Though there wasn’t nearly the buildup to this Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky game as there has been the last 3 seasons, but this game turned into a gem. The energy from the crowd wasn’t there from the get go like it normally would be, but it got going as the game wore on. Like a lot of college games these days, it wasn’t pretty. But wow was it intense! Final score: Kentucky 60 - Vanderbilt 58.
1. VANDERBILT OUTHUSTLED KENTUCKY - This team is offensively challenged to put it politely, but they showed some heart and some guts. They dove for loose balls (one in particular by Freshman Sheldon Jeter in front of the VU bench helped ignite the crowd during the 2nd Half comeback). They battled for rebounds despite a big size disadvantage (Offensive Rebounds: VU 15 UK 7). Shelby Moats in particular took a big step forward. Banged his way around and created extra possessions despite having about one-eighth of the athleticism as the Kentucky players he was matched up with. Though their offense is going to give them little margin for error, this effort has to be their calling card and identity all season.
2. SHOT CLOCK NON-VIOLATION - Nerlens Noel clearly did not get the shot off in time with less than 30 seconds left and UK up 3. It wasn’t even debatable. But for some reason that play is not reviewable in college hoops. Can’t really tell you why. It hurt Vanderbilt, but I’m not a believer that it necessarily cost them the game. Kedren Johnson’s quick 3 right afterwards cut the margin back to 2, and after UK’s turnover under the VU basket (another difficult bang-bang call), the Commodores had a 3 to win. The action would have unfolded differently had Noel’s bucket correctly been waved off. The Cats would have defended differently on the next possession, and so on.
3. THE FINAL SHOT - I loved the decision for VU to play for the 3 pointer and the win on the last possession. At home, and as the underdog, unless it was a dead layup I think you try and win it right there as they did. VU ended up with 4 players around the arc and one underneath. UK, whether by design or not, was in a scramble mode- double-teaming Rod Odom as he caught the ball on the 3pt. line. Then as Odom swung the ball to Moats on the right wing, the Cats gambled and almost stole the pass, but overran and got further out of position. Moats recovered as he fell to the ground and hit Johnson who was a step and a half behind the line. In the midst of this chaos there were open Commodores all over the court, including underneath the basket. ut in that situation it would have been hard to ask for anything much better than a decent look from your best player.
4. KENTUCKY- They have a long way to go. No depth. Poor free throw shooting. No clear go-to guy. Amazing talent and athleticism, but seem to lack the savvy needed to beat good teams consistently. Had no clue how to attack Vanderbilt’s zone. Also seemed to put it in cruise control when things were going their way early and dropped their guard. They will benefit from the lack of depth in the SEC, but I’m not sure Camp Cal is going to make them elite by the end of the year.
5. GETTING THE MOST OUT OF THE COMMODORE OFFENSE- This team is going to stay in most games with their defense and effort. At least I think they will. We know their offense is not going to be a strength, but can it move up a mini-level?
Here is how it could happen:
a. Gotta hit free throws. Goes without saying.
b. I’m going to choose to believe that Rod Odom is a better shooter than this. He was a career 37% 3point shooter coming into the season. He has gone 4-25 from the field in the recent games vs. Butler and Kentucky. The team and the coaches have to stay with him and get his confidence up. They have no other options. He just has to get them a consistent (and efficient) 12-14 points per game to support Kedren Johnson.
c. Dai-Jon Parker has to continue to develop his role in the offense. This is still a work in progress after he missed the early part of the season with his suspension. To this point he has largely been an excellent defender who has been somewhat feeling his way on offense- not really looking to score. He started to assert himself more in the second half tonight and gave them a lift. He is certainly not elite, but he should settle into the 3rd option behind KJ and Odom.
d. Moats and Jeter need to continue to progress as spot up shooters. These two are largely used as screeners for Kedren Johnson. As KJ goes off their screens, their men will often help or double on Johnson, leaving them open. They are starting to become a little more confident with each game of being ready to catch and knock down the hot. If they can connect when they are open a little more consistently it will make a difference. Just an extra bucket or two per game from them would go a long way.
Photo via http://scores.espn.go.com