This morning we discovered Jarred Vanderbilt suffered an injury during yesterday’s practice. The specifics are still unclear. All we know is that he will miss practice today and is considered day-to-day during the SEC Tournament.
Injuries are nothing new to Vanderbilt. The 6’9″ forward suffered two foot injuries prior to his arrival in Lexington. The most recent foot injury prevented him from playing until mid-February.
There’s no indication that what happened at yesterday’s practice is another foot injury. John Calipari does not have a planned media engagement until tomorrow, so it’s unlikely that we will receive any clarity on the matter until then. All we can do is speculate.
If Vanderbilt is withheld from SEC Tournament play and his status remains questionable for the NCAA Tournament, here’s what’s at stake for Kentucky.
An SEC Tourney Run is Unlikely
Kentucky will only have two days to prepare for Missouri/Vanderbilt/Georgia without Vanderbilt. An optimist would say that Kentucky played the entire first half of the season without him and could easily adjust. Neither of Kentucky’s potential first round opponents have dominant a frontcourt, so Kentucky could find a way to win a few games.
However, it’s much easier to be a pessimist. Kentucky won every game when Vanderbilt scored in double figures. He’s the team’s best rebounder and when foul trouble took him off the court at Florida, the Cats looked lost. Without a deep bench, it’s hard to imagine three wins in three days from this UK team without Jarred Vanderbilt.
A talking point that has dominated the first half of conference play is Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament bid following the return of Bonzie Colson. Nobody knows if the Selection Committee will consider injuries in their decision, but if they know Vanderbilt is out, a lower seed for Kentucky is possible.
NCAA Tournament is Up in the Air
If the injury is a little ankle sprain, a week is long enough for Vanderbilt to make a full recovery and contribute in the NCAA Tournament. If it’s another foot injury, his season is likely finished.
Without Vanderbilt in a Kentucky uniform, three players must step up — Nick Richards, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Hamidou Diallo.
Before Vanderbilt took the court for the first time, Diallo averaged 13.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and scored in double figures in 12 of 17 games. In the 14 games since, Diallo has reached double figures only three times. To make a run without Vanderbilt, Kentucky needs Diallo to return to form. In the paint, Richards and Killeya-Jones have followed a similar downward trajectory. That cannot continue without Vanderbilt on the court.
NBA Draft Ramifications
Another injury could do one of two things:
1. Vanderbilt’s draft stock plummets, he decides he must cash in before he suffers another injury.
2. Vanderbilt’s draft stock plummets, he decides to return to UK to return to the top of draft boards.
There’s no denying this will affect his decision to stay for another year or go to the NBA, but exactly how is just a guessing game at this point.
We’ve Seen This Before
A ragtag group of resurgent Wildcats lost their second-leading rebounder in the 2014 Sweet 16. When Willie Cauley-Stein was lost for the season, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee played their best basketball and helped Kentucky get to the National Title. Even if Vanderbilt’s season is finished, there’s no reason Richards and Killeya-Jones can’t do the same in 2018.