The Tennessee Volunteers have been getting quite a lot of press lately for their upset victories over a couple of pre-season Big East favorites -- the Pittsburgh Panthers and the Villanova Wildcats. Tennessee is playing good basketball right now, and of course, we get to face the Vols later on this year.
Even better for Tennessee is that they are getting Jeronne Maymon, a transfer from Marquette, eligible to play in a couple of days, and Renaldo Woolridge, who saw significant time last year, should be returning soon from an ankle injury.
So how does Kentucky compare to the better teams in the SEC right now, like, say, Tennessee and the Florida Gators? Thanks to the magic of Statsheet.com, we can answer that question statistically. This is obviously not an exercise pregnant with deep meaning since we don't play these guys for a while, but I thought it would be fun to see how the teams compared statistically at this point in the season. We won't be looking at a bunch of stats, here, mainly just the Four Factors.
First let's compare the the season so far between Tennessee, Florida, and Kentucky:
|Rank and Records||UK||UF||TENN|
|Strength of Schedule||#6||#4||#2|
|RPI Top 50||1-2||1-1||1-0|
* Note: As pointed out to me in the comments, UK has only played 3 actual home games. Statsheet seems to count any non-away, non-neutral site game as a home game. As such, I have changed that number to reflect a more rational view, that the Portland game was actually semi-away and therefore belongs in the away category.
So you think UK has played a tough schedule? We have, of course, but so has Tennessee and Florida, although how they reckon Florida's schedule tougher than Kentucky seems a mystery to me. But they are all very close, so it's mostly apples to apples.
UK has lost to one top ten opponent in the Connecticut Huskies (although they were unranked when UK played them) and to an unranked but talented North Carolina Tar Heels team on the road. Florida lost at home to the Ohio St. Buckeys, but has won its only road game against the American U. Eagles and is 1-1 versus in-state teams Central Florida Knights and Florida St. Seminoles. Tennessee has yet to play a true road game, although the Pittsburgh game was close enough to count.
Now, let's compare Kentucky to Tennessee as of today:
As we can see by looking at the above, both UT and Kentucky shoot the ball very well, and about at the same percentage. UK is a much better ballhandling team right now, and Tennessee is better on the offensive glass and at getting to the line.
Based on these statistics, you'd expect Tennessee would be a slight favorite in a neutral-court matchup versus Kentucky. Ken Pomeroy has UK 74% to win at home, and 44% to win in Knoxville.
Now, for a look at the Florida Gators:
This matchup looks no more favorable to UK than the UT game. Florida is shooting better and getting more offensive rebounds while UK is getting to the line more. Pomeroy has UK 78% to win at home, and 49% to win at the O-dome.
Of course, there are a lot of things that can happen between now and the time these teams play. Injuries can happen, or teams (like Tennessee) can add players, and even lose head coaches (also like Tennessee). All these factors, plus many, many more will figure into the game, so predicting the outcome now is something I'll leave to the stats wizards like Pomeroy.
But I do think this gives us a sort of general indication of how Kentucky is playing compared to some of the better teams in the SEC (and arguably college basketball) right now, and it's nice to see. UK is very competitive with both the Volunteers, who are unquestionably playing great right now, and Florida, who is playing well. It also highlights the weaknesses we anticipated for all the teams in question, and the strengths -- in UT's case, they are strong on the offensive glass, and the Gators, as they have been for the last several years, are soft.
Ballhandling is the one thing that UK consistently does better than almost everybody. What a departure that is from the last three or four years when UK was always over 20% turnovers. In fact, you have to go all the way back to 2006 before you find a UK team that averaged under 20% turnovers.
What I really love about this year's team is the fact that they don't beat themselves with turnovers, they can kill you from the perimeter, and that dagger three can come from almost any player out there, even Josh Harrellson. That is what will allow Kentucky to compete with teams that ought to beat them on paper, and why I think this year's team is a dark-horse candidate for the Final Four.