Tomorrow at noon, the Kentucky Wildcats will take the floor at Rupp Arena for the last time this year to face the Florida Gators on Senior Day, when Kentucky will say goodbye to seniors Perry Stevenson, Ramon Harris, Mark Krebs. Patrick Patterson will also participate, because he will most likely be moving on after this year. It is also likely to somewhat varying degrees that this will be the last time John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins will be taking the floor at Rupp Arena.
Since the Vanderbilt lost to South Carolina Gamecocks today, Kentucky takes the floor as the SEC East and overall regular-season champion. Regardless of the outcome of the game tomorrow, the Wildcats will be heading to Arkansas as the #1 seed from the SEC East. This would have been so regardless of the outcome of tomorrow's game or the Vandy game today.
That isn't to say tomorrow's game is without drama, although the loss by the Syracuse Orange to the Louisville Cardinals earlier today made the #1 seed for Kentucky somewhat less tenuous that it would be in case of a Florida upset. As it is, if UK bows to the Gators on senior day, they will need a good performance in the SEC tournament in order to ensure that they wind up on one of the four top lines for the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament. Kentucky can all but sew that up tomorrow with a win over the Gators.
Let's take a quick look at the comparison between the Gators and the Wildcats, courtesy of Statsheet.com:
|Rank and Records||UK||UF|
|Strength of Schedule||#45||#39|
|RPI Top 50||8-1||1-7|
Rather than reviewing the Gators' wins and losses, I want to briefly discuss their probability to wind up with an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. In my estimation, Florida needs to either beat Kentucky or get to the SEC semifinal to have any chance to get in. Their chances would be greatly enhanced by a visit to the SEC Tournament finals. The fact that they will be the 4th seed from the East somewhat enhances Florida's chances, as no matter what the outcome tomorrow, they will face the Alabama Crimson Tide on the first day of the SEC Tournament, then the West #1 seed, which will probably be the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
More after the jump.
The Gators have little to recommend them for the NCAA Tournament other than a 20 win regular season versus a weak schedule. Their schedule was particularly weak out of conference, but they did manage wins against the Michigan St. Spartans and a decedent Florida St. Seminoles team. They are only 1-7 versus the RPI top 50 and 9-9 against the RPI top 100. They do have a couple of wins against top 25 teams, but a likely .500 road and neutral record is not very impressive. The back-to-back losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt really set them up for an ugly end to the season with a loss to UK, so the Gators have a ton on the line tomorrow. If they win, they are likely in the tournament. If not, I think they will have to get to the SEC tournament semifinal to have any chance, and to the final to have a good chance. The odds are that Florida is NIT bound for the third straight year.
For more on the Florida Gators, be sure to check out the SB Florida blog, Alligator Army.
We will begin the analysis by the usual look at the dashboard. Don't forget, this thing is interactive.
Four Factors Analysis
As usual, I'll slide the left-hand slider over to look at just the SEC portion of the schedule, the last 15 games, and start with offensive efficiencies.
The Wildcats have mostly been more efficient than the Gators through most of the season, but in two of their last three games, the Gators have been pretty efficient. In fact, in the SEC season, the Gators and the Wildcats have both been similar in offensive efficiency, as you can see above.
But there is a reason the 'Cats are 13-2 and the Gators are 9-6, and that reason is defensive efficiency. the Wildcats allow their opponents around .90 points/possession, where the Gators allow something like 1.05. Just like his teams at Memphis, John Calipari's defense has caught up with the offense, and that is why UK is so good.
Moving on to the Four Factors for offense, UK shoots slightly better than Florida, turns the ball over more, and has advantages in offensive rebounding and free throw rate. In fact, Florida kind of exemplifies the "typical" SEC team this year. This is what the archetype of an SEC game has looked like from UK's standpoint all year offensively.
Defensively, it is the same. UK holds opponents to a lower percentage, forces more turnovers, takes better care of the defensive glass and sends opponents to the line less. The big thing to pay attention to in the defensive Four Factors is the eFG% -- UK his holding opponents to a full 7 percentage points lower than Florida.
The miscellaneous stats reveal that UK is a slightly better 3-point shooting team (although not in the SEC portion of the season), but neither team is particularly good from three -- UK is shooting 21.5% in the SEC season, and Florida is at 33%. UK has about 3 really bad games affecting their overall 3-point stats, though, so don't worry too much about that stat. Florida also takes more 3-point shots than UK does.
