By RICHARD CHEEKS
Fresh Start or Ugly End, Which Will It Be
The Jekyll and Hyde Cats played the great split personality game again in the last week of the regular season, losing by 10 to a clearly inferior Georgia team and then beating the nations best team, Florida, by 4 at Rupp Arena on senior day. So, the question remains, which personality will make an appearance in Nashville on Friday night when then Jekyll and Hyde Cats face the local Vanderbilt Commodores. Yes, Vanderbilt survived against the Arkansas Hogs on Thursday night to advance into the SEC Quarterfinal round.
Vanderbilt and Kentucky met twice during the SEC regular season. The league opener for both in Nashville, and the rematch at Rupp six weeks later, and 3 weeks ago. In the first game, the Cats were a double digit favorite going into the game, and the Cats opened the game in that manner, opening a 15 point lead, 29-14, by the under 4 media timeout of the first half. However, in those final 4 minutes, the Cats seemed to relax, and Vanderbilt trimmed 4 points off the lead to reduce it to a manageable 11 points at the half. In the second half, the teams traded punches for the first 10 minutes, but at the under 8 media timeout, Vanderbilt had trimmed the Kentucky lead to only 2 points, and they tied the score at the under 4 media timeout. The Cats moved up by 4 points, and after Vanderbilt made 1 of 2 free throws, the officials allowed a Nerlens Noel basket at the end of the shot clock to stand even though replay after replay demonstrated the shot occurred after time had expired. Vandy hit a 3 pointer, stole the inbounds pass, and missed a 3 point attempt at the buzzer for what would have been the Vandy win. The final margin was marked by Nerlens Noel’s controversial score, a 2-point Kentucky win.
In the return match, at Rupp, the Cats entered the game nearly a 17 point favorite. Just as they did in Nashville, the Cats moved on top early in this game, leading by 14 points after only 9:31 of play. But, just as happened in Nashville, the Commodores trimmed that Kentucky lead to a very manageable 8 points by halftime. In the second half, the teams again traded punches for the first 12 minutes, with the Cats leading by 10 points at the under 8 media timeout. However, by the under 4 media timeout, Vanderbilt had cut the Kentucky lead to only 2 points, and the Cats hung on down the stretch for a 4 point home court win.
In Nashville, arguably a tie, 10 points below the line, and at Rupp, 13 points under the line, with Nerlens Noel riding the bench. So, wind the Clock forward to March 15, 2013, back in Nashville, Tennessee, and these teams will meet for the third time this season. Last year’s third meeting of these teams (Both much better than they are now) saw Vanderbilt defy their 0-2 record against the Cats and hand the eventual national champions what would be their second loss of the entire season. The adage is that it is tough to beat the same team three times in one season. Déjà vu.
Vanderbilt enters this game with a 15-16 record, 8-8 in the SEC regular season, and a second round victory over Arkansas in this SEC Tournament. Overall, Vanderbilt’s schedule has been respectable the 69th most difficult in D1 basketball (0..6467 per Pomeroy). VANDERBILT has averaged about 62 possessions per game, producing 60.0 ppg (0.96 ppp) and allowing 60.0 ppg (0.96 ppp). VANDERBILT has turned the ball over on 19.9% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 18.9% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, VANDERBILT has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 28.4% about 5% below the 33% NCAA average, and a defensive rebounding rate of 70.5%, about 3% better than the NCAA average.
In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 69 possessions per game, producing 73.9 ppg (1.07 ppp) and allowing 64.6 ppg (0.94 ppp) against a schedule strength of 0.6588 (60th). The Cats have committed turnovers on 19.1% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 17.7% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 34.6% and 68.6% on the offensive and defensive ends.
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of Kentucky by 9 points, 69-60 in a game played at a pace of 66 possessions for the Cats and 65 possessions for VANDERBILT. The likely margin range for this matchup is pick ‘em to Kentucky by 18 points. Based on the first two meetings that saw Vanderbilt out perform this model by 10 and 13 points gives credence to Cat fans who say they have a guarded optimism about this game