A long-awaited matchup is finally upon us. Kentucky is coming to Nashville as No. 1 in the nation. Vanderbilt has not been quite up to par with early expectations but we all know how much talent is on this team, and if there was ever a night to come around than this Saturday is the time. UK has struggled on the road at times this season, and it is time for the Commodores to prove their game in front of a national crowd. I hope you are as excited as I am.
Anthony Davis will sweep awards like no has ever swept them before this postseason. Oh, and he is going to be signing with Charlotte Bobcats (or some other trash team) for big bucks when they draft him with the top pick this offseason. And you are better off just believing the hype if you do not believe already. Davis has a story like no else, as he was just an average-sized high school guard just a couple of years ago before one huge growth spurt sent him on a path to becoming the star he is today. I cannot describe his ability to block shots because there is not a word for it. He is simply the greatest ever in that dimension for the game. He just denies every thing his oppositions throws at him regardless of it is a hook shot, a layup, or even a three. He also has great defensive instincts, and is quick to getting the Kentucky defense back to their assignments when switches are made. Worse of all though, is the physiological affect he has on the opposing offense. And that goes for everyone he is playing, as he seems to not allow any clean shots by any player if he is on the court. Just watch some Kentucky games. It seems like everyone goes cold against them, just because their defense is so intimidating. Davis is also the leading scorer and rebounder for Kentucky. He has great communication with all his teammates (most of which are outstanding passers) and that allows for many alley-oops a game. He just dunks, and dunks, and dunks, and dunks again. He does not mind posting up either, but he prefers to stay away from any exhausting aggressive and strong moves. He prefers to use his quick feet to get a shot off quicker than the usually slow opposing big man can defend. He does bring a lot of intensity and leaping ability to rebounding though. One thing you can do to Davis is sucker him into shots further away from the basket. He cannot hit them with any consistency and if you got him to miss enough, maybe you could lower his confidence. Other than that, not much is wrong with this guy. You may get him out of position, but he is just so physically gifted that he almost always gets back in time to shut down any offense. Yet he does it with getting in foul trouble. Such a talented player.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is one of the most intense, hard-working players my eyes have ever witnessed. He plays basketball like every coach in America wants his players to play. His will to win sets this Kentucky team apart from the other freshman-heavy squads we have seen recently. He also posses outstanding rebound abilities at the three spot. Moreover, he does not waste time by handing the ball to Marquis Teague when gets his hand on the ball. He would rather get his teammates going down the court, where he has great finishing ability and even better court vision to find an open teammate or lob it up to one of many great leapers he plays with. His instincts are unheard of for a freshman. MKG has an outstanding first step when attack the basket and quickly makes the best decision for his team. And that is what Kidd-Gilchrist is all about. He wants to be the victor and he thrives on getting the loose ball no one else was even going to go after. He never stands around and his high-energy is contagious to his teammates. Kentucky fights for all those extra possessions that make them winners, so we have to be ready to battle it out this weekend. MKG has been known to chew his out teammates out when they are not doing their work. He is also doing his though. On both ends of the court, he is one heck of a player.
Marquis Teague is yet another five-star freshman for the Wildcats. He took a lot of heat earlier in the year but has cleaned up his game a lot recently. He is a good passer and can penetrate a defense quite well. He is not the best finisher, but he can cause the defense to collapse once he beats his man off the dribble, which of course leads to a kick out or the always-efficient pass to Anthony Davis. He does not have the pure takeover ability that blessed Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, or even Brandon Knight before him but he is still very gifted as a college freshman. His three-point shot is not spectacular, but he does a fair job of knocking down the deep ball if he gets open. And with this very talented Kentucky team comes their great court vision, so they are very good when it comes to finding an open man. Still, there are question marks surround this particular freshman. When things are going well in Lexington, he seems to function with very sound decisions. However, when he leaves his home court, he has been known to make some terrible mistakes. Just look at his performance in Knoxville, where he struggled to make the even simple passes in the half court. A majority of his teammates have terrific ball handling skills for their position, and that kind of hides the flaws in Teague’s game. I would look for him to be a big variable in the outcome of the game this weekend. Hopefully he continues to make those mental errors on the road.
