Last night was rough, but I probably don't have to tell you that.
Just for kicks, let's go over it one more time. Vanderbilt, the 6-6 team that's mired in a rebuilding year, gets dragged around their home court for 25 straight minutes before waking up. Then, an 18-0 run gives them a lead against their cross-state rival. Things get tense in the final four minutes, but the Commodores make a HUGE defensive stop to give Vandy the final shot of the game down by three points.
Except no, it didn't happen that way. That defensive effort was erased by a terrible no-call that allowed Nerlens Noel's jumper to count and Kentucky to press their lead to five points with 17 seconds remaining. While Vanderbilt eventually had a chance to win the game late, the Commodores' SEC opener was tainted by a blown call that had the Twitter-verse buzzing late on a Thursday night.
Now, Vanderbilt has only 48 hours to prepare for their next matchup - a road game against Arkansas.
Vanderbilt will have a blueprint for beating the Razorbacks, and it comes from a squad that they can emulate. This 2012-2013 team has their best chance to win when games get slow and ugly, and that means that they've got a perfect model to build from in Wisconsin. The Badgers have been a sloppy team in '12-13, struggling to create open shots without a healthy true point guard on the roster and grinding their way to 11 wins so far. One of those victories was a 77-70 beating of the Razorbacks in Las Vegas back in November.
Let's see what Vanderbilt can take away from Wisconsin's comeback win two months ago.
Arkansas (9-5, unranked)
Arkansas squandered an 11-point halftime lead to the Badgers in a loss that dropped them to 3-2 early in the season. Wisconsin bowed up in the second half to contain the Hogs shooters, holding them to just 32.4 percent from the field after Arkansas made more than half their shots in the opening period. Six UW players had nine points or more in the win, while the Razorbacks were paced by B.J. Young's 18-point performance.
Key to Destruction: Getting to the free throw line. Caveat for Vanderbilt - this plan also goes hand in hand with making your free throws.
Wisconsin used gritty play to draw fouls all night, slowing this game down to a pace where the Badgers were more comfortable and giving them the scoring edge in the second half. After making seven free throws in the first 20 minutes, UW sprung for 18 (on 23 foul shots) as they ran away from the Razorbacks. Those 18 points proved to be the difference between Wisconsin and Arkansas in the second half. It also limited players like Marshawn Powell and Rashad Madden to under 20 minutes in that game.
This is a team that tends to foul when pressured, but Vanderbilt may not be able to take advantage of that. Only Rod Odom and Kedren Johnson showed off the inside-out game that can get the 'Dores to the line against Kentucky. More disturbingly, this team has been the worst free throw shooting team Vandy has seen in years. Vanderbilt is shooting just 57.9 percent from the line, good for 344th in the country. Only one team is worse from the charity stripe than the Commodores in 2012-2013.
Keys to the Game:
- Dial up the three-point shooting. Wisconsin played a game similar to Vandy's near-comeback on Thursday night. The Badgers were abnormally cold from three-point range before using their shooters to drive the offense all the way back from a double-digit deficit. After starting the game 2-9, Wisconsin went 6-10 from behind the arc in the second half, driving their comeback win. Vanderbilt may fall victim to another shooting drought early, but the Commodores will have to give themselves the opportunity to shoot themselves out of trouble as the game wears on.
- Feed your big men. Wisconsin doesn't have a heralded combination of big men in the paint, but Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren were exceptionally efficient against the Hogs back in November. The pair combined for 21 points on just nine shots and pulled down 18 rebounds, including six on the offensive end. Josh Henderson and Shelby Moats aren't as talented as the Badgers' duo, but they have similar skills and have Moats's nine point, 10 rebound performance against UK to build from. If they can be quietly efficient against an undersized Arkansas team, they could be the unlikely engine behind a Commodore victory.
- Keep the Razorbacks from shooting threes. Wisconsin held Arkansas to 10 fewer three-point attempts than they've averaged all season, limiting them to only eight attempts from long range. B.J. Young, Arkansas's most prolific shooter in 2013, was kept to just two three-pointers all night, and missed both of them. Vandy held Kentucky to just 17 percent shooting from deep last night - though that effort was equal parts cold shooting and defensive abilities - but if they can keep that up they'll force a guard-heavy team to rely on inside scoring.