Kentucky has been one of the nation’s hottest teams over the past month, with one exception being a home loss to Vanderbilt. On Friday, the Wildcats have their chance at revenge in the SEC quarterfinals. Kentucky is a 5.5-point favorite, with the over/under at 147.5 points.
Let’s make predictions for Friday’s matchup and take a look at why Kentucky should be able to bounce back and take care of business against the Commodores.
Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky Prediction
Doubting Kentucky hasn’t been a great idea lately, even if their recent stretch of success included a home loss to Vanderbilt. The Wildcats’ extended track record indicates that was more of a blip on the radar than a sign of what’s to come.
Vanderbilt is learning to live without leading scorer Liam Robbins, whose size could’ve given Oscar Tshiebwe some trouble. The Commodores no longer have big men who can match Tshiebwe, and the return of Cason Wallace along with the recent scoring explosion by Antonio Reeves indicate Tshiebwe won’t have the weight of Kentucky’s offense on his plate.
It’s not out of the question a rising Vanderbilt team can give the Wildcats another close game. They’re clearly playing inspired basketball for the first time under Jerry Stackhouse. I’m just not sure this trend of 10-PPG scorers going for 18-20 a night and smaller forwards piling up rebounds will be able to continue against a team as talented as Kentucky – especially with the Wildcats on notice following the loss to these Commodores.
Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky Prediction: Kentucky -5.5
Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky Odds
Kentucky enters as a 5.5-point favorite against Vanderbilt, sitting -235 on the moneyline. The over/under is 147.5 points.
The Wildcats have been rolling lately and are starting to get healthier. Was a home loss to Vanderbilt just a fluke, or do the Commodores actually have another upset brewing?
Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky Key Matchups
Here are some key matchups that could decide Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky.
Vanderbilt Big Men vs. Oscar Tshiebwe
Vanderbilt has won eight of its last nine, but if anything can suck the air right out of their season it’s a season-ending injury to leading scorer Liam Robbins.
Robbins was averaging 15 points per game and averaged 9.8 rebounds per game in his last six games before the injury. He suffered the injury against Kentucky, a game the Commodores still managed to win, but a full-game absence against the top rebounding team in the nation might be tough for Vanderbilt to overcome.
6’6” Jordan Wright (whose scoring has been a big boost lately) exploded for 15 rebounds in Thursday’s win over LSU. That’s a much easier feat against LSU than it will be against Oscar Tshiebwe, who averages a ridiculous 13.1 rebounds and has some help from Jacob Toppin.
The absence of Robbins’ size is also going to make scoring near the basket more difficult and force Vanderbilt to rely on a collection of second-tier offensive options – that’s a key reason for my Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky preview.
Cason Wallace vs. Injury Woes, Rust
Kentucky has the talent advantage in this game. It all comes down to whether that talent can put it all together. A big storyline will be the health of Cason Wallace, who is expected to play after leaving the last matchup with Vanderbilt due to an ankle injury. He missed the regular season finale against Arkansas.
When Wallace is at his best, he’s a dynamic guard. He had back-to-back 20-point games in February and fills the stat sheet nightly with rebounds and assists. Wallace’s lows can be low. He shot an abysmal 1-of-13 against Mississippi State last month, a game that followed a 5-point performance in a loss to Georgia.
Wallace has to prove he’s 100% healthy, especially with Sahvir Wheeler still out for the Wildcats. A healthy and effective Wheeler gives Kentucky a completely different backcourt. Anything less puts too much pressure on Antonio Reeves (37 points vs. Arkansas) and Tshiebwe to do the scoring. If Reeves was enough to beat Arkansas, though, he may be enough against Vanderbilt.