Remember the good ol’ days when Vandy would make their way to Rupp Arena for their annual butt kicking. You could envision the guys who wore the gold and black doing quantum physics on the team bus on the way to the gym while guys like Matt Heisenbuttel and the immortal Todd Svobota prepared to pad their stat sheets. Tonight, the former sacrificial lambs from Nashville will have a much less “nerdy” look. Instead, these guys look, and play, not like a team full of future accountants and basketball analysts, but like a team with some potential NBA talent that has compiled a pre-conference resume that makes them almost an NCAA tourney lock. (Something I am not comfortable guaranteeing for the Cats at this point.) Let’s take a quick look at what we will see tonight.
Thank you NCAA for the return of Randolph Morris for this game. Vanderbilt may still outman the Cats in the post tonight, but without Morris, it could have once again gotten ugly. The Commodore bigs, Terrell and Skuchas (SEC’s best name), go 6’9″ 248 and 6’11” 250 respectively. Skuchas is really the only non-scoring threat of the Commodore starting five, but is a solid banger. Terrell is athletic despite the big frame and averages eleven points and eight rebounds. The Commodores are also big on the wing with Byars at 6’7″. Despite the height, Byars biggest gift is his nearly unblockable three point shot which he shoots often and with great efficiency. (45.2%) In the backcourt, Shan Foster is the Commodore’s leading scorer at 16 per game. He also stands 6’6″. Finally, although he has struggled early this season, senior Mario Moore starts at point guard. The 5’11” Moore has hit multiple game winning shots in his career and is the type of gritty, fearless point guard that you need to win games on the road.
So how do the Cats match up? In short, if you look solely at this season rather than the matchup historically, not well. Vandy brings an impressive 9 and 2 record into the game with solid wins at Georgetown and Dayton as well as a nice home victory over Oregon. Their only losses are a home loss to surprising Cincinnati and a road loss to Georgia Tech. Kentucky, on the other hand, is coming off the most savage beating it has taken in recent memory and ranks near the bottom of the conference in every offensive category. (Not to mention rebounding.) Additionally, Kentucky appears to be outmanned physically at three positions in the starting five. At shooting guard, whether Sparks or Bradley log the majority of the minutes, they will give up six inches to Shan Foster. Similarly, Joe Crawford and Ravi Moss will give up a great amount of height at the small forward spot. Finally, even if Morris comes through at the center spot, even the most optimistic of cat fans would not feel good about the matchup of any Kentucky power forward against Julian Terrell.
Is all lost? Should the Cats forfeit the game to spare the humiliation of losing to the alma mater of friend of Kentucky Sports Radio Barry Booker? Although tempting after Saturday, the answer is no. Kentucky has three things going for them tonight. First, Kentucky’s best strength is Vanderbilt’s Achilles’ heel. Dribble penetration from the guards. As seen in Kentucky’s victories over Vandy last year, Vandy could not contain Rondo off the dribble when the Cats spread the floor. Second, Kentucky has the emotional factor of the return of Morris. This should lead to a loud and upbeat Rupp Arena despite Kentucky’s season long struggle. Finally, Kentucky has history on its side. The ‘Dores have never won in Rupp. The question is, will the ghosts of the past 30 years of Kentucky-Vandy be enough to beat the present ‘Dores?