Vanderbilt's dismal 80-54 loss to the Florida Gators on Saturday provided few bright spots. But the example set by Martin Schnedlitz may be one. Martin's shooting touch and reflexes have suffered greatly from three years of inactivity, and his knee problem evidently prevents him from jumping well. But the 6'10" redshirt freshman provided his teammates a lesson in aggressiveness, by taking the ball to the basket time and again in the eleven minutes he played. In his short playing stint in the second half, he got to the free throw line seven times (making five shots).
Given the reports of his inability to practice, it is unlikely that Schnedlitz's play will ever become a factor in possible future Commodore success. But after watching the timid, tentative performance of his teammates against the Gators, it would seem time for the players and coaches to worry less about matching up with the opposition, or of stopping this or that opposing player. A more aggressive style of play, one that makes the other team have to adjust to Commodore strengths, would make everyone feel better and might eventually be the key to real success.
Vanderbilt has never won in Rupp Arena and hasn't won a game over Kentucky in Lexington since January 28, 1974. This probably is not the year in which that streak will be broken, but a return to the sporting, self-confident style of play that Vanderbilt exhibited in the Roy Skinner era seems to be in order.
Kentucky comes into this game with 6-4 conference record, 16-6 overall. It is no secret that all is not happiness in the Wildcat camp. Coach Tubby Smith's style of play, and decreasing success, has brought criticism from the rabid Kentucky fans. 6'10" junior center Marvin Stone left the program last month. 6'3" freshman gunner Rashaad Carruth has been openly impatient about his lack of playing time, and Tubby keeps him on the bench because he can't (or won't) play defense. The play of 6'5" junior Keith Bogans (12 ppg), supposedly an All-American candidate, has been generally disappointing. 6'11" junior center Jules Camara (5 ppg, 3.5 rebounds) has not regained his sophomore form after sitting out last year following a drunk-driving conviction.
However, the Wildcats have a lot of talent and have often put things together late in the season. A team with non-conference victories over Indiana, Louisville, and Notre Dame, and a stirring 95-92 overtime loss to top-ranked Duke, can't be too bad. Also, Kentucky maintains a high ranking in the national polls.
The star is slender 6'9" senior forward Tayshaun Prince (16.9 ppg, 6.3 rebounds). Prince, like Bogans, decided to not enter the professional draft. He takes a lot of three-pointers, hitting 34.8% of them, and scores on a variety of moves and seemingly-awkward shots closer to the basket. During the game, he often whines and whimpers, but he plays good defense, intimidating and blocking shots near the basket.
Camara, who scored 12 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in the Cats's most recent game, shares the low post with 6'9", 240 pound junior Marquis Estill. Like Camara, Estill (9.6 ppg, 4 rebounds) is a good shot-blocker, and shoots well from intermediate range. Last year he found himself in the strange position of having his basketball scholarship taken away when both Bogans and Prince unexpectedly decided to return for another year.
Gerald Hawkins, 6'1" sophomore, is the point guard. He is very quick, and an excellent defender, averages over four assists per game, and scores 7.6 ppg. He also turns the ball over much too frequently, makes only 56.5% of his free throws, and hits just 28.5% of his three-pointers. Backing him, but usually not playing much, are 6'3" senior J.P. Blevins (2.6 ppg) and 6'0" freshman Adam Chiles (0.7 ppg).
Bogans is the shooting guard, and a fair outside shooter (32.7% on three pointers), but makes most of his field goals on drives to the basket. Carruth (6.1 ppg) spells him sometimesm but didn't play at all against LSU on Saturday. On the other wing is 6'3" sophomore Gerald Fitch (9.2 ppg, 6 rebounds), one of the best rebounders for his size anywhere. Compared to many of the other players on the team, Fitch is a model of stability, working hard and playing effectively on both ends of the court, and connecting on nearly 35% of his three-pointers.
Also available to play on the wings are 6'7" sophomore Erik Daniels (4.3 ppg) and little-used 6'5" freshman Josh Carrier (1.5 ppg). Daniels has been quite effective on some occasions.
Prince's backup is 6'7", 235 lbs freshman Chuck Hayes (5.2 ppg, 3.9 rebounds), who is likely to play a lot of ball for the Wildcats before he completes his eligibility. He works hard on the boards and gets his points close-in.
Two sophomore walk-ons, 6'6" Cory Sears and 6'4" Matt Heissenbuttel, only get into the game when victory is assured.
The Wildcats are only a fair three-point shooting team (22-7 on the average), but they have many good rebounders and get a lot of put-back baskets. They have good quickness and several long-armed defenders on the inside, making it hard to get off shots close in. In the games in which they have struggled (Western Kentucky, Mississippi State, Georgia, South Carolina on the road, and Tennessee), their outside shooting let them down. Sometimes (as against Kent State, Louisville, Mississippi, and Florida) their rebounding and defense has carried them to victory even when the outside game was somewhat unproductive.
Coming off of the big loss to Florida, it hardly seems likely that this is the year for the Vanderbilt Commodores to shake off the long-standing Lexington jinx. But an uninhibited, go-for-broke effort might give the Wildcats a scare. And Kentucky is sufficiently erratic that anything might happen on a given night.