Rushed Reactions: Vanderbilt 64, Kentucky 48Posted by David Changas on March 15th, 2013
David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Vanderbilt-Kentucky game at the SEC Tournament in Nashville this evening.
Three Key Takeaways:
- Bubble Trouble. With all of the losses fellow bubble-dwellers have suffered, the path to the NCAA Tournament was clear for Kentucky. Most assumed the Wildcats would clinch a bid with a win over Vanderbilt, which came into the contest with an overall record of 15-16. Instead, they add another loss to a sub-top-100 team (the Commodores currently sit at No. 118 in the RPI). So instead of advancing to play either Missouri or Ole Miss, the Wildcats severely damaged their position with the Selection Committee. They must now wait and see what the committee will do, and whether their resume is enough to earn a bid to the Big Dance. Since Nerlens Noel went out with a season-ending injury, Kentucky is now 4-4, and a blowout loss to a heretofore mediocre Vanderbilt squad coupled with ugly losses at Tennessee, Arkansas, and Georgia, may make it easy for the committee to conclude that the Wildcats don’t deserve a selection. Kentucky looked like anything but an NCAA Tournament team Friday night, trailing Vanderbilt from the outset and falling behind by 20 early in the second half. The Wildcats looked listless on the offensive end and allowed Vanderbilt to control the game. The Commodores looked like the only NCAA Tournament-worthy squad in this contest.
- A Harrow-ing Tale. To figure out what has plagued Kentucky throughout this up-and-down, frustrating campaign, one need look no further than the play it has gotten from the point guard position. In the past John Calipari’s teams have had superb point guard play, from Derrick Rose to John Wall to Brandon Knight to Marquis Teague, but this team hasn’t gotten that. That glaring weakness was especially evident Friday, as Ryan Harrow was nothing short of atrocious. He went 2-of-15 from the field and turned the ball over four times, killing any chance Kentucky had of winning this game. Harrow has shown signs of what brought him so much acclaim when he transferred from NC State, but overall, has not played up to Calipari’s standards. If Kentucky doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament, it can look no further than Harrow’s play for a reason why.
- Can Vanderbilt Steal a Bid? According to Commodore coach Kevin Stallings, his team is back to .500 for the first time “in about five months.” It may not have been that long, but it has been an uphill climb for his club. This was a team from which very little was expected, and Stallings said after the game that he couldn’t be more satisfied with the way his club has improved. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been as proud of a team as I am of this one,” he said. The question for his club now becomes whether it can break through and steal a bid to the NCAA Tournament. After dismantling Kentucky, he likes how his club is playing, and what seemed like an impossibility just a few short weeks ago now is something to at least think about. The Commodores will face either Missouri or Ole Miss in tomorrow’s second semifinal. They were dismantled in Columbia in January, but would have beaten Ole Miss but for a 35-footer by Marshall Henderson that sent the game to overtime before the Rebels prevailed. To just be in this position is quite an accomplishment, and anyone who has followed this team knows Stallings has done one of his best coaching jobs this season.
Star of the Game: There were many options here, but Vanderbilt controlled this game thanks in large part to the play of sophomore sensation Kedren Johnson. On the national scale, Johnson is underrated, and because of Vanderbilt’s lack of success, few across the country know how good he is. Johnson is the one Commodore who could play for anyone. He runs the show for Stallings’ club and anytime Kentucky made a run, Johnson was there to stem the tide. “He has as unselfish a spirit as anyone I’ve been around,” Stallings said of Johnson.
Sights and Sounds: Only when Kentucky is involved can a team that is playing two miles from its campus face a hostile crowd of 15,000 fans. But that is exactly the case Friday, as Kentucky fans filled Bridgestone Arena, while the Commodore faithful were hard to find. This is nothing unusual, as Big Blue Nation travels wherever the Cats go. “It didn’t feel like a home game. I don’t know if you noticed,” Stallings said after the game. Vanderbilt was nonplussed, however, and controlled the game from start to finish. What the Commodores’ win insured was that there will be plenty of good seats for the remainder of the games in this SEC Tournament.
Quotable: “We definitely have the talent and we have good wins against quality teams.” Willie Cauley-Stein, on whether Kentucky will make the NCAA Tournament.
What’s Next: For Kentucky, Sunday night is a long way away. The Wildcats must sweat out the next two days and hope they have done enough to merit a bid to the Big Dance. Vanderbilt will get to sleep in its own beds before tomorrow afternoon’s game.