3 Keys for Vanderbilt to Snap the Losing Streak to Kentucky

The Vanderbilt Commodores (10-9, 3-3) play host to the Kentucky Wildcats (13-6, 4-3) Tuesday night at 8 pm CT in a much-anticipated battle for both sides. Vanderbilt is looking to snap its 13-game losing streak to the Cats, and Kentucky is looking to build on its three-game winning streak. If you follow much college basketball you know how dominant Oscar Tshiebwe is and without two of Vandy’s best big men, it will be a challenge to not let him dominate this game. Vanderbilt has a tall task ahead of them to take down Kentucky in Memorial for the first time since 2016. Here are the three things I am looking at for Vanderbilt to pull off the upset as 6-point underdogs. 

Slow Down Tshiebwe

I use the term slow down instead of stopping Tshiebwe because that is almost impossible. He is one of the most dominant post players, and players in general, in the country not named Zach Edey. Tshiebwe was a consensus AP preseason All-American and for good reason came off averaging 17.4 points and 15.1 rebounds per game in 2021-2022. He has followed that up so far this year with 16.6 points and 14 rebounds per game while drawing even more attention from opposing defenses. One way to potentially slow him down is to keep him off the floor by getting him in foul trouble. This might have been more attainable with Robbins playing inside on offense drawing some potential fouls, but without a real inside offensive presence, Vanderbilt could look to draw some charges on him on defense. This is much easier said than done stepping in front of the 6’9 260 lb. big men, but when he catches it on the block spinning back middle, which he is very good at, Vanderbilt could have a guy on help side standing there looking to take the hit to draw a charge. He is no stranger to double teams, but if they can get him hesitant going one way it could provide some relief for him defensively. Another way to slow him down is limiting his second chance points. Kentucky is 6th in the country in extra scoring chances per game in large part to Tshiebwe being so dominant on the glass. Defensive rebounding for Vanderbilt tonight will be a team effort. Getting a body, or two, on him once the shot goes up and keeping him as far away from offensive rebounds as possible. He is going to get some opportunities for them because he is just that good, but limiting the number of them will be pivotal. If he goes wild getting rebounds Vanderbilt will have their work cut out for them.

Keeping Good Spacing on Offense

The offensive game plan has had to take some tweaks in recent weeks because of injuries but the Georgia game last Saturday was one of their better offensive outputs of the year. They knocked down some outside shots early and kept their spacing wide which then allowed for open driving lanes. Ezra Manjon benefited from that scoring the majority of his game-high 19 points in the paint. In Vandy’s most recent loss to Alabama, they struggled mightily with Alabama’s length inside. This also stemmed from having a poor shooting night from 3-point range and allowing Alabama to pack the paint and not get many clean looks from the paint. When Freshman Center Malik Dia is on the floor, Vanderbilt could look to run a 5-out offense with no one in the paint to open things up inside. Dia is a competent 3-point shooter knocking down 33.3% of his attempts this year and any chance to pull Tshiebwe out of the paint should be taken. Vanderbilt’s offense plays outside-in meaning their success stems from knocking down outside shots to open up points inside, but if they get off to a slow shooting start it could lead to a long night on the offensive end.

Continue to Limit the Turnovers

Neither of these teams turns the ball over very often, but neither team forces many turnovers either. For Vanderbilt to win they will need to play a clean game and take care of the basketball. Kentucky can do some damage in transition with PG Sahvir Wheeler leading the charge. Wheeler is a smaller guard who is lightning-quick and loves to push the ball up the floor any chance he gets. Along with that, Oscar Tshiebwe does a good job of running the floor in transition as well so Vanderbilt needs to limit those opportunities for Kentucky. Wheeler leads the Wildcats with 6 assists per game, but I also believe Vanderbilt could have a good matchup for him in Manjon. I mentioned Wheeler is a smaller, fast guard and Manjon has done a good job this year guarding those types. He plays a good pressure defense and can stay in front very well. Manjon keeping him from running wild, even on turnovers could slow the Cats in transition. Wheeler has not started their last two games coming off a neck injury, but I would be very surprised if he doesn’t see an uptick in minutes in this game and down the stretch. 

Prediction: 

As I mentioned Vanderbilt is up against it tonight, but that is nothing new for this team. They are led by a multitude of upperclassmen and have shown major strides over the past couple of weeks. I predict them feeding off some Memorial Magic tonight at home winning 81-78 and snapping this long losing streak to Kentucky.

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