Upon Further Review: Are the Wildcats Headed in the Right Direction?

It has been a busy couple of days around my house, but my guests are now on their way to complete their business here in the States and head back to Jolly Olde England.  We had good fun and good business and now I am back to the routine.

Speaking of routine, I finally got around to watching the Kentucky vs. Ole Miss game last night.  Considering the score of the game, I was expecting to be impressed with the play, but I must say I wasn't overall, just from watching it.  It seemed like Kentucky turned the ball over every third time down the court, had trouble guarding the three again and just generally didn't do the little things.

Of course, we did do the predictable things well -- DeMarcus Cousins was indomitable on the glass and, as Jimmy Dykes so endearingly put it, "...like a big ol' grizzly bear," in the post.  In fact, I think that is just about the most apt description of Cousins I have heard this year, except that description really doesn't bring to mind the agility and remarkable hand-eye coordination that Cousins possesses, nor does it imply his remarkable savvy as a post player.

On one particular play, Cousins made one of the most remarkable fakes I have ever seen.  He went up as if to shoot with ball, shoulders, and everything, but never left his feet and didn't exaggerate the fake like post players so often do.  It looked totally natural, except he didn't jump, or really use his lower body.  The defender bit, and Cousins stepped under his committed foe for an easy dunk. 

In another, Cousins got pushed under the basket, yet reversed and made an almost casual flip of the ball that swished sweetly for the and-one -- this despite the fact that his entire body was on the other side of the backboard.  As powerful as Cousins is, it is his finesse and feel for the game that make him truly one of the top two or three post players in the college game.

Kentucky is now just under half way through the Southeastern Conference schedule, and when I want to see how we are doing, I use the magic of Google fusion tables and Kenpom.com to help me figure it all out.  So what I'll be doing here is looking only at the SEC games to compare a few stats.  To wit:

 

 

What you see here is the difference between Kentucky's offensive efficiency (how many points UK is scoring per 40 minutes 100 possessions) and UK's opponents.  As you can see, UK isn't doing bad, and the 'Cats are averaging about 13.6 more points per 40 minutes 100 possessions than they are allowing.  Not too shabby.

Now, let's take a look at Kentucky's shooting.  Kentucky has been a revelation to everyone, fans and media alike, with respect to its perimeter shooting this year.  UK has shot the ball so well from outside that it has driven our eFG% way up there.  In fact, UK has only been out-shot one time so far in SEC competition:

 

 

That's a thing of beauty.  Only twice have the 'Cats been held under 50% eFG, and that was versus Georgia and at South Carolina.  The two best teams that Kentucky has played in the SEC so far, Vandy and Ole Miss, could not hold Kentucky under 55%, let alone 50. 

A lot of that is due to some terrific play from the 3-headed small forward spot of Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins and Darnell Dodson, who has finally rounded into defensive form enough that Calipari will play him.  John Wall and Eric Bledsoe have both worked very hard on their perimeter game and are far better than advertised, and I don't even have enough superlatives for Patrick Patterson's improvement from the perimeter.

Of course, there is always a fly in the ointment, a monkey in the wrench.  For Kentucky, that'd be turnovers.

 

 

Ugh. What you're seeing here is the comparison between UK's turnover% and that of their opponent.  UK, as with all these graphs, is in the blue.  Kentucky has actually had three good games turnover-wise, against the Georgia Bulldogs (18.8%), the Florida Gators (13.8%), and the Arkansas Razorbacks (18.1%).  I really thought after the first two games that Kentucky had finally found a way to limit turnovers, but as we saw with the Mississippi Rebels game just the other night, that isn't the case.  In fact, the Wildcats are kind of on a negative roll, with >20% turnovers for the last three games.

The turnovers are what are helping these teams to stay within shouting distance of Kentucky.  If UK could operate with 18% turnovers or less for most games, I'd say the 'Cats would be almost impossible to beat right now.  It is the high turnover percentage that is making it possible for teams to stay in games rather than being obliterated by 20+.  In fact, forcing Georgia into high turnovers was a big reason Kentucky didn't lose vs. the Dawgs -- they helped make up for the fact that Georgia out-shot the 'Cats in that game.

But the really big statistic that is killing everyone is offensive rebound percent:

 

Now there has been some serious butt-whipping going on in this category.  Georgia barely nipped us, and the South Carolina Gamecocks flat whipped us, but most other teams have been buried under a deluge of offensive rebounds, most of them from DeMarcus Cousins.  The Vanderbilt Commodores' graph on that stat is just embarrassing.

I know it's stating the obvious, but Kentucky has a lot of room for improvement.  To me, though, the really cool thing is that UK has not come anywhere close to their potential in any of these games.  If the 'Cats could ever start shooting 55+% eFG, getting mid 40% OR's and keep turnovers at or below 18%, this is a team that could not only get all the way to Indianapolis, but could actually win the whole dang thing.

Watching Ole Miss at UK just convinced me of one thing, which I already knew -- this team can play mediocre and dominate all but one or two teams in the SEC, and I thought UK was thoroughly mediocre against the Rebels.  The problem is, I see far too much mediocre play, and to utilize a horse racing metaphor, we are entering the final turn in the season, and in another 3 weeks, we'll be at the head of the stretch.  Right now, UK is in perfect stalking position, but they can't afford to let up now, or blow the turn.  It's a lot easier to get to Indy from a #1 or 2 seed than it is from a #4.

It's time for Coach Cal to let them feel the whip a little.  This hand-ride he has been giving them should be about over.

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