Kentucky Basketball: Sifting Through The Wreckage of a Formerly Undefeated Season

I have to admit, with the exception of some psychopathic techno-terrorists claiming to be Kentucky fans (And why don't you cowards question Patrick Patterson's commitment to his face instead of on Facebook?  Because he would offer you a gentle reproof just before pulling off your arms and showing you the anatomical inner workings of your shoulder socket, that's why) has been overwhelmingly mild.  Especially so, considering the embarrassment of having the first #1 ranking since 2003 snatched out from underneath their Kentucky Wildcats team by the unranked South Carolina Gamecocks only 24 hours or so after being anointed the top team in the land. 

Leaving aside the whack-jobs, which fortunately seem to occupy sites other than A Sea of Blue, I have been pretty impressed with the analysis that I have seen in the postmortem.  I think most people understand why Kentucky lost this game, and are placing the blame squarely where it belongs -- on the other team.  The Gamecocks had a great game plan that worked to perfection.  That has happened at some point in the season to every Kentucky team I've ever been privileged to watch, so that's that.

What could the Wildcats have done differently?  Well, I think most of it's been said -- more intensity, better positioning on the floor, fewer turnovers, a few more bounces going our way (I hate that one, though), trying too hard, better rebounding (more on that later), getting to more lose balls, better block outs, etc.  All of these things have merit at some level or another, I think, and any one or more of them could have gotten Kentucky over the hump.

Which now begs the question -- is this "The loss that the Wildcats needed?"  Well, I've never been a proponent of "good" losses, but I will be the first to admit that losses have a way of focusing the mind in a way that close victories do not.  I don't know what's going on in the minds of these young men, but Coach Cal has intimated, and it does make sense, that his young charges have had the impression that they can turn the intensity on and off at will.  I wonder if they still believe that today?  If not, it was well worth the loss to get that out of the way.

I'm confident much more can be learned from this affair than might have been learned in a 5-point victory, and as usual, I like to turn to the stats to see graphically where things went bad for Kentucky.  So here are the Four Factors from last night's game:

 

The first thing we see is that UK shot a very low eFG%, BUT, the Wildcats held South Carolina to an eFG% of only 37.5, and a FG% of only 34.4%.  Defensively, the 'Cats played well enough to win 98% of their games.  In fact, I will say that overall, the defense was as good as it has been all year for most of the game.  That's a very positive takeaway.

Where UK went wrong is easy to see.  Besides shooting very poorly themselves (a result of some very good Gamecock defense), they allowed South Carolina to get lots of second shots by way of the offensive rebound disparity, and had a bunch of empty possessions by virtue of a 22.1-16.2% turnover disparity.

On top of all that, South Carolina's free throw rate % was almost 44% -- far higher than their average of 32%.  Kentucky's FTR% was the opposite -- 37% where they average 41%.

So in the end, the Gamecocks won three out of the four factors to wining, and UK still had a chance to win.  I think that's more of a positive than a negative.  The big negative, though, is that UK lost.  Give all the credit in the world to Darrin Horn for changing his team from fast-paced to a slow, grind-it-out team in just a few days.  That really seemed to take Kentucky out of their offense, and minimized the effect of the talent disparity.

A couple of things I really didn't understand.  What offense were we running last night?  It didn't appear to be the dribble drive, even though USC played a lot of straight man and we played a lot of four-out sets.  But the ball was going into the post from the wing, often on the first or second pass and before even one drive was attempted, so I don't really know what that was.

One thing I found odd, and this was mentioned in the comments earlier, was that Patrick Patterson spent a lot of time in the deep corners.  That's the right place for him to be in the dribble drive, but with Cousins always on the strong side, that would seem to fly in the face of the DDM principles.  So what were we doing?

Well, I'm sure Calipari would just tell me I don't know basketball (never mind the fact I've been a student of the game for many years), so fine.  Maybe it was some new offense that he was trying out, or perhaps the players simply failed to execute what they were being told. 

Either way, the result wasn't pleasing to the eye, nor was it pleasing to the scoreboard.  Our guards overpenetrated a number of times, and wound up throwing the ball to South Carolina players who stayed at home on the perimeter and jumped into the passing lanes on a penetration move.

John Wall and Eric Bledsoe had 9 turnovers combined, and UK as a team had 15, which is right on their average for the year.  And even though turnover % was high, it wasn't stratospherically so.  In fact, the  'Cats turn the ball over 21% on average, and they turned it over 22% last night.  But they failed to force the Gamecocks to turn it over enough, which really hurt.

But the thing that hurt the worst was losing on the offensive glass.  If you are looking for one statistic that is out of the ordinary for Kentucky, especially against a much smaller Gamecock team, that is the one upon which you can place the blame.  UK had a tremendous size advantage, but South Carolina overcame it with hustle and determination.

In the end, I think South Carolina just wanted this game more than Kentucky did, and yes, that concerns me a little.  At this point in the season, motivation should not be a problem, but the flip side is that with as much success as Kentucky has had this year, it is logical to assume that some complacency would follow. 

So now it has, and we lost, and it's time to retool the attitude and get ready for an ever better team in the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday.  The good news is, this one is in the comfy confines of Rupp Arena, where the 'Cats have played really well this season.

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