Originally posted on StraitPinkie.com  |  Last updated 2/20/13
The words 30 point loss, and Tennessee don’t normally go together when mentioning Kentucky. In this case, the Vanderbilt Commodores look to come into Rupp Arena and avenge a close loss against the ‘Cats. The ‘Dores are well aware of the shellacking that happened just down the road from their campus, and the expect the ‘Cats to be “mad and focused”. These high profile recruits were just in high school last year. Most of them rack up MVP awards and win state titles, and don’t lose by 30. How will the young ‘Cats respond now that their NCAA Tournament hopes are now officially on the line. Starting with Vanderbilt tonight, Kentucky starts a stretch of must-win games heading into the SEC Tournament. If a last-second three pointer fell in the late stages vs. Vanderbilt, and a certain shot clock call was reversed, the ‘Cats would have lost in Nashville with the services of Noel. Here are some keys to the game for the ‘Cats: Point Guard Play: The play of Ryan Harrow, or lack thereof, needs to reappear against the rest of the SEC slate for the ‘Cats to have a fighting chance of getting into the big dance. Harrow came off the bench vs. Tennessee, recording 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, and 4 turnovers. Jarrod Polson got the start, and is expected to make his 2nd career start vs. Vanderbilt. While Polson did post 11 points in the loss, he didn’t record an assist. To bounce back from the loss at Tennessee, Harrow and Polson will need to play and produce at a higher level. Youth vs. Youth: While the ‘Cats are very young, the ‘Dores do not list a single senior on their roster. The rest of the roster includes 7 freshman and 5 sophomores. Judging by the pure talent level, the ‘Cats should have the advantage by a long shot. The difference to this advantage for the ‘Cats may be determined most by the play of Kyle Wiltjer. John Calipari most notably called out Wiltjer after Vanderbilt scored on each possession they challenged him on their offensive end. Wiltjer is a sophomore, and that is experienced when it comes to this Kentucky team. However, this game will be a big measure of how much Wiljter has improved over the course of the season. Another challenge for the young ‘Dores will be Rupp Arena. How will they respond if Rupp starts rockin’? Johnson & Odom: If there are two guys that stir the drink for Vanderbilt, it’s Kendran Johnson and Rod Odum. Johnson leads the ‘Dores in points, averaging 13.7 a game. Odom is 2nd on the team in points (10.2) and rebounds (4.3) a game. Both players will be a huge problem for a struggling and porous Kentucky defense. Odom was guarded early by Kyle Wiltjer in the last meeting, and Odom scored at will. Wiltjer is better, and I’d like to think he shouldn’t be able to get on such a roll this time around. Odom has averaged 15 points per game, and has made nine 3-pointers in his last 4 games. Defense: Where art thou? Watching the Vols execute their offense to near perfection was extremely painful for anyone to watch. I hope they burned those uniforms, by the way. Vanderbilt may struggle on offense even worse than Tennessee usually does. That alone should bode well for the ‘Cats. While the rim may seem to be more open without Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein needs to stay out of foul trouble and assert himself on the block. Accepting the coaching vs. being uncoachable will be the story for the rest of the season. That story will try to continue on a better note tonight vs. another team from Tennessee. Conclusion: Vanderbilt is a sub .500 team overall, and in SEC play. The ‘Cats may be expected to win this game, and vs. Mississippi State. Going 2-4 heading into the SEC Tournament would not exactly boost the optimism around the Big Blue Nation. Being at home will help, but will not be the deciding factor for tonight’s game. In a way, I hope the Vanderbilt players and coaching staff are right. They predicted a mad, and focused Kentucky team. I would love to see a Kentucky team with an edge, a chip on their shoulder, an us against the world mentality. The character, coachability, and toughness have all been tested early and often. It is now time to respond, and that starts with a win vs. the ‘Dores.
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