Kentucky Basketball: Does it Mean Anything When UK Lets Opponents Get Close?

Actually, the title is a bit misleading.  What I hope to examine here is our margin of victory compared to that of other Kentucky teams.

First of all, let me make the mother of all disclaimers -- the analysis I am about to show you is not statistically valid or anything remotely resembling it.  The sample is way too small, and way too focused.

But with all that said, we have seen a lot of fans concerned about how we aren't putting away our opponents like we should be.  That's a legitimate concern, particularly considering the recent games against the Georgia Bulldogs, Florida Gators and Auburn Tigers, where Kentucky held big leads at times and failed to build on them.  In each case, Kentucky allowed their opponents to come back and make the game very competitive in the second half.  Also in each case, the comeback ultimately failed and UK went on to win.

In addition, UK has had several near misses against nominally inferior teams like the Stanford Cardinal and the Sam Houston St. Bearkats, among others.  Given all that, does it mean that UK's season is not going swimmingly?  Follow me past the jump for more.

What I have attempted to do here is look back to the games since 1990-91 and compare the margin of victory to the ultimate outcome of the season.  How I graded the outcomes is as follows:

0 = No NCAA tournament bid or loss in the first game.
1 = First round win, second round loss.
2 = Second round win, third round loss (made Sweet 16)
3 = Third round win, fourth round loss (made Elite 8)
4 = Fourth round win, fifth round loss (made Final Four)
5 = Fifth round win, sixth round loss (Made the National Championship)
6 = National Champion.

The blue bar represents the margin of victory, and the red bar represents the result as detailed by the legend above.  So here we go:


If we just accept for the moment that the obvious holes in this theory don't actually exist (UK has yet to play its toughest games, we are comparing half a season against whole seasons, etc.), there are some interesting things that stand out.

Right now, this team looks similar, from an MOV standpoint, to 1992-93 or 1994-95.  1992-93 was a Final Four year, and that is the closest to the current year snapshot.  1994-95 had a higher MOV, but a worse tournament result.

But generally, with a couple of notable exceptions -- 1997-98 where we won the national championship with a worse MOV, and 1993-94 where we had a relatively high MOV but a poor tournament result -- the higher the MOV, the generally better the result.

I think directionally, we can say that UK at this point appears headed for between an Elite Eight and a Final Four finish based on their MOV in this sample.  Also, I like the comparison to the Pitino years a bit better, because so many of Smith's teams were relatively low scoring but great defensively, and won a bunch of games by much narrower margins than during the Pitino years.  

Another interesting but possibly irrelevant point -- notice the stark difference between the Pitino years and subsequent years until Calipari in terms of both MOV and tournament success (except, of course, in Calipari's case).  I am not inviting coach-bashing here, please, but the difference when graphed this way is really in-your-face.

Have fun with it.

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