At stake is second place in the SEC East and a first-round bye in next week's SEC Tournament. While it would take a long list of miracles to earn a share of the conference crown, second-place is not something to be ashamed of, especially with Vandy's postseason struggles.
Key for the Commodores on Tuesday will be Jeffery Taylor. He has struggled offensively recently and it has carried over to his defense. In the LSU game though, Taylor came alive on both ends of the court. He scored 20 points in the game while not strictly relying on his jump shot. Do not get me wrong, Taylor is an improved shooter this year, but he is one of the top players in the conference when he uses his athletic ability. The improved offense kick-started his defense as Taylor again showed why is the best Vandy defender when he wants to be. LSU is young and inexperienced though. Kentucky in Rupp Arena will be much different.
It is a good thing the ‘Dores defeated the Wildcats in Nashville, because they have been unbeatable in Lexington. Every single Kentucky loss has come on the road with the exception of the neutral site game with UCONN.
Kentucky enters the Vanderbilt game in quite possibly the toughest three-game stretch in the SEC. Having defeated No. 13 (ESPN) Florida at home on Saturday, it now faces No. 20 (also ESPN) Vanderbilt, and then closes out the regular season with a Tennessee squad almost assured of going dancing.
Forward – Terrence Jones – Freshman, 6-8, 244 2010-11: 17.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.0 blocks per game
Jones continues to be one of the top freshmen in the country and with the skill set he is showing, will probably be playing Vanderbilt for the last time (barring an SEC or NCAA matchup.) Vandy fans know all about this amazing young player after seeing him score 25 points and gather nine rebounds in the first game. What makes Jones so difficult to stop is his ability to post up defenders of equal or lesser size, but still take players off the dribble. Jeff Taylor (and whoever else is guarding him for that matter) need to remember Jones rarely if ever goes to his right hand.
Guard– DeAndre Liggins – Junior, 6-6, 210; 2010-11: 8.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, .368 3-PT %
Liggins is another matchup problem for Kentucky opponents and it will not be any different for Vandy on Tuesday night. Liggins' overall game has blossomed this season, but consistency continues to be a problem with Liggins in the eyes of John Calipari. There are times he is unstoppable, followed by times he fails to look for his shot, such as his two points on five shot performance against Mississippi State in the game following the loss at Vanderbilt. One are of improvement this year, one that highlights the fact players do get better and learn new skills under Cal, is Liggins' outside shooting. He went from being a subpar 3-point shooter to one of the top shooters in the conference, reminding Kentucky fans in many ways of the improvements of Patrick Patterson a season ago under Calipari's tutelage.
Forward– Josh Harrellson – Senior, 6-10, 275; 2010-11: 6.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg
This year, he starts and plays 25. Most Kentucky fans, and Calipari for that matter, 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 however. Harrellson is in a Catch-22 situation against Vanderbilt. He is a much-improved offensive weapon who often gets forgotten with the young guns on the floor, but he is at a disadvantage with Festus Ezeli guarding him on the floor. Coach Stallings was able to take advantage of Harrellson by going to Ezeli early, but as often happens with the Dores, they went away from Fes. Calipari may want to try to establish Harrellson more, it just may not be in this game.
Guard – Darius Miller – Junior, 6-7, 28; 2010-11: 10.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, .453 3-PT%
Miller has been an enigma for Calipari and his staff this year. Miller has extraordinary talent but does not always use it to his capability. The first Vanderbilt game finished a four-game stretch where he failed to hit double-figures in scoring. Following a benching, Miller has returned to the lineup with a vengeance, scoring over 20 points in two off the last three Kentucky games. Miller can beat you many ways. He can hit from long-range, take his defender off the bounce, and kill you in transition. Miller is the mismatch problem for Vanderbilt going into Rupp Arena. If Taylor is going to guard Jones, that gives the responsibility for Miller to John Jenkins. That's not the type of role Kevin Stallings wants his leading scorer to deal with all night. The problem for the Commodores however is if Stallings elects to put Taylor on Miller, that leaves the combination of Lance Goulbourne and Andre Walker to guard Terrence Jones.
Guard – Brandon Knight – Freshman, 6-3, 185; 2010-11: 17.7 ppg, 4.1 apg, 4.0 rpg, .401 3-PT %
As I said before these two rivals faced of the first time, losing John Wall after one season is much more bearable when you replace him with a player the caliber of Brandon Knight. Knight is a complete package. He knocks down the open shot, penetrates a defense off the dribble, and is unselfish as is ever-improving assist numbers demonstrate. He may have played his best all-around game against Florida on Saturday. While he was held below his scoring average (16 points) he was efficient with his shooting, going 2 for 3 beyond the arc while shooting 50 percent overall. Most impressive were his six assists against zero turnover. If Knight continues his outstanding yet unselfish play against the Commodores, it could be a long night in Lexington.
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 (28.8.) Lamb scores 13.8 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field (48 percent on 3-pointers) and is only a freshman. Vanderbilt had success late in the first Kentucky game by going zone and making the Wildcats unsteady on offense. Should Stallings try the same trick again, expect Calipari to go small by bringing in Lamb and moving Jones to the five. That gives Kentucky a lineup where all five guys can knock down the open shot.
Kentucky has very little frontcourt depth. The only size coming off the bench is Dominican Republic native, Eloy Vargas, is a 6-11 junior. He averages nearly two points a game and 2.1 rebounds but plays less than 10 minutes a game.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Do not be 3-pointer reliant. Vandy fans will all remember John Jenkins going off for 32 points while hitting six 3-pointers. Steve Tchiengang also hit a couple of long-distance shots. Relying on 3-pointers is not the recipe for success on the road, as the Dores have too often learned this year. For a victory Tuesday night, the Commodores have to go inside two different ways. First is by establishing Ezeli on the block since Harrellson cannot guard him. Should he draw double-teams, then the outside shooting will open up. The second way is for Jeff Taylor to attack the rim. The first time against Kentucky, Taylor was content to catch and shoot. He needs to dribble penetrate and cause some rotation on the Kentucky defense.
Stop dribble penetration. Kentucky's shooting percentages from long-distance are high because of the opportunities created for them out of drive and kick out situations in Calipari's motion game. 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. Jones particularly was effective against Vanderbilt on the dribble penetration. Vandy needs 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. They did not give Jones a step in February so hopefully it has learned its lesson.
Scouting Report: Kentucky
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