Terrence Jones is probably the biggest offensive threat that Kentucky presents. His skills set is loaded and he has a variety of ways to attack the opposing defense. However, the fact that he is fourth on his team in points is a little ridiculous. He forces things at times and his jump shot just has not improved as much as I expected it to. He is not the factor that he should be a this point, regardless of if he had a finger injury or not. I will stick to the word I used in the first sentence of this paragraph though. Jones is a threat. He has the capability of going off any night. Something I have noticed though is that if he misses early, he seems to fall out of favor with the Kentucky offense. I do not think they like him forcing things and they like to go to the route of him finishing alley-oops and running a fastbreak than attacking off the dribble. He is the third best rebounder on his team, but that is not an insult considering he plays with Davis and MKG. He also contributes to the outstanding defense of Kentucky with his blocking ability, and he is pretty versatile on all ends of the court. I hope, hope, hope that we catch him on a cold night. When he is knocking them down, they are nearly impossible to beat.
Doron Lamb is starting next to Teague in the backcourt. Much like Jones, he is a sophomore that can light up the scoring column. Actually, he is just behind Davis as the leading scorer on the team and he has not even started every game. His three-point shot is excellent, and he loves the shot from the corner. We must clamp down on this guy, as he is going to get more shots than anyone else on the team. Kentucky loves to look for him to put the dagger in their oppositions and close the game. We cannot give them that opportunity. As with all players that lead their team in shots, he has been known to force things when he misses a few. And that is what we need. Jones and Lamb have a lot of dimensions to their scoring, unlike superstars MKG and Davis that do most of their work around the basket. I think winning will require Kentucky to get one dimensional like that.
Kentucky does not have a lot of depth but they do have some great bench players. Darius Miller plays more consistent minutes off the bench than basically any player in the league, and has one of the most interesting offensive skills set out of any player in the conference as well. Miller can hurt you both with a three-point shot and a post move. His complex game usually provides a good amount of buckets off the bench and his size can create some matchup issues (as if there were not already enough). Kyle Wiltjer is another five-star freshman but he is not held to quite the same level as Davis, MKG, and Teague. I just think it is crazy how this guy would be the highest rated prospect we have ever had but is hardly a role player for Kentucky. Wiltjer does do a lot of things pretty well, and can hit shots outside and inside. He normally provides some offense off the bench, but not too much. Eloy Vargas is a serviceable guy in the paint, who will give a breather to Anthony Davis at some point in the game. He does not too much though, but simply handles business in the post while the superstar get a quick break.
Here is how I look at things. I just think that Antony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are just going to get their stuff and we cannot really do anything about it. We need to make sure they do not get much help though. Other guys have struggled somewhat on the road this season, and we need to take advantage of that and take away other options. John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor must avoid the long arms of Davis at all cost. Give Kentucky a couple of pump fakes and then take a jump shot. Going inside will not be much of an option if Davis is on the court unless Jeffery Taylor really wants to expend all his energy somehow avoiding the guy for one possession. Not worth it if you ask me. Kentucky does not make many mistakes on defense, we have got to get them in the air (they love blocking shots) and beat them with our superior outside shooting (mid-range shots also but even that will be tough). Brad Tinsley must be a factor. He has to get in the scoring column and hold his own on defense. Actually, that goes for everyone. All of the Wildcats have a huge skill set, so we need to clamp down on everyone. We will have to give energy and effort for a full basketball game. Kentucky hustles more than anyone in the nation and we need to change our careless ways this weekend if we want to have a chance. We need emotion to win this game. Memorial needs to erupt when we get on the fastbreak and fans need to scream their lungs out if we force Calipari to take a timeout. Our guys feed off that energy. And lastly, we need Kentucky to mess up more than us. Our talent cannot beat them, we need some help from the mistakes of our opposition. It is time for some Memorial Magic folks. It is time to show yet another top-ranked team that we do not lay down when the big boys come to town.