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Preview: Vanderbilt Travels to #1 Kentucky and Oh No

Vanderbilt jumps from playing the worst team in the SEC (Mississippi State) to the best (Kentucky). Can the Commodores correct all the mistakes that led to a loss in Starkville and shock the world by ruining the Wildcats' undefeated season?

The good news is that Damian Jones can inflate his draft stock in a big way by outplaying Kentucky's centers.
The good news is that Damian Jones can inflate his draft stock in a big way by outplaying Kentucky's centers.
Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Even if we ignore Saturday's results, this game was never going to be a favorable matchup for Vanderbilt. Now, they'll be headed into the hornets nest known as Rupp Arena coming off their most deflating loss of the season.

The Commodores and Wildcats are on divergent paths. Kentucky has answered questions about their makeup by absolutely ruining the last two teams they faced by a combined score of 156 to 85. Vanderbilt has lost their last three games and that includes a 54-point outing where they helped deliver Mississippi State's first conference win.

The Wildcats will also have the rare honor of having the older, more experienced team when Vanderbilt comes to visit. The Commodores only rely on one upperclassman to provide rotational minutes - senior James Siakam. The rest of the Vandy's key players are all sophomores or younger. Five freshmen are averaging 18 minutes or more for the 'Dores this season.

Those two factors build a pile of evidence for a Kentucky win, but Kevin Stallings's team still has a puncher's chance thanks to their shooting and Damian Jones's ability to protect the rim. Let's take a deeper look at this weekend's Commodores-Wildcats matchup.

KenPom Rankings: Kentucky is 1st. Vanderbilt is 64th.

Key Stat35.5. That's the average margin of victory Kentucky has posted in the two games since needing three combined overtimes to beat Ole Miss and Texas A&M. On the other end of that equation, Vanderbilt has lost to Georgia and Mississippi State by three points apiece. If this were a stock watch article, the trajectories of the two teams would look like something like Hulk Hogan in the 1980s and Owen Hart in 1999 (...sorry).

Matchup to Watch: Jeff Roberson (and Damian Jones) vs. Trey Lyles. Lyles is a massive forward that Roberson may have to cover by default thanks to Kentucky's excess of size in the frontcourt. Kevin Stallings will likely turn to his zone defense to negate that mismatch as much as possible, but prepare to see the two forwards square off in several situations on Tuesday night.

Roberson's value as a true freshman small forward has been as a defender. He's strong and quick enough laterally to shut down opposing wings and make up for the offense he lacks on the other side of the court. However, he'll have his hands full against a 6'10" big man who will have a distinct advantage in the paint. Expect Damian Jones to be on high alert as a help defender tonight - especially when Lyles gets the ball in the paint.

Starters and Rotation Players:

Pos. Player PPG RPG APG
G - Shelton Mitchell 5.2 2.7 4.2
G - Riley LaChance 13.3 3.2 2.5
F - Jeff Roberson 4.4 3.3 1.0
F - James Siakam 9.3 5.7 0.6
C - Damian Jones 16.0 7.2 1.1
Key Reserves
G - Wade Baldwin IV 6.9 3.5 4.4
G/F - Matthew Fisher-Davis 6.1 2.1 0.9
F - Luke Kornet 8.6 4.2 0.8
Pos. Player PPG RPG APG
G - Andrew Harrison 7.6 2.1 4.1
G - Aaron Harrison 11.4 2.5 1.9
F - Trey Lyles 7.8 5.6 1.5
F - Karl-Anthony Towns 8.5 6.7 1.1
F - Willie Cauley-Stein 9.6 6.7 1.1
Key Reserves
G - Devin Booker 10.6 1.4 1.3
G - Tyler Ulis 5.7 1.9 3.7
C - Dakari Johnson 8.4 6.1 1.2