The biggest non-conference game in college basketball is upon us, and I can feel the tension in the air all the way down here in Logan County: Louisville fans are quite unhappy with nearly all aspects of their underachieving squad (at least to this point), and Kentucky fans are fearful of a two hour turnover/brick laying clinic. Both fan bases have legitimate beefs, but one group is gonna be happy Sunday night, or maybe relieved is a more appropriate adjective.
Will UK come out on top? Will Tru breathe again? Will all be right and just on the college basketball landscape? Come with me as I identify what the 'Cats must do (or not do) in order to come out victorious in the land of the wannabe's.
UK Versus the Big Boys -- Jodie Meeks and Perimeter Shooting
Statistically speaking, Kentucky has NOT performed well against the best teams they have played; a trend has developed. Of particular concern:
On the season Jodie Meeks is shooting 47.5% from the field, 43.2% from the three-point line, and he averages 2.9 turnovers per game (.09 turnovers per minute). But, in UK's three losses plus the games against West Virginia and Kansas State (the two best teams UK has beaten) he's put up the following numbers:
- Versus VMI -- 13-27 from the field - 3-11 from the three-point line - five turnovers in 34 minutes of action.
- Versus N. Carolina -- 5-20 from the field - 3-9 from the three-point line -- six turnovers in 39 minutes of action.
- Versus Kansas State -- 11-17 from the field - 4-6 from the three-point line - nine turnovers in 39 minutes of action.
- Versus West Virginia -- 3-11 from the field - 1-3 from the three-point line - five turnovers in 33 minutes of action.
- Versus Miami -- 4-17 from the field - 2-12 from the three-point line - zero turnovers in 34 minutes of action.
Meeks' numbers versus the above competition comes out to 36-92 from the field (39.1%),13-41 from the three-point line (31.7%), and 5.0 turnovers per game (.14 turnovers per minute). Meeks, versus the remaining nine opponents is 70-131 from the field (53.4%), 38-77 from the three-point line (49.4%), and he committed 1.7 turnovers per game (.05 turnovers per minute). Quite a contradiction in production.
The remaining team members, versus the five best teams they have played this year, are a combined 1-23 (4.3%) from the three-point line (as a team UK is shooting 14-64 from the three-point-line in the five games - 21.9%). That's simply as underwhelming a number as a team can underachieve, but even worse, it places a great big "Bullseye" squarely on Meeks' back; it screams, "don't defend the three-point line unless #20 has the ball in his hands."
Perhaps 1-23 is one reason Meeks has struggled against better competition; he feels like he has to do it all, at least from the perimeter, which leads to forced shots, and shots outside the parameters of the offense. All things that Billy Gillispie despises, and for good reason.
The unusually high number of turnovers (5.0 per game) that Meeks has committed could also be a function of him trying to do too much; he forces passes, or tries for the "home run" play instead of playing within himself. To me, what all of this means is that the other perimeter players need to man-up and produce some points against good competition ... starting today!
UK versus The Big Boys -- DeAndre Liggins and Michael Porter
On the season DeAndre Liggins has committed 48 turnovers in 291 minutes played (.16 turnovers per minute). Michael Porter has committed 43 turnovers in 299 minutes played (.14 turnovers per minute). Against the five best teams UK has played thus far, their numbers look like this:
- Versus VMI: Liggins - Seven turnovers in 27 minutes. Porter - Five turnovers in 18 minutes.
- Versus UNC: Liggins - Four turnovers in 18 minutes. Porter - Four turnovers in 23 minutes.
- Versus Kansas State: Liggins - One turnover in two minutes. Porter - Four turnovers in 36 minutes.
- Versus West Virginia: Liggins - Four turnovers in 27 minutes. Porter - Four turnovers in 13 minutes.
- Versus Miami: Liggins - Five turnovers in 32 minutes. Porter - One turnover in 17 minutes.
In the five games referenced above Liggins committed 21 turnovers in 106 minutes of play (.20 turnovers per minute). Porter committed 18 turnovers in 107 minutes (.17 turnovers per minute). In the other nine contests their numbers look like this: Liggins - 27 turnovers in 185 minutes (.15 turnovers per minute). Porter - 25 turnovers in 192 minutes (.13 turnovers per minute).
Liggin's and Porter's numbers aren't very good, but for different reasons: Liggins, like many freshman, simply plays out of control at times, and has been known to do a remarkable Brett Favre impression by forcing the ball to a well-guarded teammate. Porter on the other hand struggles against the more athletic, quicker opponents. Quite the quandary if ones name is Billy Gillispie.
We have, though, seen recent improvement in both players, but the level of competition gets the assist, in my view. That doesn't mean that Liggins and Porter will disappoint Sunday, only that I am nervous about their perfomance against the most athletic 2-3 zone that they will face this season (although I'm sure Rick Pitino will mix-up his defenses). In order to execute a reversal of fortune both players must be sure and crisp with their passes, aware of impending pressure, patient when iniating the offense, and fundamentally sound when running the break. Four attributes that have rarely been seen against UK's better opponents.
It's only fair to Liggins and Porter that I point out that UK, as a team, committed a total of 121 turnovers against VMI, UNC, K-State, WVU, and Miami, for an average of 24.2 per game. The two guards contributed 39 (7.8 per game) of those miscues, or 32.2%. So obviously they are not alone in their ineffectiveness. Meeks, Patrick Patterson, Perry Stevenson, Ramon Harris and the rest of the squad must also play headier offensive basketball to beat good teams. They must be passionate about cherishing possession of the basketball. If not, quick, athletic, talented teams, such as Louisville, will exploit the turnovers by turning them into points. Giving up easy baskets to a bad team is never good, but throwing away opportunities against elite squads is a sure recipe for losing.
Since Kentucky's home loss to Miami they have strung together six straight wins against teams with a combined record of 20-55. Playing inferior teams has certainly had a benefit though: The emergence of Landon Slone (the "Paintsville Punisher"), the confidence gained by Michael Porter, the promise shown by Kevin Galloway and Josh Harrellson, and the exciting play of A.J. "Sleepy" Stewart (apologies to Eric "Sleepy" Floyd). Now is the time to put those accumulated benefits to use.
U of L may not be playing at peak capacity at the moment, but they are long, athletic, and highly motivated (Pitino will see to that). More importantly, they are capable of playing at a very high level, especially with a jacked-up Freedom Hall crowd imploring them to beat the hated Wildcats.
I will not be surprised in the least if the Cards play their best game of the season, so Kentucky must operate at a level of offensive efficiency not yet witnessed this season: Turnovers must be under 15 or so, and someone (hopefully several someones) other than Meeks and Patterson needs to score double-digit points; UK must not start slowly, as they did against Florida Atlantic (although I think FAU is better than their 4-10 record, as others have theorized, they lost by five to South Alabama the other night, and are now 0-3 in the Sun Belt); Quieting the Freedom Hall faithful, quickly, could go a long way in taking away any home court advantage U of L possesses, plus, UK's confidence should be boosted by a quiet arena, and a panicky opponent.
Finally, if Billy Gillispie senses any trepidation in his squad at the thought of playing at Louisville, he can roll out this number: 6-3. That's UK's record in Freedom Hall versus Louisville over the last nine games. Average score UK - 74, U of L - 70.
It's not just a game, it's the Louisville game. As my dearly departed friend, Catherine Richardson said many times, "I don't care if they don't win another game, as long as they beat Louisville." I told her I'm not so sure about that, but I certainly understand the sentiment.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats, beat Louisville!