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The SEC's Worst Losses: Kentucky (on Basketball and Occupying Memorial)

The Vanderbilt women's basketball team notched a huge victory last night over arch-rival Tennessee, making a statement by toppling the Lady Vols 93-79 at home. Of course, if you're a student who wants good seats for Saturday's men's basketball showdown with Kentucky, you already knew that.

As College Gameday gears up to cover Vandy basketball for the second straight year, fans on each side of the Vandy-UK rivalry are chomping at the bit to get seats in Memorial. For students, that meant going to last night's women's basketball game to earn priority seating for Saturday's matchup. Fans that watched Vanderbilt spank Tennessee up close will get the opportunity to find their seats in the student section an hour before anyone else.

Kentucky fans have a different plan - they're going to "Occupy Memorial." This means that Wildcat fans will be convening early to fill up space behind the Gameday cameras and filling out over 14 hours of their day with activities revolving around this game. They'll even come camouflaged, wearing black sweaters over their UK gear to sneak past any Commodore countermeasures.

The Vandy administration is aware of the Big Blue presence, and will be taking steps to combat it. Of course, the best way to do that is to drown them out with a wave of black and gold. The dedication of Vanderbilt's fans has been in question this season, and never more so than in Wednesday's quiet win over LSU at home. Commodore fans, now is your hour to rise up and turn this proposed sea of blue into a few spotty puddles in the midst of a dark thunderstorm.

It'll be an early morning test of famdom between the two groups, but it could set the tone for Vanderbilt's biggest game of the season so far. The Commodores will already have their hands full with the nation's top-ranked team. They'll need every ounce of support that they can get on their home court. They'll need Memorial Gym to rock like it did in 2006 and 2007, when Kevin Stallings's teams beat #1's Florida and Tennessee in consecutive years.

The first step towards doing that is to make sure that no one #OccupiesMemorial unless it's us. After all, this is Vanderbilt. We ARE the 1%.

Kentucky (24-1, Ranked #1 in AP, Coaches' Poll, #2 in the Pomeroy Rankings)

Worst Loss: at Indiana (19-6 #9 KenPom, #16 CBS RPI), 72-73
Other Losses: Heh. None.

So Kentucky's worst loss is actually against a pretty good team. And it came on the road in a notoriously hostile environment. And it came at the hands of a buzzer-beating three-pointer. All-in-all, there isn't a tried-and-true blueprint here for the Commodores to follow, but let's give it a shot.

Indiana led by as many as 10 points with just nine minutes to play, but couldn't hold down Kentucky's talented team for long. The Wildcats reclaimed the lead with two minutes to go and looked to be on their way to victory when a Christian Watford missed shot and a Victor Oladipo turnover sent the 'Cats to the free throw line twice in the final 30 seconds with a one point lead. However, Anthony Davis missed the front end of his 1-and-1, and Doron Lamb made just one of his free throws to open the door for Christian Watford's game-winning three at the buzzer.

Key to Destruction: Composure. Indiana should not have had a realistic chance to win this game at the end. If UK makes their free throws, they would have led by five points with six seconds to go - a nearly insurmountable lead. Instead, Davis and Lamb failed to convert in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Assembly Hall.

The Indiana game has been Kentucky's only true road test of the season so far - their other big matchups have come at home or on neutral courts. Vanderbilt will have to recreate the frenzied setting of Indiana's last loss to earn a mental edge over a very talented - but very young - Wildcat team. That part above the jump about bringing Memorial Madness back? Yeah, it's that important.

Keys to the Game:

  • Force the action outside. This is a tough task with Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist holding things down in the paint, but Kentucky isn't a great three-point shooting team this season. They went just 2-7 against Indiana and only Doron Lamb has proven to be a consistent threat on the perimeter (but damn, what a threat - 49.5% from deep).

    Fortunately for Vanderbilt, the 'Dores have two plus defenders in their frontcourt who can limit UK's big men in Festus Ezeli and Lance Goulbourne. If Jeffery Taylor, one of the NCAA's best man-to-man defenders, can keep Lamb from getting open, they can press the 'Cats into taking some inefficient shots. It's a tall task, but if Vandy can force UK to take lots of threes, it should work in their favor on Saturday.
  • Avoid foul trouble. No one on Indiana's roster finished their upset win with more than three fouls, leading to big minutes for their difference-making players and a balanced scoring attack. Vandy has struggled with foul trouble this season, with Ezeli, Steve Tchiengang, and Brad Tinsley all earning extended stays on the bench thanks to poor body control. Tinsley has lots to prove against freshman sensation Marquis Teague, but Ezeli and Tchiengang's presences will be especially important against Kentucky's post players. Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are both athletic big men who can easily draw opponents into bad fouls. Vanderbilt will have to walk the line between effective defense and overzealous physicality to limit the Wildcats while staying on the floor.
  • Embrace your three-point shooting roots...carefully. Kentucky may have shut down Florida's vaunted long-range attack this week, but they weren't successful against Indiana. The Hoosiers went 9-15 from behind the line, including Watford's game-winning last-second shot. Vanderbilt has a pair of elite shooters in Taylor (this season) and John Jenkins, and a solid cast behind them with Goulbourne and Tinsley. However, they'll have to know when to pick their spots.

    We've seen lots of open looks for guys like Rod Odom and Kedren Johnson in recent games - and a lot of misses. Vanderbilt can't afford to force their threes up. Instead, they'll have to use ball movement to create open looks that flow organically from their game. Given this team's ability to find space on the perimeter, this should be something that the team can do all night.