s game should not be like the others in the history of the rivalry. Kentucky has no business losing this one.
The buzz around campus regarding today’s contest has been exactly what you would expect from a school that’s known for academics; I haven’t heard a single conversation about it. With one of the biggest games of the season approaching, the latest edition of our student newspaper only mentions Kentucky once – in a power ranking of the SEC football teams. If I weren’t a UK fan, you would have had trouble convincing me that basketball was being played on campus today – let alone a nationally televised game against one of the most talented teams in the country.
This apathy among the students will combine with another factor to make today’s game an easier-than-usual contest for Kentucky; Vanderbilt’s roster is completely depleted. You probably know this by now, but the depth of the issue is worth revisiting. Before the season, our leading scorer Kedren Johnson was dismissed from the team for rules violations. Next, our leading rebounder Kevin Bright signed a contract to play professional basketball in Germany. Numbers were such an issue in October, that the coaching staff had to hold open tryouts in an attempt to fill the roster. In December, our starting center Josh Henderson suffered a season-ending ACL tear. And just this week, our leading scorer Eric McLellan was dismissed from the team for rules violations. This Vandy squad is playing with a severely limited roster, which should make this afternoon’s game in Memorial less challenging than in past years.
Of course, anything can happen on the road, and this year’s young team could very well struggle in its first conference away game. However, I will be really disappointed if Kentucky plays poorly today. With the lack of enthusiasm among my fellow students and Vanderbilt’s thin roster, I expect Kentucky to win this one pretty handily. I’ll be in the student section with my replica of Memorial, hoping to win that $2300 test prep course.