Kentucky Basketball: The Devil Went Down to Georgia, and Hopefully He'll Stay Awhile

As per usual last night, I wrote my postmortem from pure perception.  I almost never look at the stats for the postmortem, I just write my instant impressions about what I thought I saw in the game.

Of course, perception is not always reality.  Basketball fans rarely watch the game like coaches do.  They rarely pay attention to what is going on off the ball, and tend to focus on the basketball.  Frankly, that's the way the game is supposed to be watched for maximum pleasure -- watching it like a coach does is work.

But a lot of what goes on can't really be seen by any one person watching a game.  There is too much movement, too many players, and too many distractions to focus on all the little things that go into winning a basketball game.  That's why we have statistics, and the statistics of this game tell us a story that we haven't heard for a couple of games out of the Wildcats.

Let's have a look after the jump.

Four Factors

First, the Four Factors to winning.  I always like to start with that, because it gives us a good general picture of how things went statistically:

 

What we see here is that Kentucky's defense really asserted itself last night.  Yeah, I know -- 14 blocked shots and 8 steals -- duh!  But holding a Georgia team who had shot 59 and 64% eFG in their last two home games to 46% was very, very impressive stuff, indeed.

What wasn't so impressive was UK's OR%.  Hardly anybody beats the 'Cats in this stat, but Georgia did, and not by just a little, either -- they pounded us on the offensive glass, 47% to 29%.  That the kind of lopsided abuse Kentucky normally inflicts on their opponents, but this time, the tables were turned.  UK averages 39.7% in conference, and outrebounds opponents by nearly 10%.  But as I noted in the pre-game, Georgia is also a very good offensive rebounding team.

Additionally, Kentucky did a very poor job getting to the line.  22.6% is way below our SEC average of over 66%.

Thanks to their great offensive rebounding, Georgia got off 5 more shots than UK, but 14 of them got swatted away, and Georgia didn't block a single UK shot..  That gave Kentucky a net advantage of 9 shots on goal, which is why the score was as lopsided as it was.  If it hadn't been for all those blocks, the game could have been very competitive at the end.  Blocks matter.

Another thing that UK did very well yesterday was take care of the basketball -- only 15% turnovers.  That is really quite good for the way this team plays, and it also helps when your opponent 23% turnovers.  Ironically, that is the reversal what that stat normally reads.

Another great thing about the turnover stats is UK wound up with 8 "live" turnovers, and 99% of the time, a live turnover against UK means an easy deuce.

Game Flow

Let's look now at the game flow:

 

Notice that UK went on a huge 14-0 run starting at 1:31 in the first half and extending to 16:59 remaining in the second.  And once the 'Cats got that lead, it never got closer than 9 points.  The only thing that bugged me about that is that Kentucky was unable to really expand the lead much.  They got it out to 18 with 7:37 remaining in the second, but they gradually let the Bulldogs climb back in.  That tells us that the tendency to drift after this team gets a big lead has not gone away.

Players

Looking at the players, I am going to introduce something that has been used in some blogs, but is relatively new to me.  It has been used for years in the NBA, and is now coming in vogue for college basketball, called the "plus/minus" rating.

What this does is shows the value of a player to the team relative to the players who sub in for him, and is a measure of team performance relative to each particular player.  The best way to explain this is to show it to you:


Plus/Minus Off Court
Player MIN RR +/- + - +/- + -
D. Miller 15 -2 5 26 -21 7 54 -47
J. Wall 37 26 19 76 -57 -7 4 -11
D. Cousins 21 -4 4 43 -39 8 37 -29
E. Bledsoe 20 4 8 44 -36 4 36 -32
P. Patterson 35 20 16 72 -56 -4 8 -12
D. Dodson 21 2 7 43 -36 5 37 -32
J. Hood 1 -14 -1 0 -1 13 80 -67
R. Harris 11 -24 -6 19 -25 18 61 -43
P. Stevenson 5 -22 -5 8 -13 17 72 -55
D. Orton 16 10 11 34 -23 1 46 -45
D. Liggins 16 -4 4 32 -28 8 48 -40
J. Harrellson 2 -16 -2 3 -5 14 77 -63

The concept behind this stat is simple -- it counts the number of points that the each team scores while each player is in the game.  Your team's are positive, and the opponent's are negative.  Add them up and you get the +/- result.  The "off-court" number is exactly the same stat figured while the player is sitting on the bench.  The RR part is called the "Roland Rating" and is simply the +/- on the court minus the +/- on the bench.

I am new to this stat, so my analysis of it will likely be primitive until I get a good handle on it, but I am finding it useful in providing a more objective view of whether or not a player had a good game in terms of the total team effort.

For example, I had believed that Darius Miller had a particularly good game.  He seemed to give good defensive effort and played good minutes, and the +/- appears to bear me out.  The fact that his +/- was higher on the bench, according to what I understand, indicates that he probably should have seen more minutes rather than less. The same is true for DeMarcus Cousins, which is obvious to anyone who has watched the 'Cats.  You won't see him with a negative RR very often, but he had foul problems in the first half.

It's really no surprise to see John Wall dominate this stat, nor Patrick Patterson.  What did surprise me is Daniel Orton.  I new he had a good game, but this stat tells us he did more than that -- the team played very well when Orton was in the game, and he was in there when the 'Cats started their big run at the end of the first half.

The big negative RR ratings for many players are just indicators of playing very few minutes, but one in particular who can make an argument he should have played a bit more is Liggins.  Ramon Harris also has a surprisingly low RR, even though by watching the game, I thought he played okay.  He gave us a couple of big rebounds and a stick-back, but the team wasn't very good with him in the lineup.

Anyway, have fun with it.  I'll be looking at this stat more and more as time goes on and I get more comfortable working with it.  Right now, it is new to me, and even though it has been used for years in the NBA, it is just beginning to gain broad acceptance in college basketball.

Miscellaneous

Finally, I think it is important to take a look at 3-point percentage, and what it has meant to the team so far.  Here is what Kentucky's 3-point effort looks like in the SEC this year:

 

You will see that Kentucky often struggles to win when their 3-point percentage drops below 30%.  But one of the good things is that UK has managed to shoot the three, on average, better than their opponents.  That will become more and more important the deeper into the tournament Kentucky gets, particularly defensively.

One way that inferior teams have managed to hang with Kentucky all year is by making threes against them.  To their credit, the Wildcats have improved very much at defending the three point shot, and they have made great strides in defense overall, having the 23rd best raw defensive efficiency in the nation.  Where UK was letting opponents rain threes on them earlier in the year, those thunderstorms have become less and less frequent, although Georgia did shoot a good percentage against us thanks primarily to the dead-eye shooting of Ricky McPhee.

Of course, all of us in the Big Blue Nation hope that the 3-point shooting has turned around now, and that Kentucky is out of its most recent slump.  I guess we'll just have to wait and see about that.

We'll start looking at the Florida Gators game next.

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