After the huge 99-90 win over LSU on Wednesday, the Vanderbilt Commodores (9-14) were unable to continue that momentum as they went down on the road at Mississippi State (15-8).
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys as the ‘Dore return home to face the No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats:
Don’t let the last game be a set back
It was always going to be difficult to convert the emotional high of the LSU game into a second consecutive win. That task was made much more difficult when the ‘Dores had to travel to Starkville to face Mississippi State in a place where it is always difficult to play. The Commodores, however, ran the Bulldogs close. This may have finished as a 10-point win for the home side, but the game was in the balance for a long period until Mississippi State put on some points late. Playing well was important and the Commodores need to do that again here.
Get Nick Richards in foul trouble
The biggest issue for Vanderbilt against Kentucky is the size and ability of Nick Richards. The ‘Dores play small and shoot plenty of three-point shots – a couple of factors that will keep them in the game if the shots are falling – but they are not great (at all) when it comes to playing against dominant big men in the post. Richards is a true different maker for the Wildcats. In the first game he did basically nothing in the first half when the Commodores led, then went off in the second half with 15 points and 10 rebounds as Kentucky came back.
There is no true replacement for Richards on the Kentucky bench. If he slips into foul trouble then Vandy will be better off for every possession he does not play.
Create some open looks early
The best way for Vanderbilt to win games is to play how they did against LSU. IN that contest the ‘Dores were able to get open looks early and convert those looks into points with a shooting clinic (especially in the first half). Against Kentucky – another ranked team – the same thing needs to happen.
The key to this is the guard play of the likes of Scottie Pippen Jr. and (especially) Saben Lee. Lee is a guy quick enough to get past the Kentucky guards defensively. If he can do this and cause them to collapse before kicking the ball out, then the Vandy shooters will get some looks they can hit. Scoring early will be important here to set the tone.