I've been trying to wrap my head around the idea that a UK team with 2 All America candidates can fall from 16-4, 5-0 in the SEC (with 3 SEC road wins to boot) to 3-7 over it's last 10 games culminating with perhaps the most mind-boggling loss in the last 20 years.
While watching the debacle last night, I couldn't help but feel that the defense just didn't look right. I've had this feeling for the last several games, but dismissed it because of the performances against Tennessee and Arkansas as well as a healthy dose of "small sample size" skepticism.
Last night's game ended that skepticism, so this morning I took a look at UK's game-by-game results while paying special attention to the Alabama/Ole Miss games. What I found was striking - UK's defense has fallen off a cliff the last 10 games.
What follows is a breakdown of Kentucky's season into two groups (well three, sort of): The first 20 games in which UK went 16-4 and the last 10 in which they have gone 3-7.
The stats were constructed by using the raw game-by-game numbers provided by Statsheet.com and then broken down into their possession-based cousins.
F20: Stats from the First 20 games of the season
L10: Stats from the Last 10 games
F20BCS: Stats from games against BCS teams in the first 20 games of the season (11 games total - 6 nonconference and 5 conference).
I've highlighted the stats that show notable changes from the first 20 games to the last 10, but the big one is at the top of the Defense section.
UPDATE: It just occurred to me that not all of my abbreviations are decipherable, hopefully I've fixed that.
I have no words to describe that collapse in Defensive Efficiency (points per possession allowed). UK went from having one of the strongest defenses in the country (0.887 ppp would rank 3rd in the country right now) to one of the worst (1.062 ppp would be tied for 277th).
You can see from the other numbers that a good chunk of the decline in the defensive numbers has come from opponents shooting better from the field, both on 2PTers and 3PTers. Notice that UK is still blocking roughly as many shots now as they were earlier in the year, and they have actually made it harder on opponents to score off the pass (4 point decline in opponent AS/FGM). Opponents are getting to the line a bit more over the last 10 games, but I suspect that has more to do with UK fouling at the end of games more as part of time management strategy than it does with some shift in defensive execution.
On the other side of the ball, the offense has actually improved slightly the last 10 games, but I think most of that has to do with turning the ball over less. TO% has improved, particularly against the best teams, but the other offensive stats are down. UK is getting a LOT of shots blocked which explains most of the decline in 2PT%. Offensive rebounding has stayed the same, as has 3PT%.
I'm still shocked by the drop in defensive efficiency, not just by how much it has fallen but also by how quickly it did so. In games 18, 19, and 20 (@Georgia, Auburn, @Bama) UK allowed 0.65 ppp, 0.898 ppp, and 0.688 ppp respectively. In their next 3 games (@Ole Miss, USC, Miss ST) UK allowed 1.16, 1.055, and 0.993 ppp respectively. In their first 20 games UK allowed just 6 opponents to score 1.0 ppp or better and just 8 opponents to score 0.9 ppp or better. In the last 10 games, 6 opponents have scored 1 ppp or better and every opponent has scored better than 0.9 ppp.
If BCG wants to get this team ready for Florida and the NCAA tournament, the defense HAS to be priority #1. If UK can get back to playing the kind of defense we saw the first 20 games, I think they can make a run to the tournament finals. If not, it's going to be an early exit.