On Saturday, the Vanderbilt Commodores (19-8, 8-4 SEC) will travel up to Lexington, Ky. for a rematch against the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats (27-1, 13-0 SEC). While Vanderbilt has experienced grueling tests this season, Saturday’s matchup promises to be the Commodores’ most challenging game of the year.
The University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena is currently the most difficult road environment in college basketball. With a capacity of 23,500 seats, the air space to provide fireworks and a loyal contingent of shrieking fans, Rupp has devoured opponents this season. In fact, since the hiring of head coach John Calipari, the Wildcats are undefeated at home. If Vanderbilt is going to change this, the Commodores will need to play their best basketball.
If the last matchup between these two teams was any indication, basketball fans are in for a potential thriller this weekend. Earlier this month in Memorial Gymnasium, Vanderbilt rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit only to fall to the Wildcats 69-63. The Commodores outscored Kentucky in the second half, but had no answers for the Wildcats’ clutch play late in the game.
For Vanderbilt, some key adjustments will need to be made in order to win this game. The last time these teams met, Kentucky freshman point guard Marquis Teague tore the Commodores’ man-to-man defense to shreds in the first half. While Vanderbilt’s defense will have to pay close attention to freshman phenomenon Anthony Davis, sophomore sniper Doron Lamb and the do-it-all forward duo of freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and sophomore Terrence Jones, the Commodores will need to keep Teague and company out of the paint through a zone defense. If Vanderbilt can utilize its zone defense and close out on Kentucky’s shooters, the Commodores could slow the Wildcats down.
Offensively, the Commodores cannot be afraid of Davis. Although this task is easier said than done due to Davis’ outstanding shot blocking abilities, Vanderbilt will need to get to the basket. The Commodores have had success against Kentucky through the use of the pick-and-roll by senior forward Jeff Taylor and redshirt senior center Festus Ezeli. Vanderbilt has the potential to go on a tear with this setup, especially since it opens up space for shooters like junior John Jenkins and senior Brad Tinsley. The Commodores will also need plenty of help from their bench to combat versatile senior guard Darius Miller.
By and large, Saturday presents a tremendous opportunity of redemption for Vanderbilt. With one of his most talented and experienced teams, head coach Kevin Stallings will have his best chance to beat Kentucky on the road for years to come. If the Commodores can play to their full potential, Saturday could be the upset victory fans have yearned for all season.