As of this time last week Kentucky were marching towards a midlevel NCAA tournament seed while Vanderbilt was doing their best to lose each game in a new and more dramatic way. Since then though Nerlens Noel has torn his ACL and a reeling Kentucky was smoked by 30 points at Tennessee, forcing them into a late season battle to validate any tournament bid. Meanwhile the Commodores finally figured out how to close out while leading late as they held off a Texas A&M comeback bid to bring fresh life to the program. Here are three keys to a game that suddenly has much more than simple pride at stake.
1) Attack the basket
No Noel means that Kentucky has lost the lynchpin in their defensive system. With him in the lane the Commodores would have had to settle for mid range jump shots due entirely to the havoc Noel is capable of causing around the rim. His 4.4 blocks per game led the nation, and that is not even taking into account the numerous other shots which he alters on the drive.
In addition the rest of the Wildcat defense has to change their approach. With that dominant shot blocker at the back the wing defenders can take chances lunging for steals and deflecting passes. With Noel down the defense has to be less aggressive and sit back on their heels more. This change cannot be done overnight, as the Tennessee loss proves, and if Vandy can attack the defense they will find joy in the paint.
2) Win the battle of the boards
The other area where losing Noel has killed Kentucky is rebounding. Though a decline was obviously expected with the 6-foot-10 freshman out of the game few could have seen the Vols outrebounding the Wildcats 39-21. More rebounds obviously means more scoring opportunities and if Vandy is to pull off the upset they will need to put a focus on winning the rebound battle and making second chance baskets.
3) Win the point guard assist battle
One of the interesting factors coming into this game is point guard play. Though Kentucky has yet another group of McDonalds All-Americans on the floor, the guard play has been by and large awful for John Calipari's team this year. So bad in fact that Calipari was recently quoted as saying some of his players were "uncoachable" and affecting the balance of the team.
If Kedren Johnson can work his magic and out assist whatever combo of ball handlers that the Wildcats put on the floor then Vandy will be in a strong position.
Three Keys: Vandy at Kentucky Basketball
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