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Kentucky vs Vanderbilt SEC Tournament Edition: TV/Streaming Info and Keys to the Game

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© Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

After enjoying their double bye, the Kentucky Wildcats’ first SEC Tournament game comes against the Vanderbilt Commodores, who are coming off an easy 77-68 win over LSU in Thursday’s action.

This is an interesting matchup given that the season series was split, with Vandy getting the most recent win on Kentucky’s Senior Night last week.

This game will give Kentucky and their seniors the chance to avenge that loss and move into the semifinals, where they could grab another Quad 1 victory. However, Vanderbilt may have more on the line as it serves them a chance to move into the right side of the bubble heading into Selection Sunday weekend.

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This is the first SEC Tournament in Nashville — with a good Kentucky team — since 2019. Therefore, there should be a lot of blue in attendance, and if they make it to Saturday or Sunday, expect more fans to buy tickets and make the short trip.

Given that these two teams have matched up twice this season, both teams know the other relatively well. Let’s take a quick look at the game.

Take Advantage In the Paint, Make Free Throws

With Vanderbilt’s Liam Robbins out — he’s the SEC Defensive Player of the Year — the paint should open up for the Wildcats. However, this was something they didn’t take advantage of in their matchup last week.

In their first game of the season series, Kentucky scored 36 points in the paint, more than half of their total points (69). However, in the last week’s game, Kentucky scored just 18 points in the paint.

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One reason for that is a lack of aggression. When looking at attempts near the basket, Kentucky showed sixteen dunk/layup attempts in the first matchup, compared to just ten in the latter. However, it does need to be noted that Vanderbilt fouled quite a bit, forcing Kentucky to covert from the free throw line.

The game plan should be simple, get the ball inside and convert, and if they foul, make your free throws (preferably above a 71% clip).

Ball Movement and Shot Making

During Kentucky’s turnaround, one of the biggest keys for them has been their ball movement. Over their last seven games, the Wildcats had 14 or more assists in five of them, the two outliers being a foul fest against Tennessee and a season-low against Vanderbilt last week.

Of course, one reason for this was Kentucky’s lack of a point guard, as Cason Wallace sustained an ankle injury in that game. However, against Arkansas, the Wildcats showed they can move the ball as a team.

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If Kentucky can move the ball as they have done so recently, they will have open looks. With that said, they cannot shoot less than 25% from the field and less than 20% from three, as they did in their loss to Vandy. With Antonio Reeves coming off a 37-point performance, I expect him to contribute heavily to that, especially from the perimeter.

Overcoming Injuries

Injuries have been the biggest hindrance to this Kentucky team in their turnaround. CJ Fredrick, Cason Wallace, and Sahvir Wheeler have all missed time since the start of February. With Wallace and Wheeler both out, Kentucky has no point guard.

With that said, CJ Fredrick will continue to play through injury and Cason Wallace is expected to return this weekend. As proof, Cason Wallace was seen in practice gear on Thursday

For what it’s worth, Tucker has walked back on his belief and now believes Wallace is a true game-time decision, and it’s not a certainty he suits to Friday.

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Yet, there is a more surprising return that could potentially happen. According to Kyle Tucker of The Athleticthere’s “some chance that” Sahvir Wheeler could return. If Wheeler were to come back this season, it would ideally come this weekend, which would help him prepare for the NCAA Tournament next week.

Let’s ball.

Kentucky Basketball (21-10) vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (19-13)

Time/Date: 9:30 EST (estimated) on Friday, March 10th, 2023
Location: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tennessee.
TV Channel: SEC Network
Online Stream: WatchESPNESPN+, SEC Network+ or ESPN app
Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).
Rosters: UK | VU
Team SheetsUK | VU
Stats To Know: UK | VU

Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook currently has Kentucky favored by 8.5 points. KenPom gives the Cats a 68% chance of winning, while Bart Torvik has it at 67%, and ESPN BPI is at 78.2%.

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PredictionsKenPom predicts a 77-72 win for the Wildcats, while Bart Torvik is going with a 76-71 decision for Big Blue Nation. TeamRankings (via ESPN) is projecting a 76-67 victory, Kentucky!

