Worst case scenario, we won’t get to see Jarred Vanderbilt take the floor for the Cats until January. Word is he could return earlier than expected, but for now, we have to assume UK will suit up for the first two months of the season without one of their most versatile players.
At 6’9″, 213 lbs., Jarred has a lethal combo of strength and speed, and his ability to guard 4-5 positions on the court make him invaluable if the Cats want to make a deep March run. While I’m sure we’re all glad JV will return with plenty of time to prepare for the postseason, there are still several critical matchups Vanderbilt is at risk of missing.
November 14: Kansas (United Center, Chicago)
Like Kentucky has plenty of depth at the forward spot, if you include Vanderbilt, KU is loaded with wings. Returning guards Devonte Graham (6’2″) and Lagerald Vick (6’5″) will form the backbone of Kansas’ backcourt, leaving former 5-star guard and Mississippi St. Bulldog Malik Newman (6’3″) to try to assert himself on the perimeter.
But maybe the most intriguing factor for the Jayhawks is returning forward Sviatoslav “Svi” Mykhailiuk, a 6’8″ deadeye shooter who despite his size prefers to stick to the 3-point line. Svi was left alone on the outside far too often last season, making opponents pay again and again with deep 3’s. Mykailiuk doesn’t play much of a factor in the post. He’s a subpar rebounder for his size, so having a guy like Jarred Vanderbilt who is athletic enough to move inside-out, finding the open shooter or the loose rebound when needed, would be sorely missed against Kansas.
December 23: UCLA (Smoothie King Center, New Orleans)
When this modern rivalry is renewed at the CBS Sports Classic this year, all eyes are gonna be on Thomas Welsh for UCLA. The 7-foot senior promises to be an absolute load in the paint for the Bruins. If you care to recall UK’s first matchup with UCLA from last season, the Cats struggled to stop Welsh. He played only 19 minutes, yet he scored 14 points on 5/7 shooting to go along with 8 boards.
Nick Richards is a solid defender, no doubt, but Welsh has about 15 pounds on him, and undoubtedly has a bit more offensive finesse. It’s gonna take some help defense, as well as rebounding support, to nullify Welsh.
And even if Richards can handle Welsh on his own, it’d still be fun to watch Jarred Vanderbilt harass LiAngelo Ball a little bit. Did you forget LiAngelo was a Bruin now? I sure did!
December 29: Louisville (Rupp Arena)
Not to rub salt in any wounds here but… Louisville is not the team they were just a few weeks ago.
Brian Bowen is effectively gone from the program, leaving the likely scrambling David Padgett to come up with some sort of formidable lineup to face UK. They still have some weapons, though, that could give the young Cats fits, especially without JV.
6’7″ Deng Adel jumps out as the likeliest adversary should Vanderbilt return to the court in time for this game. Adel was a long shot to get drafted over the summer, so he decided to return to UofL with hopes of becoming a lottery pick.
Adel was unpolished but athletic in his first two years at Louisville. He averaged about 12 points and 4.5 rebounds per game his sophomore season while developing his 3-point game. This year, he’ll start off as a much more well rounded player, assuming the offseason program tumult has stunted anybody’s progress. If Padgett hopes to field a decent team, Adel is likely their star, and Vanderbilt matches up with him exceedingly well.
Also, true 7-footer Anas Mahmoud will still be the tallest guy on the court, so Jarred’s rebounding prowess would come in handy as well.
In the wake of Vanderbilt’s injury, Coach Cal has had nothing but praise for the freshman forward. He sees a ton of potential in his young star. And it’s clear his absence will throw off Cal’s plans for any opponent. So let’s hope for a speedy recovery, because the Cats could use an all-purpose star like JV as soon as possible.