UK has a higher bench % than Florida, which is not the norm for SEC teams, and prefers a higher tempo than Florida. The combination of tempo and bench % suggest that Florida will need to play a slower game, and not let UK get the tempo up to the level of a track meet. That's always good advice when facing players like Eric Bledsoe and John Wall.
Florida Gators Basketball Roster
Position Analysis: Point Guard
Sophomore Erving Walker, at 5'8" and 171#, is the point guard for the Florida Gators. Walker is a quick point guard with almost unlimited range, but he suffers from poor judgment about when to shoot and when to pass, which is not a great thing for a point guard. He averages around 13 points/game, but his scoring has been on a downward trend since January, where he was averaging close to 19 points per game in SEC play. Walker's A/T ratio is in that magic 2:1 range, and he shoots the ball very well from three at 36%. Against UK earlier in the season, Walker scored 20 points on 6-15 shooting, 4-9 from three-point range.
Eric Bledsoe will probably be matched up with Walker because of his size. Bledsoe is averaging around 10 points per game, and his A/T ratio is a not-so-hot .9, but that's primarily because John Wall handles most of the ball-handling duties. Over the course of the season, Bledsoe is shooting about 35% from three, but in SEC play, he is only making the long ones at about a 27% clip. Versus Florida in January, Bledsoe had perhaps his best game as a 'Cat, scoring 25 points on 10-13 shooting (3-4 threes), he also handed out five assists, grabbed seven rebounds, and had three steals.
Overall, Walker's experience and better perimeter shooting gives him an advantage on offense. Defensively, Bledsoe is a better player.
Position Analysis: Two-Guard
6'2" 183# freshman Kenny Boynton is the off-guard for the Gators. Like Kentucky, Florida is actually playing two players who could be point guards in the back court. Boynton, like Walker, is very quick with the ball, and is a threat to penetrate the Wildcat defense. While averaging 13.5 points per game, which leads the Gators, Boynton's accuracy has not been pinpoint: Boynton has made only 59 of 215 three-point tries (27.4%), and is shooting 36.8% overall.
In the teams' earlier contest, Boynton contributed 17 points on 5-17 shooting (2-8 threes).
Kentucky's John Wall, coming off a strong effort against Georgia, will look to close out his Rupp Arena career on a strong note. Florida won't fight Wall's pushing of the pace as diligently as most teams, which means Wall might be able to run the floor, scoring and dishing his way to a game similar to the one he had in Gainesville; 19 points, six assists and four rebounds.
In his last two games, Wall has broken out of his mini shooting slump, making 14-26 shots (53.8%), 3-9 threes, and 12 of 13 free throws. Totally from the gut here, but Wall seems to have that "look" in his eye lately. Perhaps a signal that it's time to get serious.
Wall will have his hands full today with stopping Boynton/Walker. Both players present Wall with defensive challenges, primarily, can Wall stop their dribble penetration.
Advantage: Kentucky (but not by a huge margin)
Position Analysis: Forward
6'9" junior forward Chandler Parsons has quickly become a double-threat; In SEC play Parsons is averaging 7.2 rebounds per game (9th in SEC), and 3.2 assists per game (10th). Parsons is making the three at 36.7% (33-90), making him even more dangerous player.
Parsons didn't have one of his better games of the year against UK, though. He scored only eight points (he averages 12.0), and was 0-2 from beyond the arc.
UK's Darius Miller had one of his strongest SEC performances against the Gators earlier in the season. Miller scored nine points on 4-8 shooting (1-3 threes), grabbed four rebounds, and dished out two assists in 26 minutes. More recently Miller has struggled from the field, going 7-24 from the floor (2-12 threes), over the last three games. Miller hasn't scored in double-digits since putting up 12 versus Arkansas 12 games ago. He has, though, been more aggressive with his overall game, evidenced by his 16 rebounds over the last three games (seven offensive).
Advantage: Slight Florida
Position Analysis: Power Forward
Alex Tyus, the Gators' 6'8" junior forward brings solid shooting, strong rebounding, and competent defense to a Florida front line that gave up 50 points in the paint to UK in their earlier meeting. Tyus is averaging 11.8 points per game, while shooting 50.5% from the field. His seven rebounds per game leads the team. He possesses an array of moves around the basket, and has proved to be a very athletic player.
