Friday, January 11, 2008

VSL's UK Preview

I will begin my preview by ranting (surprise, surprise). As much as I love Richmond, I must say I am not happy with the TV situation. Mainly, that Raycom's ACC games are carried on CBS here. This doesn't typically pose a problem, since the Commies are not a staple rest stop on the Road to the Final Four. Tomorrow however, they are. Which means I am going to have to find a sports bar rather than yell and scream from the privacy of my one home. Even worse, my favorite CBS broadcast team (even better than Jay Bilas and Dick Enberg during the NCAA Tournament) will be calling the action from Rupp tomorrow: Gus Johnson and Clark Kellogg. I just hope the other patrons at the bar don't mind me playing the Vanderbilt Nationally Televised Basketball Drinking Game.

Now, to the preview. Wednesday's game against South Carolina was certainly a nail-bitter. Still, I've come to except that when the Gamecocks and Commies play. I also think the struggle will keep the Commies sharp heading into Rupp on Saturday. Billy Gillispie's Cats (and how many people wish they still had Tubby to kick around?) have not played since last Saturday when they lost 89-75 to Louisville at Rupp. Saturday's match-up will be their SEC opener, a game in which they have won 18 of their last 20. The Commodores have won their last 4 against the Wildcats (including their last 2 at Rupp) and would love to do what Joe Fisher thinks no team has done before - take 5 straight from Kentucky.

The most intriguing match-up for me is the freshman battle between Kentucky's Patrick Patterson and our own Crocodile OG. I don't know thay either coach wants to risk putting their freshman stud in foul trouble by matching them up with the other. Even still, here's the tail of the tape. Patterson is 6'9, 219 and average 16.8 ppg (8th in the SEC) and 8.1 boards (6th in the SEC). AJ is 6'11, 250 and averaging 19.6 ppg (2nd) and 7.3 boards (11th). AJ is also the leading international scorer in America, and the 4th in scoring among freshman nationally behind Kansas' Michael Beasley, Indiana's Eric Gordon, and USC's O.J. Mayo. With all that said, Patrick Patterson is a beast and a total stud. As disappointing as UK's 6-7 start has been, Wildcat fans can only imagine how much worse it would have been without this freshman stepping up and playing such an important role early. Luckily for Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt has several bodies they can throw at Patterson. I would not be surprised to see Ross on Patterson, and would love to see signs of life from the senior in this homecoming game (Ross is from Fort Thomas, KY). Even Ross doesn't step up, Vanderbilt won't hesitate to bring in Darshawn McClellan, who has been an impact player off the bench, particularly on the rebounding and defensive front.

The Commodores will also have their hands full with UK guard Ramel Bradley and forward Jodie Meeks. Bradley is averaging 14.8 ppg and both the only upperclassman and senior on UK's starting 5. Bradley has netted 20 points in his last 3, including pouring in 27 against UL last Saturday. Chasing Bradley to start will be Jermaine Beal, who has done a fantastic job running the Commies high-octane offense. Dolla Beal's penchant for draining the big trey, coupled with the ice water he has running through his veins at the charity stripe (he leads the SEC with a 86% FT%), has added yet another dimension to the Commodores offense. And he's only a sophomore.

Jodie Meeks is another Cat the Commies will have to worry about. The 6'4 forward is averaging 10.8 ppg, but has missed 7 games this year due to a stress fracture in his pelvic area (I will restrain myself from making the tasteless joke you all know me capable of). Saturday's game will only be his 3rd start since returning from injury, and he was a non-factor against the Cardinals, only scoring 7 points in 31 minutes, in part due to his abysmal 1-8 shooting, including 1-5 from downtown. Still, we all know Meeks can get it done. When Vanderbilt is in man-to-man, it is likely Red will draw Jodie, who owns a serious size (both height and weight) edge over Red. With the fluidness of the Commodore bench, and the effectiveness of the 2-3 Zone thus far this season though, I would be surprised if there was too many opportunities for Meeks to take advantage of Red.

