February 17, 2009

Previewing Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky

Kentucky Wildcats at Vanderbilt Commodores

When: Tuesday, 8 p.m. Central

Where: Memorial Gymnasium, Nashville, Tenn.


Radio: Nashville: 104.5 FM

Rankings: Neither team is ranked

Sagarin prediction: Vanderbilt by 6

Pomeroy prediction:Kentucky 68, Vany 64 (VU 35 percent chance to win)

Series record: Kentucky leads the overall series, 130-41. Kentucky leads 48-23 all-time in Nashville; Kentucky leads 78-19 in Lexington; Series is tied at four on neutral floors.
Last Meeting: Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt, 70-60, at Rupp Arena on January 10.
Coaches: Kevin Stallings is in his tenth year at Vanderbilt (185-125) and his 16th overall (308-188). Billy Gillispie is in his 2nd season at Kentucky (36-20) and his seventh overall (136-78).

About the Wildcats
If a conference can be measured by its most prominent program, then the SEC mimics that of the Wildcats. For the first time in more than a decade, there's a decent chance the Southeastern Conference -- widely rated as the fifth best NCAA hoops league -- will not send more than four teams to the Big Dance, and if so, right now the Wildcats would probably be on the outside looking in.

UK has two of the best players in the nation in Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson. Meeks, who has begun to look absolutely Shan Foster-like from the 3-point line of late, is leading the league in scoring at 25.8 points per game � 27.9 ppg in SEC play.

That Meeks done so much of his damage with Patterson nursing a hurt ankle on the bench shows how far the guard from Atlanta has come, and is without question the SEC's best go-to player in the clutch. His fall-away 3-point bomb from 30 feet, with Nick Calathes playing flawless, smothering defense, was the only thing that stood between the Gators walking out of Rupp with a win. Had UK lost that game, they almost certainly would have had to go deep in the league tournament just to make the NCAAs.

Patterson had begun to emerge as a nationally prominent big man before he sprained his foot midway through the second half against Florida. 6-foot-9 forward averages a team-high nine boards per game, which ranks him

Kentucky enters the game with an 18-7 overall record, and a 7-3 mark in SEC play after defeating Arkansas, 79-63, on Saturday in Fayetteville. The Wildcats feature the league's leading scorer in junior guard Jodie Meeks, who averages 25.8 points per game, and a 27.9 ppg clip in SEC play. Sophomore forward Patrick Patterson, who is questionable with an ankle sprain, is next for the Wildcats at 17.8 points per game. Patterson leads the team on the glass with 9.1 rebounds per game.

What to watch

UT has been shaky of late, but one of Pearl's trademarks has been that the Vols are always prepared for Vandy. That especially applies in Knoxville, where UT has beaten VU by an average of 18 under Pearl in three games. UT has been an up-and-down team this season, so much of the outcome will be predicated on its frame of mind on Saturday.

And among the Vols, no one seems more geared-up to play Vandy than Chism, who's averaged 17.5 points and 15 rebounds in two games vs. the Commodores in Knoxville. Chism also dropped 20 and seven in 26 minutes in Nashville in January, so containing him is a huge key for Vandy to win.

That may come easier this time around, as Commodore center A.J. Ogilvy is much healthier than he was in last month's meeting. Ogilvy's recovered nicely from a foot injury and a week off has given him time to recover from an illness as well, which makes him an entirely different player. Ogilvy certainly should have some motivation after Chism's previous showings against him.

Vandy Coach Kevin Stallings has a dilemma to face: On one hand, UT is probably better suited for a track-meet kind of game than the Commodores; on the other, if you score 80 points on Tennessee, you beat them this year. Stallings will probably try not to let the tempo get out of hand; however, one key for VU will be getting point guard Jermaine Beal and wing Jeffery Taylor out on the break for easy buckets when opportunities arise if UT is lax about getting back on defense.

Really, though, the key to beating UT is making the Vols play half-court defense. UT is suspect to back-door cuts at times and doesn't always get out and guard the 3 effectively. The Commodores rarely seem to shoot well in Knoxville, and Beal and Brad Tinsley have to be able to hit from outside--something they've done very well of late--for Vandy to be in the game. This, of course, also opens things for Ogilvy inside.

The other interesting matchup could be Taylor vs. Smith; Taylor is one of VU's better defenders, and will have his hands full with UT's junior star. The Commodores may also choose to play a 3-2 zone UT at times, with Taylor playing the middle and collapsing back on the post when needed. Given UT's 31.6 percent season shooting behind the arc, Taylor would likely sag back inside towards the post more often should Stallings choose that strategy.


I like the way the Commodores have played of late, and am especially encouraged with the outside shooting and Ogilvy's return to form. On the other hand, none of the teams Vandy has beaten in this three-game winning streak are heading to the NCAAs this year, and Vandy has not fared particularly-well against NCAA-caliber foes. The Vols have struggled this season, but they are still a talented bunch and certainly fit into that category.

This game is probably more about which Tennessee team shows up than anything. I think Vandy will play well, but UT's history under Pearl suggests that they'll get the Vols' best shot. And if that happens, it becomes a game that's very hard for the Commodores to win; the team is definitely improving, but I'm not sure that the young 'Dores have the offensive firepower to sustain UT's "A" game--which they'll probably get--in Knoxville.

Tennessee 76, Vanderbilt 70


Pomeroy rank8536Pomeroy rank

Sagarin rank8638Sagarin rank

2008-09 record (SEC)15-8 (4-5)15-8 (6-3)2008-09 record (SEC)
Kevin Stallings career record308-187409-116Bruce Pearl career record
Scoring offense per game70.173.0Scoring defense per game
Scoring defense per game63.880.2Scoring offense per game
Field goal percentage45.243.7Field goal percentage defense
Field goal percentage defense39.146.0Field goal percentage
3-point percentage33.733.93-point percentage defense
3-point percentage defense36.631.63-point percentage
Free throw percentage70.969.4Free throw percentage
Turnover margin per game-1.6+1.3Turnover margin per game
Rebound margin per game+4.5+4.2Rebound margin per game
Blocks per game4.33.6Blocks per game per game

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