NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — John Calipari isn't sure if any of his Wildcats even know Vanderbilt beat Kentucky for the Southeastern Conference tournament title the last time the teams met.
That's OK with Commodores coach Kevin Stallings, who said it's best everyone moves on.
Vanderbilt handed Kentucky its last loss March 11 before the Wildcats went on to win the program's eighth national title.
That SEC championship meant a lot to Vanderbilt — it was the school's first in 61 years. That's why some fans will be getting replicas of the title ring Thursday night when the Commodores open their SEC schedule against the visiting Wildcats.
But the coaches, the school names on the front of the jerseys and a couple players are about all that remain the same from that game.
Seven players — four from Kentucky and three from Vanderbilt — were selected in the first 31 picks of last June's NBA draft. Vanderbilt now ranks 320 out of 347 Division I teams in terms of experience, but kenpom.com has the Wildcats with even less experience at 339.
So much is different that Stallings didn't even look at tape of that title win to prepare for Thursday's game. He sees the upcoming matchup simply as an opportunity for a very young group of Commodores struggling at 6-6 this season.
"We've been up and down of course in the nonconference," Stallings said. "Really, it's probably a good way for us to start off the conference season to have them come in here. ... If you can have success, win a game like that, it can certainly catapult and generate a lot of confidence in our team going forward into a league schedule."
Stallings lost the top six scorers off his title team. This year's Vandy squad features just two juniors in Rod Odom and guard Kyle Fuller, five sophomores and seven freshmen. Kedren Johnson played in the title game as a freshman and his layup put Vanderbilt ahead to stay. He's Vanderbilt's top returning scorer after averaging only 3.1 points per game last season.
"We're just trying to start off the SEC season right," Johnson said. "It's basically a new season."
No one knows that better than Calipari.
He's been busy trying to turn his latest top crop of recruits into winners, and it's been more challenging with Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein than with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Wildcats have gone from being ranked third nationally to start this season to outside the Top 25, so Calipari has gone young starting four freshmen.
"The only thing I can tell you is we still have a long way to go," Calipari said.
Kentucky (9-4) comes in having won five of its last six, the last an easy 90-38 victory over Eastern Michigan on Jan. 2. Vanderbilt also hasn't played since beating William & Mary that same night.
Calipari wants his Wildcats playing better, harder and more together. He's also focused on getting Poythress to play more consistently, and that worked at least against Eastern Michigan with the freshman scoring 16 points and grabbing five rebounds.
"But this stuff's on warp speed and you're held to a different standard as a player," Calipari said of Poythress. "Here he is, a freshman and practically getting a double-double and it's not good enough. Well, to be honest, it's not because it's not his best. But he's come a long way, he's a great kid and he's got to develop a habit of really exerting and then subbing yourself."
This will be Stallings' first chance to coach against the 6-foot-7 Poythress from Clarksville, Tenn., after losing him to Kentucky in recruiting. The coach looks at Poythress as one of many athletic Wildcats.
"You have to do the best job you can of keeping the ball away from the goal," Stallings said. "Sometimes it seems their best offense is a missed shot. They just go and rebound it and tip it in or dunk it."
Calipari knows exactly what to expect from Vanderbilt — lots of 3s. Vanderbilt takes 41.4 percent of its shots from beyond the arc, scoring 37.3 percent of their total points off 3s, which is 16th-best nationally. The Commodores spent much of the past week working on free throw shooting because they're hitting just 57.9 percent in games.
Even with all the changes, Johnson said the newest Commodores know exactly what's at stake against the SEC's dominant program.
"I know we don't like each other too much, and I know the fans don't like each other too much," Johnson said.
AP Sports Writer Gary Graves in Lexington, Ky., contributed to this report.
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