Rounding out the UK starting 5 are sophomore's Ramon Harris (6'7) and Mark Coury (6'8). Harris also battled injury early, but has started the last 9 games, averaging 4.4 ppg and 3.8 boards. Harris is likely to be spelled early and often by Joe Crawford, who has been utilized by Gillispie off the bench for the last 4 games. The senior stands 6'5, and is averaging 16.1 ppg. When he is in the game, look for a battle of two of the SEC's best, as Shan is sure to match-up with Joe. Coury, despite starting, has only played for more than 20 minutes in 4 games this season. He's 6'8, but based on his stat line, that's about it (averaging 2.8 points and rebounds a game).

When you look at the starting line-ups, it looks like Vanderbilt has a decided scoring edge. Strictly speaking they do, with the Commie starters averaging 67.2 points compared to UK's 49.6. However, when you sub Crawford for Harris, that number goes up to 61.3. Considering UK is averaging 72.4 points a game, I've pretty much discussed their scoring threats. What that means is both that UK isn't that deep, and that Vanderbilt would be well advised to "take it to" the Wildcats in hopes of getting them into foul trouble.

It's amazing that's I've gone this long without talking about Shan. No disrespect intended, he's The Truf. But I look for Shan to have a big game against Kentucky tomorrow. He's leading the SEC in scoring with 20.6 (making him and Crocodile OG 1-2 in the league), and has come up huge time and again (particularly against UK, netting 21 in Vanderbilt's stunning comeback last year at Memorial, and dropping 16 last season at Rupp). The match-up between Shan and Crawford off the bench could be very interesting, but I don't give either Harris or Coury much chance of stopping Shan.

Some things to keep in mind
- UK leads the SEC in turnovers with 17.4 a game. Vanderbilt isn't much better at 16.3 a game, which leads me to believe this could be a sloppy game. That's OK though, we've won sloppy, particularly on the road at DePaul in early December. UK does play much better defense than Vanderbilt does, allowing 65.3 points a game (compared to 75.4) and holding their opponents to 37% from the field (compared to 43% for the Commies).
- Vanderbilt should look to exploit a clear rebound advantage. UK is only averaging 34.4 rebounds a game, compared to the Commies grabbing 38 a contest. That coupled with the stat that UK has been out-scored 87-45 in second chance points in their last 7 games. Considering that UK has lost 5 of those games by a total of 59 points says to me if Vanderbilt can create second-chance scoring opportunities, they will put themselves in a position to win. UK is 6-1 when they out rebound their opponents, while 0-6 when they don't. Whomever wins the battle of the boards will likely emerge with a victory tomorrow.
- Grabbing the lead early is important for the Commies, not only because they are 12-0 when leading at the half, but because UK is 0-5 when trailing.
- I think the "magic" number for the Commodores tomorrow is 70 points. Again, not only are they 16-0 when they score 70 or more, but UK has not won a game where their opponents have scored more than 70 (0-7).
- UK is 1-7 in games shown on CBS/ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU

I would also recommend reading The Man we Love to Hait's piece in today's Nashville City Paper on tomorrow game. Whlie I know the focus has been on EB's decision to go pro, Brett's got a great piece on what to look for tomorrow.

Tomorrow's game will be the country's first chance to see the Commodores en mass (unless you live in Richmond, VA or course) and I am confident this team will bring it's "A" game and show why they are one of 5 teams still undefeated. Despite UK being "down" this year, this is still a great program with a lot of tradition and pride. They want nothing more than to burst Vanderbilt's early-season bubble and snap their 4-game losing streak to the Commies. Should be a good one.

Congrats to Seamus for finishing his finals, if anyone should be playing the VSL Drinking game tomorrow, it's that guy.


Pete W. said...

Come on, who doesnt want to watch Virginia Tech-Maryland tomorrow instead of Vandy-UK? The Hokies and Terps are two of the top teams in their respective states. And the residents of Kensington Manor dont want to get stuck cleaning up the mess that the Vanderbilt Nationally Televised Basketball Drinking Game is sure to create.

Bobby O'Shea said...

If I'm not mistaken, nobody likes you