Jarred Vanderbilt and James “Beetle” Bolden are not the stars of tonight’s primetime showdown between Kentucky and West Virginia in Morgantown, but each plays a role that is not easily replicated by their teammates.
Kentucky’s greatest weakness this season has been their inability to take care of the ball in pressure situations. In five losses, the Cats average 16 turnovers. The two road losses at Tennessee and South Carolina fit the blueprint for what West Virginia wants to do to UK, but West Virginia wants to be more physical and apply pressure for 94 feet.
As John Calipari noted yesterday, it takes an entire team to beat the press. One man cannot do it all by himself, but one man can make it exponentially more difficult for West Virginia to press. That man is Jarred Vanderbilt.
Not only does the 6’9 Vanderbilt have a 7’1 wingspan that can make passes around and over top of traps, he is UK’s best passer. It’s undeniable. His ball-handling isn’t bad either. He is the perfect person to be Kentucky’s outlet in the middle of the floor, the place where presses go to die. If Vanderbilt can contribute significant minutes, it should mitigate the pressure West Virginia’s press will put on the rest of the team.
On the other end of the floor, Kentucky can not let a Kentucky kid kill them. It’s not just because of home state pride. Sophomore guard Beetle Bolden from Holmes High School in Covington, Kentucky is the Mountaineers’ best three-point shooter. Bolden is making 42 percent of his three-point attempts, the only Mountaineer shooting better than 40 percent from behind the three-point line.
West Virginia does a lot of things well. Three-point shooting is not one of them. At 33.1 percent, they are ranked 254th out of 351 Division I basketball teams.
They are inconsistent, but can get on hot streaks. If that happens, WVU Coliseum will be rocking. To ensure the Mountaineers don’t get too much momentum, they must contain Bolden before he gets started. If not, it could be a long night for Kentucky in Morgantown.