Also published on A Sea of Blue.

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Men's Basketball

Rick Pitino Endorses Mark Pope, “He Will Lead The Kentucky Wildcats To Another Championship”

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Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports/ Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The captain of Rick Pitino’s 1996 “Untouchables”, Mark Pope, is “coming home” to lead the Kentucky Wildcats as the program’s next head coach, officially announced on Friday. While there has been some criticism of the hire, Pitino says he “couldn’t be any prouder to see Mark Pope lead the Kentucky Wildcats.”

While Pope has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game in two appearances, Pitino points out that several top coaches had their trials early in their careers. It took Jay Wright 11 seasons to win his first NCAA Tournament, and Billy Donovan was hired at Florida without an NCAA Tournament appearance. However, he heralds Pope as one of the “premier young coaches” in college basketball.

“Offensively, no one does it better,” Pitino said. “The way his teams move. The way his teams shoot the three. The ball movement. It’s outstanding.”

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It’s just the X’s and O’s though, Pitino “guarantees” that Pope loves and understands the program as well as anyone. “I can guarantee to you one thing, that nobody epitomizes the name on the front of the jersey more than Mark Pope.”

“Mark Pope will go on to greatness. You can put it down,” Pitino said. “He will do you proud. “He will lead the Kentucky Wildcats to another championship”

If his endorsement isn’t enough, Rick Pitino says he will “write the check himself” for NIL to help Pope be successful.

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Men's Basketball

Mark Pope Releases Statement As He Is Announced As Kentucky Basketball Coach

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Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Per UK Athletics

When his alma mater came calling, Mark Pope knew there was no place like home.

Pope, a captain of the University of Kentucky’s 1996 National Championship team, has returned to Lexington as the 23rd head coach of Kentucky’s storied men’s basketball program, announced Friday.

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“The University of Kentucky is the pinnacle of coaching in college basketball,” Pope said. “It’s the definition of a blueblood program where hanging a banner is the expectation every year. Equally as important, UK changed my life forever as a human being. The love and passion I have for this program, this University and the people of the Commonwealth goes to the depth of my soul.”

“I’m thankful to Dr. (Eli) Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity. I’m proud to be your next head coach and I can’t wait to do this together!”

Pope is a nine-year head coaching veteran with stops at BYU and Utah Valley, amassing a 187-108 career record. His squads won 20 or more games in six of the last seven seasons and he has made six postseason appearances.

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Men's Basketball

REPORT: Mark Pope Set Sign Five-Year Deal to Become Next Kentucky Basketball Coach

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Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky has found their guy. Former Wildcat and NCAA Champion, Mark Pope, is now expected to be named the next Kentucky basketball coach on a five-year contract worth $5.5 million annually, first reported by CBS Sports. For perspective, based on last season’s salaries, that is more than Dan Hurley (UConn), Scott Drew (Baylor), and Nate Oats (Alabama).

Pope comes to Kentucky with nine seasons of head coaching experience, after serving as an assistant for six seasons, from 2009-2015. In 2015, he was hired by Utah Valley where he coached for four seasons. In 2019, Pope was hired at BYU where he has taken them to two NCAA Tournaments, but has been upset by a double-digit seed in both appearances.

Pope has proven himself as a good X-and-O coach in his nine-year career, running one of the most innovative offenses in the country, but recruiting will be a real test as he has never signed a four-star recruit. Who he hires on to his staff and collecting NIL support will be critical.

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The move has been met with much fan criticism, as fans have been quick to point out that Pope has never won a conference title or an NCAA Tournament game. However, Mitch Barnhart is confident in the move, with some reporting that he is “excited” with the hire.

Just three days into the coaching search, this is an interesting hire with several big names like Billy Donovan and Bruce Pearl potentially available. Barnhart made the decision not to wait for Donovan, who is currently coaching the Chicago Bulls, and Pearl was not considered due to his “baggage”.

A new era of Kentucky basketball has begun.

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