I'm really not going to spend a lot of time describing the importance of this game. Kentucky and Vanderbilt square off in Memorial Gym. First place in the SEC is on the line. If Vanderbilt wants a shot at a conference title, they must beat the Wildcats. Ken Pomeroy gives Vanderbilt a 49% chance of victory (78-79 UK with a tempo of 73), though I'm not sure one can effectively handicap Memorial Magic. The last four top 5 teams that have come into Memorial Gym have all left with losses. Kentucky has a four game Memorial Gym losing streak of their own. Will they be the team to break the trends?
Kentucky certainly has the talent, but they haven't played in a true road game against a top 25 team so far this season. Suffice it to say, if Vanderbilt can open the game the way they did against Tennessee last week, the Commodores are often times able to generate an insurmountable first half lead (see video below). [Insert opposing fan excuses of Memorial Gym's "illegal" bench setup here -- though remember Kentucky fans that you only have Adolph Rupp's demands of the SEC office to blame for their current positioning]
There's been a lot of speculation as to whether or not this is the biggest game ever in Memorial Gym. I'm not sure. I'm very partial to the 1993 Vandy-UK game in which Billy McCaffrey and Ronnie McMahan upset the top ranked Wildcats, particularly because I was a ball boy and Ronnie Mac would give me high fives at every timeout. Prior to tipoff, I rebounded for Jamal Mashburn and some of the other Kentucky players (Travis Ford, Roderick Rhodes, Tony Delk, etc). When the final buzzer sounded, all I had was the little yellow stool I had been sitting on to fend off the hordes of fans who rushed the court. Tough to beat. I searched far and wide for video highlights of that game, an effort that has thus far proven unfruitful.
In honor of our matchup with Kentucky, I'm including an enjoyable Youtoubing for your consumption:
These are the two best offensive teams in the SEC. Vanderbilt is slightly more efficient, but both represent the best offensive teams the other has played all season. Kentucky has a significant margin in defensive efficiency, but Vanderbilt has a significant margin in SOS.
The matchup everyone will have their eyes on will be A.J. Ogilvy and DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins is an absolute beast, who, despite foul trouble in the initial matchup at Rupp, easily won the matchup. I must say that I was rather impressed with the way he handled the situation with Mississippi State fans in the lead up to their game earlier in the week. Will he continue to control his emotions in a much more difficult road environment? Another dominant performance in this game might effectively cement him as the SEC Player of the Year.
Four Factors: Vanderbilt actually controls three of the four factors, with solid margins in free throw rate (FTRate) and turnover percentage (TO%) and a slight margin in effective field goal percentage (eFG%). Kentucky makes up for their slight shooting deficiency in this matchup with their offensive rebounding percentage (OReb%) which is the best overall in the country. Prediction: Vanderbilt will win turnover percentage and free throw rate. Kentucky will win offensive rebounding percentage. If Vandy can keep Kentucky's OReb% margin slim, they can win the game with a slight eFG% margin over the Wildcats. If Kentucky is getting a lot of second chance baskets, Vandy will need to shoot Kentucky out of the gym to win.
Traditional Statistics - Vanderbilt Commodores
Traditional Statistics - Kentucky Wildcats
Best game of the weekend: It's being described as the biggest Vanderbilt game in decades, and the fans are treating it that way. "No tickets available," read the message on StubHub.com when I did a Friday morning search for tickets to this tilt between the 17th-ranked Commodores and No. 2 Kentucky. So I can't imagine a better place to be Saturday than Memorial Gym. Thus, I can't wait to get to Memorial Gym.
CAN’T MISS: Kentucky at Vanderbilt, Saturday at 6 p.m. ET – The Wildcats pulled out a road win down in Starkville against Mississippi State earlier this week and Kevin Stallings’ team is coming off a road victory of its own against Ole Miss. This will be Kentucky’s first crack at beating a Top 25 team in a true road contest.
Kentucky @ Vanderbilt – 6 pm on ESPN (****)
With Kentucky’s escape in Starkville last week, the Wildcats showed a vulnerability people had not seen since a loss at South Carolina in January. Now Kentucky will travel to play a better team in perhaps an even more hostile environment. Vanderbilt is 13-0 at home, and has not lost in Nashville since January of last year. Perhaps the biggest surprise to most casual fans is that Vanderbilt actually ranks higher in offensive efficiency (#9) than Kentucky does with three NBA lottery picks in John Wall, Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins. Thanks to A.J. Ogilvy, a center who is just as big as Cousins, the Commodores have a higher shooting percentage from two-point range. Vandy’s problem is their defense, which ranks #76 in efficiency and allowed Kentucky to shoot 52 % from the three-point line a few weeks ago in Lexington. Vanderbilt was never really in that game, and trailed by at least ten points for over 30 minutes. If Kentucky fails to play their A game, which is very possible on the road (as shown by their 4-24 shooting performance from the three-point line in Starkville), and the Commodores shoot as well as they did against Tennessee, Vanderbilt should win this game. Ogilvy only made two shots in their last game against the Wildcats, while Cousins scored 21 points for the Cats. If Ogilvy has one of his best games of the season, the Commodores will be walking away with the upset.
No. 2 Kentucky (25-1) at No. 17 Vanderbilt (20-5) If there is one chink in Kentucky's armor, it is the Wildcats' perimeter defense. UK is ranked seventh in the SEC in three-point D, which will be a problem against a Vanderbilt squad that leads the league in three-point shooting. But it's not just that challenge that leads me to pick Vanderbilt, nor is it the Commodores' home-court advantage. It's my simple belief that Kentucky is due for a loss. The Cats were fortunate to escape Starkville this week, but the Commodores are older, stronger and more poised than Mississippi State. The one thing that gives me pause about this prediction is the fact that Kentucky's game was Tuesday night, while Vandy had to dig out a win at Ole Miss on Thursday night. A little home cookin' ought to help the Commodores keep their legs strong enough to pull off the upset in overtime. VU 82, UK 80
Tipoff is scheduled for 17.00 CT and the game will be televised by ESPN (Comcast ch. 11 or 202 HD). Our open gamethread will go live about an hour before tipoff. Also, don't forget to head over to Stat-King to submit your predictions for the game.