Kentucky beat Texas A&M last time out to move to 1-1 in SEC play but it was far from the convincing victory that it should have been. Next up for the Wildcats is a clash with a Vanderbilt team that has opened its SEC slate with two straight losses.
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys:
Rebound, rebound, rebound
There would have been some long odds out there against Kentucky being out rebounded in each of its first two SEC games of the season. This is a tall, athletic team with a couple of players that have made their name in the non-conference schedule with their ability to dominate on the boards.
The biggest disappointment so far has probably been the play of Reid Travis. Travis has picked up just 10 rebounds total over the last two games, with the 6-foot-8 power forward not able to find the rebounding rhythm that saw him average 8.7 boards per game for Stanford last season.
Vanderbilt has a +5 rebounding margin on the season, so the Wildcats can expect dominance of the boards to be a battle against on Saturday.
Stop Simi Shittu
Vanderbilt is 9-5 on the season but the Commodores are already battling through adversity compared to how the roster was supposed to look in 2018.
Five-star freshman Darius Garland was lost for the season with a knee injury after starting his college career on a tear, averaging 16 points per game while leading the team from his point guard spot. With Garland sidelined it has fallen to Shittu to shoulder the scoring load, with the freshman responding by pushing his scoring average to 14.6 points per game while hitting over 50-percent from the field.
The 6-10, 240-pound Shittu is an athletic and powerful big man the likes of which you don’t see every week in the college game. That will make his matchup with the Kentucky bigs very interesting to watch and a huge key to the game.
Defend the three
The biggest issue for Kentucky this season has been the team’s inability to consistently shut down the three-point shooters that opposition teams put on the court.
While Vanderbilt isn’t going to threaten the Wildcats as the most explosive offensive team they face, especially without Garland in the lineup, this is a team with a couple of shooters that will hurt Kentucky unless the three-point line us guarded well. Matt Ryan (37.8-percent) and Joe Toye (34.4-percent) are the biggest threats from downtown, with Vanderbilt averaging 33.7-percent from behind the arc on the season.
Kentucky should be good enough to win this game, but allowing Vandy to get comfortable from three-point range would be a disaster. Remember that Texas A&M shot 47.1-percent from three in the Wildcats last outing, keeping the Aggies in the game for a longer period than they should have been.