I think the Big Blue Nation is still very much enjoying the feeling of finally exorcising a five-year North Carolina winning streak versus Kentucky yesterday in front of a record Rupp Arena crowd. I know I am.
At this point, I think we need to take a look back at the game and see how it compares to other recent efforts by the 'Cats. But before we get there, I want to comment on a few things that I didn't in my post-game analysis.
The first is the play of DeMarcus Cousins. This was a sub-par game for the big guy, and there is no doubt that he knows it. Cousins was obviously very upset with himself on the sideline, even while blaming the officials for the call that generated his benching in the second half. I think that this game will do more for Cousins than all the other games UK has played so far this year combined in bringing home the difference between the game he used to dominate (AAU basketball) and top-level college basketball. Cousins is a tremendously gifted player, and all he needs to make the most of that gift is the desire to do so, and realizing that you were outplayed in front of 24,000+ on national TV is likely to be a big motivator.
The second is the maturation of John Wall. Game by game, this young man gains a better and better understanding of what great basketball is supposed to look like. Like the last game, this is a game in which Wall did not often try to make the spectacular play, but just made the simple play. Yes, that reverse layup was spectacular, but that was the exception rather than the rule. Wall's absence in the second half, and the run UNC went on, is not a knock on the skills of Bledsoe, but a bit of a knock on the confidence of this team without Wall. John's teammates have to learn to trust Bledsoe as much as Wall.
More after the jump.
I always like to look back at the stats, and see where UK succeeded and where they did not. Here is the Four Factors analysis for the game:
What we see here is that UK won two of the four factors. But the two factors that result in extra possessions were won by the Tar Heels, turnover percent by a significant margin, and that is what nearly sunk Kentucky toward the end of the game.
Consider the tale of two halves: UK won the points off turnovers in the first half by a count of 20-11 (+9), but lost that same battle in the second half 14-3 (-11), giving the Tar Heels a net advantage of +2.
Next, consider second chance points. North Carolina won both halves, 8-5 and 8-2 respectively, winding up with a +9 advantage. Together with the points off turnovers, the Heels were +11 in points off extra shots, and if you examine the shot attempts, you will find that they achieved 13 more field goal attempts than the 'Cats, which was almost enough to undo the lead Kentucky built up in the first half.
Next, I want to examine how UK is winning these games. Consider this chart:
What this illustrates are four statistics -- UK shots taken, opponent shots taken, UK effective field goal% and opponent effective field goal%.
As you can see, UK is allowing opponents to get off more shots than they do in four of their eight games. Fortunately, UK has only lost the eFG% battle one time, and that was one of the four times that UK got more shots than their opponent (otherwise, of course, UK would probably have lost).
Opponents are getting these extra shots through turnovers and offensive rebounding. Up until now, UK has won offensive rebounding most of the time, but as we progress in the schedule to play tougher and tougher teams, the turnover problem is going to become more and more difficult to minimize by winning the OR% battle, as bigger teams (such as we saw yesterday) are going to be more competitive in that area.
Finally, there is one more statistical trend I want to examine, that of assist percentage:
This points to the maturation of John Wall that I mentioned earlier in this piece. You can see that the trend line for this stat is on a nice upward climb, and even with Wall at less than 100% in the second half of yesterday's affair, we still had a better assist percentage than UNC. For a team with big guys and a big low post game, like UK and UNC, this is a very telling and important statistic.
The win over the Tar Heels was a very important one for UK, and continues to highlight the end-of-game toughness that this Kentucky team has demonstrated all year long. If UK can learn to reel in the turnovers and get tougher on the offensive glass against quality opposition, there is no reason why this Wildcat team cannot make a very deep run in March. As John Wall matures before our eyes and seems to improve game after game, we can only wonder how good the 'Cats can be when DeMarcus Cousins decides that he has had enough and follows him.
That could be very good, indeed.