With the University of Kentucky releasing the official men's basketball roster for the 2009-2010 season, I thought this might be a good time to do a statistical comparison between UK and Memphis' 2008-2009 stats (and for those who spout-off about the pungent odor emanating from Conference USA, remember this while reading the statistics below; UK played the 61st toughest schedule last year, and Memphis' slate was rated 62nd). So yes, a statistical comparison is relevant, although not completely flawless.
But regardless, the question to be answered is this: Is Calipari capable of urging on his young-gun group of Wildcats, to at least perform as well as his team last year at Memphis?: Last year Cal led Antonio Anderson, super freshman Tyreke Evans, Robert Dozier, Shawn Taggert, and Doneal Mack. I believe that group of Tigers compares fairly to Patrick Patterson, John Wall, Darius Miller, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton, and Darnell Dodson.
Another similarity, last year Memphis ended the season ranked in the lower half of the top-10, and this year's UK squad will begin the season ranked somewhere in that highly desirable upper-crust neighborhood (finally), but the 'Cats will be relying heavily on unproven youth.
The one major difference is that the SEC should be much tougher than last year. The entire SEC East (except Georgia) has a legitimate claim to being a top-30 team, as do SEC West leaders LSU and Mississippi State. So, I think it's reasonable to assume this years Kentucky team will at least play a moderately stiffer schedule than Memphis challenged last year.
But, hey, it's July, what else are we gonna do? Strap in, mucho information to follow:
Kentucky Memphis UK Opponents Memphis Opponents
Possessions Per 40 Min -- 70.2 68.6 70.2 68.6
Comment: Anyone surprised by those numbers? Most would assume Memphis would have averaged more possessions per 40 minutes. Not so, though.
Points Per Game -- 74.1 75.1 66.3 58.8
Comment: Allowing under 60 points per game, in any league, is impressive.
Points Per Possession -- 1.06 1.09 .94 .86
Field Goal Attempts -- 1938 2176 2080 2031
Comment: UK took 142 less shots than their opponents, while Memphis took 145 more shots than their opponents. Has their ever been a team that was roundly considered to be a "good team," which didn't take more shots than their opponents?
Field Goals Made -- 933 979 820 755
Comment: Wait, UK made 113 more shots than their opposition (more on that later), but that doesn't compare to Memphis' 224 made shot advantage.
Field Goal % -- 48.1 45.0 39.4 37.2
Comment: Stellar shooting by the 'Cats on-the-whole, but when a team fails at so many other aspects of the game, it renders solid shooting a lonely highlight.
3-Point FG Att's -- 573 681 715 574
Comment: Allowing 715 three-point attempts would be acceptable if the opponents made a low percentage, but as you will see below, UK allowed 35.5% from beyond the arc. A huge reason Kentucky didn't go dancin'. Raise your coffee mug if you thought Memphis shot 108 more 3-pointers than UK.
3-Point FG's Made -- 202 222 254 172
Comment: That's a point difference of -156 for UK, and +150 for Memphis (and a "win" difference of 33 to 22).
3-Point % -- 35.3 32.6 35.5 30.0
Comment: Sadly, there simply is no comparison between the type of perimeter defense the two teams played last year. UK's three-point defensive performance was the most abysmal effort since the '89-'90 season.
Free Throw Att's -- 777 868 718 720
Comment: Memphis' +91 over UK in free throw attempts is at least partly due to Cal's DDMO, along with having superior athletes. Lots of one-on-one, and when one is clearly a better athlete, one will be shooting more freebies.
Free Throw Att's Per Game -- 21.6 23.5 19.9 19.5
Free Throws Made -- 601 599 494 494
Free Throw % -- 77.3 69.0 68.8 68.6
Comment: Jodie Meeks' 90.2% free throw shooting certainly helped UK's number is this department. Unfortunately, I expect to see a stout statistical drop this upcoming season.
Rebounds Per Game -- 39.8 42.2 35.5 36.6
Comment: Even with a beast like Patterson patrolling the paint, UK only managed a +3.2 rebounding edge. That fact might be why I heard Billy Gillispie plead numerous times for someone, anyone, to help PPat down low.
Offensive Reb's Per Game -- 10.6 13.5 11.9 11.2
Offensive Rebound % -- 34.4 38.0 31.2 30.4
Comment: A weakness all year for UK, was the polar opposite for the Tigers. On the year, Memphis sported a +3.9 offensive rebounds per game advantage over UK -- Memphis averaged 2.3 more offensive boards than their opponents, and UK averaged 1.3 fewer offensive rebounds than their foes.. That's four more possessions per game from simply not giving up offensive position, and hitting the boards like you mean it.
Defensive Reb's Per Game -- 26.3 25.8 20.2 21.9
Defensive Rebound % -- 68.8 69.6 65.6 62.0
Assist % -- 60.7 53.7 46.3 48.2
Comment: Memphis' low assist rate is probably due to the DDMO. But, UK's 60.7% is impressive for a team without a natural point guard. Kentucky's ability to snuff out the assist was admirable, but with opponents running down the floor shooting uncontested 3's, a team's defensive assist numbers tend to look better than the reality.
Assists Per Game -- 15.7 14.2 10.6 9.8
Assist to Turnover -- .93 1.13 .71 .64
Total Turnovers -- 608 464 532 570
Comment: UK committed 144 more turnovers than Memphis, while playing roughly the same pace. UK was a +38 versus their opponents, while Memphis was -106. That's an average of four more possessions per game for Memphis, and yet another primary reason for UK's sub-par year. Committing 76 more turnovers than one's opponents is unacceptable if a team has any designs on winning.
Turnovers Per Game -- 16.9 12.5 14.8 15.4
Steals Per Game -- 6.6 8.9 7.7 5.9
Comment: Yet another major defensive difference in UK and Memphis. The inexperience of UK's guards last year is the primary culprit for UK's low steal number, but whatever the reason, the boys in blue lose another 4.1 possessions per game to the Tigers.
Blocks Per Game -- 6.6 6.0 3.8 2.8
Comment: The shot blocking was impressive last season for Kentucky. With both Patterson and Perry Stevenson coming back, along with the addition of Daniel Orton and DeMarcus Cousins, UK will not be absent at any time, the presence of at least two shot blockers on the floor.
So the question isn't, "Can Calipari teach these guys his offensive system in a timely fashion," rather it's, "Can Calipari get these guys to rebound and play defense with purpose?"
That's the way I see it. Last year Memphis didn't blow opponents off the floor with offensive explosions, instead they beat their foes with great defense, solid rebounding, and mindful ball-handling. All areas of weakness for Kentucky.
Now, is Calipari capable of delivering a defensive team which will be vastly improved over last season's sporadic efforts? Well, one thing I keep hearing about our man Cal is that his teams always play hard for him. And one of the by-products of such an arrangement is generally a solid defensive team, because defense is mostly about effort; I don't care which type of "D" one is playing, playing with effort is the key element to defensive competence.
Of course, a modicum flexibility in a coach's defensive philosophy is also an ingredient which should be liberally sprinkled into any successful defensive potion. At least THAT, should not be a problem this year.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!