After coming off a huge win in Lawrence on Saturday, the Kentucky Wildcats return to Rupp Arena Wednesday night for a date with the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Going into the matchup, Kentucky is arguably the hottest team in the country.
With the beatdown of Kansas on Saturday, the Jayhawks join the list of teams that have run into the buzzsaw this Cats team is when completely healthy, a list that also has North Carolina and Tennessee.
The scary thing is TyTy Washington was not 100% either after suffering an ankle injury just a week earlier, which led to him missing the win over Mississippi State.
For Kentucky, this game will be another opportunity to put it together on the defensive end of the floor before they head to Tuscaloosa on Saturday to face a dangerous Alabama Crimson Tide team.
Vanderbilt possesses the perfect test on the perimeter, as Scotty Pippen Jr. is one of the few players in the SEC who can go and get a bucket at any moment.
While Kentucky can win in a variety of ways, the offense continues to be the strength of this team. Up to fourth overall in KenPom offensive efficiency, this team is one of the best units in the country when it comes to scoring the ball, and not many have been able to slow them down.
What’s the reasoning behind that?
It comes down to how complementary each player is to the other.
Oscar Tshiebwe is one of the best post players in the country, while Kelan Grady and Davion Mintz have earned the reputation as knock-down shooters. Add in the elite playmaking ability of Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington, and there are up to four different options that defenses have to take away.
At that point for opposing coaching staffs, it becomes which option are you going to try and take away.
Kentucky and Vandy faced off earlier this season in Nashville, with the Cats leaving Memorial Gymnasium with a 12-point win, 78-66.
Tshiebwe was the star of the show in Nashville, as he put up 30 points on 11/16 shooting, while also adding 13 rebounds. He was a beast in the paint, and fans shouldn’t expect this matchup to look much different for the star big man.
The other notable thing for fans will be Shaedon Sharpe watch. After starting practice with the team last week, there may not be a better opportunity to get the star freshman some run before the home stretch of the schedule starts.
For the Commodores, they come into this game after a win over Georgia, pushing them to 9-6 on the season. They also have quality wins over BYU and Arkansas.
After an impressive start to the season, Jerry Stackhouse’s squad seems to have hit a wall, losing five of seven with the two wins being over Georgia, who has a strong argument for worst team in the SEC.
Currently, Vanderbilt is averaging 68.6 points per game on 41% shooting from the field and 32% from three. Scotty Pippen Jr. has continued to impress to this point in the season and is looking to stay hot. He’s averaging 18.6 points on 42% shooting, while also adding 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.
In his lone matchup against Kentucky this season, Pippen went off for 32 points on 11/18 shooting from the field, and 6/11 from deep. He also added four assists and two rebounds.
After Pippen, Vanderbilt has just one other double-digit scorer in junior forward Jordan Wright (12.3 ppg). But in the first matchup with Kentucky, Wright was held scoreless on 0/4 shooting, his only game this season without a single point.
Backup sophomore guard Trey Thomas (14 points on 5/10 shooting) was Vanderbilt’s only other double-digit scorer against the Cats in Nashville. Thomas is averaging 6.5 points per game this season.
A big reason why Tshiebwe dominated the paint in the first matchup was Vanderbilt being without center Liam Robbins. One of the top transfer big men in the 2021 offseason, Robbins transferred in from Minnesota and would have given the Dores’ a nice rim protector if he were playing.
However, Robbins has not played this season due to a stress reaction in his foot. While he is closing in on a return, it doesn’t sound like he’ll play Tuesday, which could have been a game-changer for the Dores.
Jerry Stackhouse said Liam Robbins is ramping up workouts but has had some fatigue issues after not playing for a long time. Stackhouse doesn’t know if he’ll be available this week but said when he does return he will likely be on limited minutes
— Aria Gerson (@aria_gerson) January 31, 2022
For the Commodores to come in and push for an upset bid, they will need help elsewhere alongside Pippen.
If that doesn’t happen, it will be incredibly tough for them to push the Wildcats in Rupp Arena.
Game time is set for 7 pm ET on the SEC Network.