So here we sit, a day removed from an impressive UK sweep of the Tennessee Volunteers. For UK fans, this one is doubly sweet after all the pre-season angst over Scotty Hopson and Bobby Maze, who then added insult to injury be declaring Tennessee a high-performance sports car and UK an expensive SUV.
But that's all history now. What lies in front of Kentucky is a rough road through the rest of the SEC that starts on Wednesday in Columbia, SC with the South Carolina Gamecocks, a somewhat surprising performer this year under first-year coach Darrin Horn. So I thought we would take a look at where Kentucky is, and where we might be going.
Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson
For starters, I complained about Yoni Cohen's comment the other day that UK depends too much on Meeks. Let's see if the stats bear that out:
|Date||Opponent||Result||UK points||J. Meeks||JM%Pts||P. Patterson||PP%Pts||JM+PP%|
|11/22/09||Delaware St.||W, 71-42||71||22||30.99%||9||12.68%||43.66%|
|11/28/09||Kansas St.||W, 74-72||74||37||50.00%||14||18.92%||68.92%|
|11/29/09||West Va.||W, 54-43||54||19||35.19%||15||27.78%||62.96%|
|12/06/09||Miami FL||L, 73-67||67||10||14.93%||19||28.36%||43.28%|
|12/07/09||Mississippi Valley St.||W, 88-65||77||24||31.17%||21||27.27%||58.44%|
|12/20/09||Appalachian St.||W, 93-69||93||46||49.46%||19||20.43%||69.89%|
|12/22/09||Tennessee St.||W, 102-58||102||32||31.37%||33||32.35%||63.73%|
|12/27/09||Florida Atlantic||W, 76-69||76||18||23.68%||27||35.53%||59.21%|
|12/29/09||Central Michigan||W, 84-52||84||23||27.38%||15||17.86%||45.24%|
|01/27/09||Ole Miss||L, 85-80||80||21||26.25%||24||30.00%||56.25%|
|01/31/09||South Carolina||L, 78-77||77||20||25.97%||28||36.36%||62.34%|
|02/03/09||Mississippi St.||L, 66-57||57||15||26.32%||15||26.32%||52.63%|
|02/10/09||Florida Atlantic||W, 68-65||68||23||33.82%||7||10.29%||44.12%|
|Average in wins||34.34%||20.62%||54.96%|
|Average in losses||30.52%||24.07%||54.59%|
So looking at the question from purely a team impact scenario, it seems that only a 4% difference in Meeks' scoring impact is the difference between winning and losing. In addition, it seems that even when Patterson has a greater impact, than normal, the team loses if Meeks is down even a little. That would seem to support Cohen's position.
But take a look at the total impact of both players put together. Patterson and Meeks have virtually the same impact on points scored regardless of whether the team wins or loses. That tells me that it isn't Meeks' impact that matters, nor Patterson's, but what the entire team does. On average, Meeks and Patterson have had the same combined impact on every single game together. They are having exactly the impact we need for UK to win, no more, and no less. The rest of the team is responsible for about 45% of the scoring. If we see these percentages for Meeks and Patterson fall and the team continue to win, we will know that the rest of the team is getting it done.
This latest game is a good example, with the Meeks-Patterson impact at only 43%, but an easy victory for UK. Will we continue to see this? I hope so.
Speaking of Meeks, South Carolina held Meeks down a little last time, but Patterson was a force. UK managed to lose that game on a last-second field goal, but it is my perception that Kentucky has come a long way since then. First of all, Patterson is healthier now than he was last time, particularly that finger on his shooting hand that has been giving him trouble. If the Tennessee game was any indication, Patterson will be tougher than ever in Columbia, and Darius Miller is likely to be at least a little better than he was last time. Will the recent improvement be enough?
It is amazing how consistent Kentucky has been on defense, and that is really how UK is going to win, if it happens. The Gamecocks are a very solid defensive team, allowing opponents an average 0.99 points per possession in the SEC. Kentucky and LSU are #1 in that stat, allowing only 0.94 PPP.
On the offensive end, UK is fourth with 1.04 PPP, and South Carolina is 7th with 1.02. UK is statistically a better team on both ends of the court, but as we saw last time, the 'Cats do not match up well against the Gamecocks. Another important factor is that USC will be able to pressure Michael Porter, and that will be good for at least two or three turnovers. Kentucky used Darius Miller to bring the ball up against the Vols. Will UK try to do that against the Gamecocks as well?
LSU comes into Rupp Arena at the end of February, and that game will likely be the most meaningful game of the year for the Wildcats. LSU is statistically superior to UK on offense, and just as good on defense, so this is likely to be a barn-burner. LSU's biggest advantage is their experience -- they are among the most senior teams in college basketball at #30, fully one year older than Kentucky. That matters. A lot.
LSU is also a fairly big team, very nearly as long, lean and tall as Kentucky, which will help us a lot with the matchups. LSU has advantages at certain spots, but Kentucky has also, so this game on paper looks as close as any game I have seen all year. LSU has played a much weaker schedule than Kentucky, and we should learn a lot when LSU heads down to Gainesville to play the rather desperate Florida Gators on Wednesday.
So where does all this leave us? Well, if UK can capture these next two games, it is my feeling that our place in the NCAA tournament will be secure with one additional win in the regular season or SEC tournament. Obviously, that would put the 'Cats at a very ugly seed. If UK can win these next two, sweeping the rest of the regular season becomes a real possibility.
All this, however, is predicated on Kentucky continuing the kind of play we saw yesterday. All of UK's component parts pitched in a little, and Darius Miller a lot. UK needs that kind of production to continue on a consistent basis, and I am very hopeful we will see it. This is the time of year when freshmen become sophomores, etc. We have seen signs from Liggins and Miller that they are about to move on to the next level, and some promise from Galloway as well.
For Kentucky to make noise, the new additions must produce every game, along with Perry Stevenson and Michael Porter. If that happens, this team has a much higher ceiling than most pundits imagine.