Can the 'Cats avoid a Gator chomp?

When you have one of the best teams in America, it isn't tough to see in the statistics.  As you would expect, the statistics will favor the Florida Gators when the step on the floor tonight for a friendly little visit with the UK Wildcats.

Billy Donovan's 2004 recruiting class looked good when he brought them in, but nothing like the back-to-back classes of 2001 and 2002, containing 5 Micky D's - Kwame Brown, David Lee, James White  and Anthony Roberson.  The class of Brewer (McD), Horford (4-star), Noah (4-star) and Green (3-star) was a great class for sure, but surely wasn't as highly thought of.  But they have delivered what Roberson, Lee and company never could -- a national championship and two years of outstanding basketball.

Florida by the numbers

Normally, I provide a rather exhaustive look a the statistics of the opponent compared to UK, but this time it is unnecessary.  Florida is statistically superior to UK in virtually every significant category, so what we'll do is list them comparatively, as below:

SCORING OFFENSE
## Team                   G   W-L   Pts Avg/G
--------------------------------------------
 1.Florida............. 24  22-2  1976  82.3
 8.Kentucky............ 23  18-5  1696  73.7

SCORING DEFENSE
## Team                   G   Pts Avg/G
--------------------------------------
 1.Florida............. 24  1437  59.9
 4.Kentucky............ 23  1495  65.0

SCORING MARGIN
## Team                   G    OFF   DEF Margin
----------------------------------------------
 1.Florida............. 24   82.3  59.9  +22.5
 3.Kentucky............ 23   73.7  65.0   +8.7

FREE THROW PERCENTAGES
## Team                   G    FTM   FTA   Pct
---------------------------------------------
 6.Kentucky............ 23    316   460  .687
 7.Florida............. 24    357   529  .675

FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGES
## Team                   G     FG   FGA   Pct
---------------------------------------------
 1.Florida............. 24    717  1327  .540
 2.Kentucky............ 23    611  1269  .481

FIELD GOAL PCT DEFENSE
## Team                   G     FG   FGA   Pct
---------------------------------------------
 1.Kentucky............ 23    553  1425  .388
 4.Florida............. 24    536  1355  .396

3-POINT FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGES
## Team                   G     FG   FGA   Pct
---------------------------------------------
 1.Florida............. 24    185   420  .440
 6.Kentucky............ 23    158   433  .365

3-POINT FIELD GOAL PCT DEFENSE
## Team                   G     FG   FGA   Pct
---------------------------------------------
 1.Florida............. 24    121   416  .291
 3.Kentucky............ 23    170   544  .313

REBOUNDING OFFENSE
## Team                   G   Reb Avg/G
--------------------------------------
 5.Florida............. 24   910  37.9
 6.Kentucky............ 23   858  37.3

REBOUNDING DEFENSE
## Team                   G   Reb Avg/G
--------------------------------------
 1.Florida............. 24   698  29.1
 5.Kentucky............ 23   786  34.2

REBOUNDING MARGIN
## Team                   G  TEAM   Avg  OPP   Avg Margin
--------------------------------------------------------
 1.Florida............. 24   910  37.9  698  29.1   +8.8
 5.Kentucky............ 23   858  37.3  786  34.2   +3.1

BLOCKED SHOTS
## Team                   G  Blocks  Avg/G
-----------------------------------------
 4.Kentucky............ 23     124   5.39
 5.Florida............. 24     120   5.00

ASSISTS
## Team                   G  Assists  Avg/G
------------------------------------------
 1.Florida............. 24      420  17.50
 4.Kentucky............ 23      379  16.48

STEALS
## Team                   G  Steals  Avg/G
-----------------------------------------
 8.Florida............. 24     173   7.21
 9.Kentucky............ 23     136   5.91

TURNOVER MARGIN
## Team                   G  TEAM   Avg  OPP   Avg Margin
--------------------------------------------------------
 5.Florida............. 24   325  13.5  339  14.1  +0.58
12.Kentucky............ 23   339  14.7  306  13.3  -1.43

ASSIST/TURNOVER RATIO
## Team                   G  Asst   Avg Turn   Avg  Ratio
--------------------------------------------------------
 2.Florida............. 24   420  17.5  325  13.5   1.29
 4.Kentucky............ 23   379  16.5  339  14.7   1.12

OFFENSIVE REBOUNDS
## Team                   G   No.  Avg/G
---------------------------------------
 9.Florida............. 24   266  11.08
11.Kentucky............ 23   241  10.48

DEFENSIVE REBOUNDS
## Team                   G   No.  Avg/G
---------------------------------------
 2.Florida............. 24   644  26.83
 3.Kentucky............ 23   617  26.83

