The Kentucky Wildcats ought to handle the Vanderbilt Commodores on Tuesday, but Vanderbilt dealt LSU its first loss of the SEC season, so the Commodores are going to believe in themselves.
By Matt Zemek
Furthermore, Vanderbilt did give Kentucky a test in the first meeting of the season between these two teams in Rupp Arena. If Kentucky is responsible and vigilant, this should not be an especially difficult game, but Kentucky hasn’t always been responsible and vigilant. That obviously frames part of this contest, but there are other more specific things Kentucky can do to make its life easier in Memorial Gym:
1 – Ashton Hagans and the bench
Tennessee without Lamonte Turner is a weak and limited opponent, so to that extent, what Kentucky did against the Vols this past Saturday in Knoxville shouldn’t be assumed as the regular standard of performance we should expect from this UK team in the weeks ahead. We haven’t seen the consistency needed to give the Wildcats the benefit of the doubt. However, what Kentucky did against Tennessee is certainly something this team should strive to achieve more in the weeks ahead: depth and balance.
Johnny Juzang and Keion Brooks played well, lengthening John Calipari’s bench. When more players play well, it relieves the burden on individual players to think they have to do it all. This is why the first game key isn’t solely Ashton Hagans, and it isn’t solely the bench, either. It’s both in a combination of the two. If the bench continues to play well, Hagans might realize he doesn’t have to force things at the offensive end of the floor. If Hagans plays a more restrained game with fewer mistakes, fewer (bad) shots, and better decisions, the bench has a better chance of developing. A Kentucky team in which Hagans plays smarter on offense and the bench contributes a lot more is a team which can win the national title. Let’s see some progress in the direction of this scenario against Vanderbilt. That would be a good start.
2 – Strong start
This gets back to the first Vanderbilt game. Kentucky was not ready to play. It doesn’t require any explanation. Kentucky needs to be ready in the first half so that it won’t have to scramble in the second half. Period.
3 – Contain Max Evans
Everyone in the SEC knew that Saben Lee was Vanderbilt’s go-to scorer with Aaron Nesmith out. However, Max Evans scored more than 30 points last week in the upset of LSU. Vanderbilt now has a second high-end scorer to worry about. Kentucky can’t let Evans get hot, because if he does, Lee will probably be able to get more quality shots as a result of the defense naturally worrying about Evans.