There are times during a game when, even though you have a big lead, you feel like your opponent can come back and beat you any second. I have to admit, I got that feeling, ever so slightly, at one point versus the Vanderbilt Commodores.
I mean, UK has given up big leads before during this campaign. We saw the Florida Gators come back from down 15 points early in the second half in Gainesville to tie the game before the Wildcats pulled away. Kentucky had the Auburn Tigers down 19 with 1:56 left in the first half in Auburn, but came back to tie the game at 60 with over eight minutes remaining. The 'Cats had the North Carolina Tar Heels down 19 late in the first half only to see that lead eventually evaporate en route to a 2-point win.
I think that Kentucky fans have become somewhat used to the 'Cats giving up all or part of big leads, but it goes without saying that the willingness of this team to surrender big chunks of their advantage has left most of us uneasy, although in the only UK loss so far, it wasn't surrendering a big lead that got the Wildcats beaten, but the inability to get a lead of any size and hold it.
The Vandy game, though, was different. Kentucky got a big lead with about six minutes to go in the first half, and doggedly held on to most of it throughout the rest of the game, The Wildcats were never able to continue growing that lead until the Commodores collapsed under the weight of it, but unlike other fairly recent efforts, they hung on with remarkable tenacity despite the best efforts of Ogilvy & Co.
More after the jump.
Unfortunately, Statsheet.com, whom I normally cite to compare the four factors, must've had a hiccup this game. I pretty well know without looking that Vanderbilt did not attempt 99 field goals, and that they didn't shoot 24.7% eFG. But with that said, let's look at the correct data courtesy of Kenpom.com and visualized through the magic of Google fusion tables:
A quick glance is all it takes to see where UK went right and Vandy was rendered almost helpless. Take a look at that green bar -- that represents offensive rebound percentage. Kentucky held Vanderbilt to only 13% OR. That is by far UK's best performance of the season, and you have to go to teams like the Hartford Hawks, the Drexel Dragons and UNC-Asheville Bulldogs to find teams that Kentucky dominated like that on the boards. Keep in mind, though, that the 'Cats did this to Vanderbilt, a top 25 team. How that looks in raw numbers is an 18-3 offensive rebound advantage. Gobsmacking.
For the record, that 119.1 OE number isn't bad either, but it doesn't come close to our best of the season, which was 150.2 versus Hartford. OE's over 115 are really good, over 120 are great, and values over 130 are dominant.
Of the Four Factors, the OR% disparity is the one that stands out the most. Vandy did almost everything else fine. They shot well enough to win most games, which is a little surprising to me, and they got to the line very well at 67.4%. The one area where they were a bit out of character was in turnovers, but it isn't as if they were loathsome in that stat, either. Their season average is 19.8, and in this game it was 21. Kentucky turned the ball over even more at 23.8%
Which, by the way, answers the question, "Why did UK not blow Vandy out by 30?" Three reasons, really -- UK allowed Vandy to shoot pretty well from the field, put them on the line a lot (the pathetic officiating in this game had a lot to do with that on both sides), and turned the ball over too much. In fact, Kentucky's production at the line was not that great at only 64% -- Vandy shot 10% better and got there nearly as often.
Do you recall how I rejected the idea that UK lost the game against USC? The biggest reason for that was the OR%, where the South Carolina Gamecocks clearly dominated Kentucky from an effort standpoint, along with a few other effort stats that showed the Gamecocks clearly outplayed Kentucky. This was just the opposite. Kentucky clearly outplayed the Vanderbilt Commodores in the effort area, and that was the difference.
Another thing -- many people would think Kentucky played pretty solid defense in that game, but the reality is that Vandy's eFG% was 53.3 versus UK's 55.6 That's the third highest effective field goal percentage the 'Cats have allowed this season. Vandy shot 33% from three, which is not lights-out and is certainly not par for them, but it is still good enough to beat most teams.
Vanderbilt has been vulnerable on the offensive glass all year, and in fact are allowing a greater percentage of OR's than they are getting, so this problem won't likely go away by the time we trek down to Nashville for the rematch. Vandy normally overcomes their rebounding woes by taking good care of the ball and shooting a high percentage.
In summary, this was a good but not great game by UK, statistically, except in one area -- offensive rebounding. And I'm sure you already know this, but the guy responsible for over 50% of that advantage wears #15 on his chest and his emotions on his sleeve (well, if he had a sleeve, I guess...). DeMarcus Cousins all by himself almost tripled Vanderbilt's output on the offensive glass. That's ... otherworldly.