Five things to know about Kentucky basketball’s next opponent, the Vanderbilt Commodores:
1. Vanderbilt played a brutal non-conference schedule
The Commodores pre-conference schedule has much to do with the Commodores’ 6-10 overall record going into Saturday. Analytics guy Jeff Sagarin ranks the Vandy strength of schedule No. 9 nationally. RPI ranks Vandy’s strength of schedule at No. 28. The ‘Dores schedule is ranked 65th by kenpom.
Vanderbilt lost to then 10th-ranked USC 93-89 in overtime in Nashville. It lost to Virginia 68-42. The Cavaliers are currently ranked third in the AP college basketball. Vanderbilt lost 72-59 to then No. 20 Seton Hall. It lost 66-63 to a good Middle Tennessee team. It lost 76-64 at then No. 5-ranked Arizona State.
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Last Tuesday, it led No. 24-ranked Tennessee 45-35 at the half at Memorial Gym before losing 92-84. The Commodores were outscored 57-39 in the second half by the Vols.
Overall, Sagarin ranks Vandy at No. 83. Pomeroy ranks Vanderbilt at No. 90. The RPI has Vanderbilt at No. 154.
2. Vanderbilt has had trouble shooting the basketball
As a team, the Commodores are shooting 41.6 percent from the floor. That ranks 309th out of the 351 Division I teams. They are shooting 33.3 percent from three-point range. That ranks 255th nationally.
Vandy shot 23.1 percent against Virginia, one reason the ‘Dores trailed Tony Bennett’s team 43-17 at the half. Vandy shot 33.8 percent against Arizona State, 33.9 percent against Seton Hall and 37.9 percent against Middle Tennessee.
Matthew Fisher-Davis, the Commodores’ second-leading scorer at 12.1 points per game, is shooting just 37.8 percent from the floor. Joe Toye, the ‘Dores fifth leading scorer at 4.8 point per game, is shooting 34.9 percent from the field.
Vanderbilt is coming off one of its best shooting games of the year, hitting 51.8 percent against Tennessee. The Commodores were 11-of-26 from three-point range for 42.3 percent.
That Vandy’s shooting percentage from three is not high doesn’t keep the ‘Dores from shooting them. Seven times this season Vanderbilt has made 10-or-more three pointers.
3. Vandy has a budding star in freshman Saben Lee
The 6-foot-2 rookie out of Phoenix was a four-star prospect ranked as the 105th best prospect in the Class of 2018 by 247Sports when he signed with Bryce Drew.
He’s averaging 11.2 points per game, but has really come on in the last three games. Lee scored 23 points in Vandy’s 76-75 win over Alabama. He scored 17 in a 71-60 loss at South Carolina. He added 21 in the loss to visiting Tennessee.
That’s a 20.3 points per game average in the last three games. He’s made 20 of 35 field goals over that stretch, including six-of-11 from three.
“He gives us something different than a lot of our guys,” Drew said earlier this month. “A burst of speed that he can by his man and get to the rim. If he can continue to do that, it will help our shooters get open shots.”
4. Drew is building a formidable program for the future
Despite this year’s struggles, the 43-year-old Drew appears to the have the Commodores pointed in the right direction.
After going 124-49 in five seasons as the head coach at his alma mater Valparaiso, Drew replaced Kevin Stallings last season and after an 8-10 start led Vanderbilt to the NCAA Tournament. The Commodores went 9-4 before being knocked out of the SEC Tournament and losing to Northwestern in the NCAA Tourney.
As of now, their recruiting class for 2018 is ranked sixth nationally by Rivals. The ‘Dores have signed Simisola Shittu, a 6-9 forward from Vermont ranked No. 7 by Rivals. They’ve signed Darius Garland, a 6-1 point guard from Nashville ranked 18th. And Aaron Nesmith, a 6-5 forward from Charleston, South Carolina ranked 69th by Rivals, has also signed with Vanderbilt.
Then there’s Romeo Langford, the five-star prospect from New Albany, Ind. ranked No. 6 by Rivals. Langford’s three finalists are Indiana, Kansas and Vanderbilt.
5. Memorial Magic has worked against Kentucky -- pre-Calipari
From 2002 through 2009, when Tubby Smith and then Billy Gillispie, for two years, was the Kentucky coach, Vanderbilt beat Kentucky six of seven times in Memorial Gym. That included a four-game Vandy win streak at home against the Cats from 2006 through 2009.
Then John Calipari arrived at Kentucky. Since then, the Cats are 5-2 against Vanderbilt on the Vandy campus. UK lost at Vanderbilt 81-77 in 2011 and 74-62 in 2016.
Last year, UK got 23 points from Isaiah Briscoe and 22 from De'Aaron Fox for an 87-81 win at Vandy. Jeff Roberson, Riley LaChance and Matthew Fisher-Davis all scored 19 points for Vanderbilt. All three are back.
Kentucky at Vanderbilt
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where: Memorial Gym in Nashville
TV: ESPN with Bob Wischusen, Dick Vitale and Allison Williams
Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt
Vanderbilt’s men basketball 2017-18
Middle Tenn State