3-POINT FIELD GOALS MADE
## Team                   G   3FG  Avg/G
---------------------------------------
 5.Florida............. 24   185   7.71
 9.Kentucky............ 23   158   6.87

So as you can see from the above, there isn't much to hope for in the numbers.  Florida is simply a better team in almost every regard.  The exceptions are a slight edge in free throw %, blocked shots, and FG% defense.  Things get no better in efficiency numbers.  Florida's offensive efficiency is #2 nationally (124) vs. the Wildcats' 24th (116).  Defensive efficiency is similar at 8th for Florida (86) vs. UK's 22nd (88).  It is interesting to note that despite good defense from both squads, neither Florida nor UK gets many steals (8th and 9th in the league respectively).

Matchups

Kentucky is one of the few teams in the SEC who match up pretty well with the Gators at most positions.  Horford and Morris are a fairly even matchup.  Morris outscores Horford in the league 16ppg to 13, but Horford gets about 1 more rebound/game 8 to 7.  Crawford and Humphrey are a matchup where UK gets the better, to the tune of about 4 ppg, 2.5 rebounds and 1 assist.  Humphrey is the better 3 point shooter, but Crawford the more versatile scorer and defender.  Bradley and Green are also fairly even, both averaging about 14 ppg and 4 assists.

Corey Brewer is a bit different, as he gets 13p/4r/3a compared to Derek Jasper's 5p/4r/3a, but a better comparison would be the combination of Jasper and Meeks to Brewer and Dan Werner (remember our recruiting battle with Florida over Werner?).  Combined, Jasper/Meeks gets 12p/7r/4a against Brewer/Werner 15p/6r/4a.

Which leaves - your guessed it - our favorite, Joakim Noah.  Noah averages 13p/8r/2a/2b.  Even if we combine Perry, Thomas and Stevenson, we only get to 13p/10r/3a/2b.  In other words, Noah produces about the same as all three of our power forwards combined, and none of them is capable of guarding him.  You may think that this isn't a big advantage, but it is huge - it's almost like playing 4 on 5.  See if you can guess who the team with 5 is.

Our bench is significantly deeper and more productive than Florida's, but the Gators have not needed great bench production all year - their starters are just too good.  One player I have yet to mention, though, is Chris Richard, who comes off the bench for Horford and Noah.  He is an outstanding front-court glue guy, giving the Gators a strong inside presence, particularly on the offensive glass.  Richard would be a starting forward/center for virtually every other team in the SEC.

How Kentucky wins

Kentucky must find a way to hold down Florida's FG% and offensive rebounding.  This can be done by getting one of their front-court starters in early foul trouble, poor shooting by Florida or extraordinary defense by UK, or any combination of the above.  Only once all year has Florida been held below 100 in offensive efficiency, and that was against Georgia last Saturday.  Conversely, Kentucky has 10 games where it had an OE less than 100, and it managed to win 1/2 of them.  But when teams' OE is > 100  against UK, it is 4-5.

The other way we win is by shooting lights out, and holding Florida under 60% in effective FG%.  If our most recent games are any indication, we are capable of the first, but a combination of both has yet to occur.  I have noticed a moderate directional correlation in turnovers to pace for Florida - it seems that Florida (but apparently not Kentucky) turns the ball over more at a faster pace, which may explain their more deliberate tempo lately.  Maybe Tubby Smith will notice that, too.

How Kentucky looses

If we play good offense but fail to stop Florida, they will outscore us, pure and simple.  Their defense is statistically better than ours, so even if they bring their "B" game defensively, it will be enough if they bring their "A" game offensively.  Kentucky has no margin for error.  It must outplay Florida defensively and at least equal them offensively to have a chance.  Bottom line - barring a hereforto unseen collapse by Florida, we must play our best game of the season by far against them.

Intangibles

Florida is confident in its ability, and they know they can beat Kentucky.  That swagger could lead to a let-down, as they have not really been tested since December 3rd.  It could also lead to a blow-out if UK doesn't focus.

Rupp Arena can be a huge advantage for UK, and with the combination of ESPN's Game Day and the chip Noah placed firmly on the Wildcat's shoulders earlier this week, the 'Cats will be fired up and ready to rumble.  Are we too ready?  Maybe.

What it all means

On paper, Florida is clearly the winner.  But many odds-makers and pundits see something in this game that the statistics do not tell (which is why we actually play the game, n'est pas?), which is that Florida looks ready for a fall, and Kentucky looks capable of taking them down.  The time is here.  Will the 'Cats prove worthy to take the first step in regaining its rightful place at the top of the SEC and college basketball, or will we have to wait until "next year" yet again?

Here's hoping...

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