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Tomorrow the #1 ranked Kentucky Wildcats (24-1) will head down to Nashville to do battle with the Vanderbilt Commodores (17-7) in a key game in the hunt for the SEC Title. The Cats will enter this game on a roll as they come off a pasting of the #8 Florida Gators on Tuesday night while Vandy is fresh off of a victory over the sliding LSU Tigers. The Cats appear to have rounded into form over the last 2 weeks and they will not easily be derailed as they prepare to head down the home stretch of this college basketball season. Freshman Anthony Davis (14.0 ppg, 10 reb., 4.8 blk & 1.5 stls) continues to be the centerpiece behind a defense that is just downright frightening at times. The Cats are still looking for a total effort on offense but there is no denying the way they play defense. Davis is literally the front-runner for not only “Defensive Player of the Year” but also “Freshman of the Year” as well the possible “Player of the Year”; no player has ever won all three awards in his first year of playing college ball. But Davis will need help from Terence Jones, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller if the Cats are to come away from Nashville with a “W” tomorrow night. Marquise Teague will also have to have an excellent floor-game to allow those guys to be able to produce.
For the Commodores, the season has been a combination of ups and downs, injury filled and sometimes a lack of passion and intensity. This is a veteran team that some thought could win the SEC and at times they have looked very good (i.e. a 17 point victory over a then “hot” Marquette squad in late Dec.); however the ‘Dores have inexplicable losses (home losses to Cleveland St. and Indiana St.). So it is hard to get a read on a team that had high expectations coming into this season. John Jenkins leads Vandy averaging 19.7 ppg but he will need help from Festus Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor if they hope to topple the Cats. Coach Kevin Stallings knows this is a chance for his team to build some momentum as they head toward March, something they sorely need after being bounce in the 1st round of the big dance each of the last two years. Vandy still has at the very least “Elite 8” talent but they will need to at least try and add another marquee victim to their list (Marquette is the only ranked team they have beaten).
My thoughts for this game are simple, the Cats routinely have problems playing in down in Vandy and that is usually atypical of any visiting opponent to Nashville. However, the friendly confines have not been all that friendly as mentioned previously. The Commodores need this victory badly, if for nothing else, to pad their resume. #1 going on the road for a tough conference game usually smells of upset but I am not so sure the Commodores believe in themselves the way UK does; give me UK 72 – Vandy 68.
Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats (15-1) will pay a visit to the state of Alabama to play the Auburn Tiger (10-5). The Cats are fresh off of a good victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks Saturday while Auburn was thoroughly beaten by Vanderbilt (65-35) in its SEC opener over the weekend. Kenny Grabiel (6’8’’ forward) leads the Tigers in just about every important offensive & defensive category (11.9 pts per game, 7.8 reb. per game, 1.5 steals per game and 2.7 blocks per game. While Auburn had a pretty good start to the season with their non-conference record of 10-4, they really didn’t beat anybody worth speaking of. Their best win on paper appears to be against South Florida, but only because the Bulls are in the Big East Conference. Auburn had bad losses to Seton Hall (81-59), Long Beach St. (64-43) and Florida St. (85-56). The Tigers really have trouble putting the ball in the basket, even more than UK’s last opponent, the Gamecocks. Usually home-court advantage means something for a team (worth between 5-10 points possibly) but for the Tigers, it just means there will be no long bus ride after this “mercy killing”.
For the Cats, this game will be about focus and not letting up on the road against an inferior opponent. Terrence Jones finally re-emerged as he had maybe his best game of the season against South Carolina. Anthony Davis continues to give opposing players fit when they attack the rim. The Cats cannot come out sluggish and uninterested because much like the Commodores did, you want to take the heart and breath away from a team like Auburn early because that will lead to them hanging their heads and being frustrated.
This one should not be a challenge except if you are betting whether or not the Tigers score more than 40……….I’m betting they will, but barely; UK 70 – 45.