The 2017-18 Vanderbilt basketball team may be falling short of some of its preseason goals, but this is a gutsy group that won’t go down without a fight. That was proven again this weekend as the ‘Dores took down a talented TCU squad 81-78 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Next up is a trip to No. 22 Kentucky.Here are the three keys to this one:
Be prepared for anything
It is hard to know exactly what team Vanderbilt will face in Lexington on Tuesday night. The Wildcats have been a strange team this season, alternately looking average, inexperienced, and slightly above average. For the first 20 minutes in Morgantown on Saturday against West Virginia, the ‘Cats just looked plain bad.
Then halftime happened and a Kentucky team emerged in the second half that could easily challenge for a national title at the end of this season.
It was just one half of one game, but everything clicked. The Wildcats ran down a 15 point lead in one of the most difficult venues to play in college basketball – against a defense that is tailor-made to stop everything Kentucky does well – and they came out on top.
If that team comes out onto the floor on Tuesday then the Commodores will be in trouble, but with this Kentucky squad, you have to be prepared for any level of performance on any given day.
Cool down Kevin Knox
If the Commodores are to take down the Wildcats then they will first need to nullify the player who basically took over the game against West Virginia. Kevin Knox has had a very similar season to the Kentucky team in many respects. He is the leading scorer on the roster and before the game in Morgantown, he had scored more than 20 points five times this year. Even so, it always seemed like he had more to give.
On Saturday he gave that extra effort.
Knox scored 34 points – a career-high – on 11-of-17 from the field. He took over the game and if he brings that level of fire and efficiency to the court on Tuesday then it will be vital that Vanderbilt finds a way to shut his production down.
Keep looking to the leaders
It has been interesting to see the change in focus and drive of seniors Riley LaChance and Jeff Roberson in the weeks following the season-ending injury to fellow senior Matthew Fisher-Davis. The two could easily have faded into the background and let the Vandy underclassman battle their way to an unsuccessful season climax, but instead, they have taken on even more of a workload with their classmate out of the lineup.
Against TCU in the upset victory, the pair combined for 44 points despite the entire TCU defensive focus being on stopping LaChance and Roberson. This will be a common theme as the season progresses – starting with Kentucky on the road – but if the two seniors can continue to produce like this then there is no reason why the ‘Dores can’t put together a late-season run of wins.