Scouting Report: Kentucky

Winning one SEC game on one night? That's not hard. Winning back-to-back conference clashes? That's been problematic for the Vanderbilt men's basketball team in 2011. It's time to establish a new pattern today. Kentucky's calling.


Vanderbilt's opportunity to get back in the SEC title race comes to a head on Saturday afternoon against the Wildcats of Kentucky.

Both teams sit at 5-4 in conference play. Whichever team wins on Saturday will have sole possession of second place in the East and both schools still have a game left with East-leading Florida. (Both schools lost in Gainesville.) A loss for Vanderbilt to Kentucky would be particularly painful because that would put them in fifth place in the East.

Dores' fans should come into the game with a positive outlook though. Brad Tinsley showed some intestinal fortitude at the end of the Alabama win and the overall health of the team is improving. Who knows? Maybe Saturday will bring an Andre Walker sighting. While Walker is sure to be rusty if he in fact plays, his defensive presence and calming influence could do wonders to overcoming Vanderbilt's struggles with the Cats."
KENTUCKY AT-A-GLANCE

Coach John Calipari's team comes into Memorial Gym as one would expect it to: athletic, highly touted, and highly ranked. But it also comes in a surprising 5-4 in SEC conference play. Of particular interest to everyone decked out in black and gold this Saturday is that the mighty Wildcats are 0-4 on the road in the conference.

What has led to Kentucky's road struggles? In close games it often fails to get good shots. One could argue this is due to the relative youth and inexperience on the roster. I tend to lean toward Calipari's offensive style. While the "Dribble-Drive Motion" is great for the free-flowing middle part of the game, it often leads to a failure to get good shots at the end of a game. (Think of Memphis versus Kansas in the 2008 NCAA championship game.) Occasionally, a stud point guard such as Derrick Rose, John Wall, and now Brandon Knight will win games based solely on their ability to both handle and shoot the basketball, but that does not lead to consistent success in a hostile road environment.

It's still hard to be overly critical of Kentucky. Every Vandy fan loves to hate Big Blue, but looking at Kentucky's six losses this year, one could make a case that not a single one would qualify as a "bad loss."

Starting Lineup

Forward – Terrence Jones –
Freshman, 6-8, 244 2010-11: 17.6 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.0 blocks per game

Jones, the highly touted freshman by way of Portland, Oregon has been impressive in his first (and only?) campaign as a Wildcat. While he is 6-8, don't confuse him a post-up only type of player. He is simply one of the best freshman athletes in the country. If he has a weakness, it is his left hand dominance. He never goes right off the dribble. As ESPN's Jimmy Dykes said during the Tennessee-Kentucky telecast, Jones goes "left and lefter." Even knowing the direction he will go still makes him a hard guard. Go quick to contain and the defender may end up being too small. Go big and Jones will certainly be quicker.

Guard– DeAndre Liggins – Junior, 6-6, 210; 2010-11: 8.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, .382 3-PT %

Liggins is another matchup problem for Kentucky opponents and it will not be any different for Vandy on Saturday. Liggins' overall game has blossomed this season. While he has always been a great athlete and hard to defend in transition, Liggins' outside shot has added a new element to his game. Liggins has gone from shooting only 23 percent beyond the arc in his freshman season, to shooting just under 40 percent this year. His height gives him a distinct advantage in pulling up over defenders.

Forward– Josh Harrellson – Senior, 6-10, 275; 2010-11: 6.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg

A year ago the St. Charles, Missouri, native saw the floor only at the very end of Kentucky blowouts, playing exactly four minutes a game. This year, he starts and plays 25. Coach Cal expected Harrellson to be sitting this year while Enes Kanter started for Big Blue. With Kanter's NCAA eligibility issues, Harrellson has been thrust into the lineup and become a popular figure among the Kentucky faithful. He's made himself valuable to the Cats by doing the things invaluable to a team, such as setting screens, moving into off-ball positions to receive passes while other players drive, and becoming an effective defender against ball screens. Festus Ezeli is a better player than Harrellson, but while he has struggled as of late, Harrellson has been getting stronger in his final year in Lexington.

Guard – Darius Miller – Junior, 6-7, 28; 2010-11: 9.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, .448 3-PT%

Miller is one of three starters who are consistent three-point threat, but to his credit, does not camp beyond the three-point line. Criticized a year ago for taking nearly 60 percent of his shots beyond the arc, Miller has taken his good first step off the dribble and become more of a genuinely well-rounded player. He still gets most of his points off of kick out passes in the "Dribble-Drive Motion," but now also uses his excellent strength to attack the basket too. He's just one more reason Kentucky is difficult to defend.

Guard – Brandon Knight – Freshman, 6-3, 185; 2010-11: 17.3 ppg, 3.7 apg, 4.1 rpg, .410 3-PT %

Losing John Wall after one season is much more bearable when you replace him with a player the caliber of Brandon Knight. The freshman is a complete package. He knocks down the open shot, penetrates a defense off the dribble, and is unselfish. While his play may not be as spectacular as Wall, he still runs the team proficiently on the floor. Only one time this season has Knight failed to reach double figures, in the November loss to UConn at the Maui Invitational. While Brad Tinsley's game has improved, this will be a difficult matchup for Vanderbilt.

Bench

One would not expect Kentucky to have great depth with its high turnover of players each year and the 2010-2011 edition fits that mold. Only one reserve, guard Doron Lamb plays more than 10 minutes a game (28.7.) A 6-4 freshman, Lamb scores 13.6 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field (48 percent on 3-pointers.) Should Vanderbilt attempt to counter its matchup issues by going zone, Calipari can go with a small lineup featuring Knight, Miller, Liggins, Jones, and Lamb. There are very few zones that can effectively handle such a lineup.

Eloy Vargas is a 6-11 junior out of the Dominican Republic who provides the only real size coming off the bench. He averages two points a game and 2.4 rebounds in just less than 10 minutes a game.

Keys to the Game

1) Protect the basketball.
Kentucky earns its living off of transition points. If the Commodores can protect the basketball on their offensive end and get good shots, the Cats won't be able to run like they want to. Tinsley, Jenkins, and Taylor have not been the best this year at protecting the ball, but they have gotten better the past couple of games. If Vandy wants to beat Kentucky in Memorial Gym, it has to prevent Kentucky from getting steals and easy transition points.

2) Stop dribble penetration. Yes, Kentucky has great shooters. Not to take anything away from their collective ability, but Kentucky's shooting percentages are high because of the opportunities created for them out of drive and kick out situations in Calipari's motion game. Simply put, it is easier to shoot when your defender is recovering back to you instead of up in your face. With players like Knight and Jones frequently getting past their defenders, they are able to get defenders to collapse while they kick the ball out to shooters. Vandy would be well served to play a step off Knight and Jones, even if they hit the occasional shot, because it will not result in a barrage of 3-pointers from everyone in blue.


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