Versus UK in '10, Tyus scored 17 points on 5-12 shooting (2-4 threes), and snagged seven rebounds.
Florida has caught UK forward Patrick Patterson at the wrong time. Patterson, since settling into his role, has been en fuego. Over the last five games, Patterson is 34-53 from the field (64.2%), 6-14 threes (42.9%), and he's made a more Patterson-like 20-25 free throws (80.0%), instead of the 60% mark he's been hovering around all year.
Patterson has become a serious outside threat, and he's been displaying his ability to get to the rim off the bounce from either the painted area, or from the baseline or wing. Playing in his final game in Rupp Arena won't be easy for the junior, but after a few minutes to focus, I look for Patterson to have a big game.
Position analysis: Center/Forward
6'10" 240# Vernon Macklin is the one Gator capable of dueling even with UK's DeMarcus Cousins. His size, and athletic ability make him a dangerous weapon on both ends of the floor.
Averaging 10.7 points per game (60.9% from the field), half of his 5.6 rebounds per game come on the offensive end. His 2.7 offensive rebounds per game in league play rank him #7 in the SEC. In 19 minutes against UK in January, Macklin scored eight points (4-6 fg's), and grabbed three rebounds.
Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins, coming off a weak effort against Georgia (In 21 minutes he had six points, four rebounds, and zero offensive boards, for the first time this season, but he did have an impressive six blocks), is yet another 'Cat playing his final game in Rupp Arena. It's hard to tell how some players will react to such an occasion, but my money is on Cousins having a big game.
In only 23 minutes of action versus the Gators in Gainesville, Cousins scored 13 points, and grabbed five rebounds (three offensive).
Dan Werner, a 6'8" senior forward plays over 20 minutes per game, but only averages 4.8 points per game. He's not shooting the ball very well this season: 33.3% from the field, and 25.7% from long-range. 6'5" sophomore swing Ray Shipman (12.5 minutes per game, 2.5 points per game) and 6'9" freshman forward Erik Murphy (8.7 minutes per game, 3.4 points per game) also come off the bench.
Kentucky will once again bring Darnell Dodson, DeAndre Liggins, Daniel Orton, and seniors Perry Stevenson, Ramon Harris off the bench. Actually, Calipari might start Stevenson, Harris, and fellow senior Mark Krebs, we'll just have to wait and see.
Dodson is coming off his best game since Ole Miss on February 2. Against Georgia on Wednesday, Dodson went 4-8 from the field (3-6 threes), and scored 11 points in 21 minutes of action.
Advantage: Slight Kentucky
Folks, Rupp Arena is going to be jacked-up today. With the official departure of the three seniors, plus Patterson, plus the unofficial departure of Cousins and Wall, the team that put UK back on the map is saying goodbye.
No way UK loses this game.
And looking at the statistical disparity between the two teams only supports that claim, particularly on the defensive end (in SEC play): UK holds opponents to a 38.6% field goal percentage (1st in SEC), the Gators allow 44.7% FG shooting (9th); UK holds SEC opponents to 27.7% three-point accuracy, Florida allows 35.8% trey shooting; Overall, UK holds opponents to .92 points per possession, Florida gives up .97 points per possession.
Also working against the Gators are their 5-5 mark over the last 10 games, with a two game losing streak (@ UGA, and home versus Vandy), but, conversely, at 20-10, and 9-6 in the SEC, the Gators could be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives.
When the two teams met in January, the 'Cats played one of their three or four best games of the year. They shot the ball well (51.4%), they shot the ball well from long-range (38.9%), and they defended well (the Gators shot 38.2% from the floor, and made only 8-27 threes). In the second half, UK made 20-34 shots, an exceptional 58.8%. What does today have in store for 'Cat fans ...
I expect the 'Cats to start slowly, not due to lethargy, but one never knows how a team is going to react to such an emotional game. And considering the youth of this Kentucky team, it might take a few minutes for the players to calm down enough to measure their shots, and focus on the task at hand.
No blowout, but a Senior Day victory none-the-less.
Projected Score: Kentucky 81 Florida 72