Kentucky (9-4) at Vanderbilt (6-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 10, 9 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Memorial Gym (14,316) -- Nashville, Tennessee. Television: ESPN. Home Record: UK 8-1, Vanderbilt 4-2. Away Record: UK 0-2, Vanderbilt 1-1. Neutral Record: UK 1-1, Vanderbilt 1-3. Conference Record: UK 0-0, Vanderbilt 0-0. Series Record: Kentucky leads, 136-45.
GAME NOTES: The Kentucky Wildcats and the Vanderbilt Commodores open up their respective SEC schedules against each when they square off at Memorial Gym in Nashville on Thursday night.
Defending national champion Kentucky came into the season with incredibly high expectations and the No. 3 ranking, and although it started off well with wins in six of its first seven games, it promptly dropped back-to-back contests to Notre Dame and Baylor to tumble all the way out of the Top-25. Things have been looking up of late however, as it has won five of its last six, with its only loss in that span coming at nationally-ranked Louisville on Dec. 29, 80-77.
The Wildcats had arguably their strongest all-around performance in their latest game on Jan. 2, dismantling Eastern Michigan in a 90-38 final. It was the fewest points they have allowed to an opponent since November of 2007, and they shot an impressive 51.7 percent from the field (including 10-of-26 from 3-point range) too add insult to injury. Kyle Wiltjer came off the bench to lead five teammates in double-figures with 17 points, while Alex Poythress (16 points) and Archie Goodwin (15 points, eight points) were also strong. Julius Mays chipped in 13 points, Willie Cauley-Stein had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Nerlens Noel rounded out a balanced attack with eight points, 13 boards, three blocks and two steals.
Vanderbilt's season has had just as many ups as downs, resulting in a 6-6 record. It has played well on its home floor however, winning four of six at Memorial Gym.
After dropping back-to-back games to Middle Tennessee (56-52) and Butler (68-49), the Commodores got back on track with a 64-50 win over William & Mary on Jan. 2. They shot 45.3 percent from the floor in the triumph and were led by an impressive performance from reserve Sheldon Jeter, who scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Rod Odom and Kedren Johnson were also a factor with 12 points apiece.
Kentucky has a firm handle on the all-time series with Vanderbilt, 136-45. However, the Commodores defeated the then-No. 1 Wildcats last March in the SEC Tournament championship game, 71-64, for their first SEC Tournament title since 1951.
On the season, Kentucky scores 79.2 ppg behind better than 49 percent field goal shooting, both of which are vastly greater than what it allows to its opponents (.375 FG percentage, 60.8 ppg). Goodwin not only nets a team-best 15.8 ppg, but he grabs 5.2 rpg and dishes out 3.8 apg. Poythress adds 14.0 ppg on an outstanding 64.2 percent from the field, while fellow freshmen Noel (10.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 3.5 bpg, 2.6 spg) and Cauley-Stein (7.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.1 bpg) have also played well. The Wildcats' top non-freshman is Wiltjer, who drains 43.4 percent of his 3-pointers en route to 12.0 ppg.
It's easy to see how Vanderbilt has ended up with such a mediocre record when looking at the numbers, as the team scores nearly the exact same amount of points (59.7 ppg) as it allows (59.5 ppg). Johnson has been one of the SEC's top guards, putting up 16.6 ppg while also leading the team in assists (3.9 apg) and steals (1.6 spg). Kyle Fuller (11.9 ppg) and Odom (9.6 ppg) have also been steady performers for the Commodores.
Kentucky hasn't lived up to expectations, and against top competition it has faltered, but it has shown that against weaker teams it is more than capable of playing well at both ends of the floor. The homecourt advantage for Vandy won't matter much in this one as the Wildcats roll.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Kentucky 77, Vanderbilt 62
01/10 10:37:10 ET