One of the more intriguing questions heading into Saturday night’s Kentucky-Florida tilt at Rupp Arena revolves around the possible impact of Jarred Vanderbilt.
After re-injuring a foot in pre-season workouts, the 6-foot-9 freshman from Houston made his collegiate debut on Tuesday night during the Cats’ 76-68 loss at South Carolina.
Vanderbilt played 14 minutes, scoring six points, grabbing five rebounds and making three shots. He was two-of-five from the floor and two-of-four from the free throw line. He also committed two turnovers.
UK coach John Calipari said Friday he had planned on playing Vanderbilt about 12 minutes. He said he would probably play the freshman 16-18 minutes against the Gators.
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So what does Vanderbilt bring to the table? Upon entering the game for the first time with 13:09 left in the first half, he was full of energy, maybe even too much so. I was on WLAP as part of the Big Blue Insider roundtable Friday night where Jeff Drummond of Cats Illustrated said he thought Vanderbilt’s first shot was going to break the backboard.
Once he settled down, Vanderbilt showed some of the skills that earned him a No. 14 national ranking from Rivals. He can definitely handle the ball and, as Calipari had previously said, he is a willing passer, something this Kentucky team needs.
There was one play in particular when Vanderbilt caught a pass down near the block and immediately made a touch pass to a fellow Cat for an easy basket. We haven’t seen a whole lot of that this season.
By all reports, Vanderbilt is not a knockdown shooter, so he’ll have to find other ways to score points. But he can definitely bring some strength and skill to the floor.
“He’s always been tough and he always plays hard,” said teammate PJ Washington on Friday.
Calipari reported that the team’s analytics showed that UK averaged 1.2 points per possession when Vanderbilt was on floor and 0.8 points when he was not on the floor.
The trick for Calipari is incorporating Vanderbilt into the rotation while also managing his health given the player’s history of foot problems.
Still, it would be something if a player who didn’t start playing until Jan. 16 turned out to be the key to this Kentucky basketball team.
To the links:
▪ ESPN’s Seth Greenberg did not back off of his comments that UK’s freshmen looked “spoiled” and didn’t play hard enough in the Cats’ loss at South Carolina. Greenberg was in town with the ESPN College GameDay crew, reports Jared Peck of the Herald-Leader.
▪ There is some irony in the Saturday night matchup. Kentucky has the nation’s long streak of games in which a team makes a three-pointer (1,031) but this UK team doesn’t shoot many threes. Meanwhile, Florida shoots a bunch of threes, reports Jerry Tipton of the Herald-Leader.
▪ While labeling Florida as really good, Calipari said Friday he’s more worried about the mentality of his team, reports Tipton. “You’ve got to have fun playing and coaching,” he said.
▪ You can check out my “five things to know” about the Gators. Coach Mike White has benefited from a pair of transfers -- Jalen Hudson from Virginia Tech and Egor Koulechov, a grad transfer from Rice.
▪ Kentucky freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was a Florida commit until he flipped and went with the Cats, reports Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun. “I developed as a player a lot faster than I thought,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I re-evaluated and my gaols changed and I had to make a decision.”
▪ Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel writes about what the AAU coach saw in Florida point guard Chris Chiozza. “I saw the wizadry and playmaking,” said Norton Hurd. “I didn’t care how small he was, he had something special inside of him.”
▪ Fletcher Page of the Courier-Journal also writes on Vanderbilt and whether the freshman can give the Cats what they need. Page talked to Greenberg, who said, “I think the great thing about Jarred is when something is taken away from you you appreciate it that much more.”
▪ What’s next for Jarred Vanderbilt? asks Jeff Drummond of Cats Illustrated. “Jarred coming back helps everybody, to be honest. It helps us when I need a break. He can sub in for me and give me a minute.”
▪ Speaking of GameDay, SEC Country’s Joe Mussatto has a Q&A with ESPN’s Jay Bils, who will be on the broadcast with Dan Shulman and Maria Taylor. How can Kentucky get better? “Get older,” said Bilas.
▪ Quade Green will probably be a game-time decision, reports Kyle Tucker of SEC Country. “Green was spotted walking into the team practice facility Friday wearing his practice shorts and basketball shoes — but also moving slowly and gingerly and carrying what appeared to be a heating pad. He suffered a back strain in the first half against Tennessee on Jan. 6.”
FLORIDA AT KENTUCKY
When: Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington
TV: ESPN with Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas and Maria Taylor
Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt
KENTUCKY-FLORIDA STATS COMPARISONS
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