Statistics. Some live by them, some aren't interested in them. But, there is no denying, in college basketball today, there is considerably more tracking of various types of statistics than ever before. It is not quite to "baseball level" yet, but when one considers only 32 years ago blocked shots were not kept by the scorekeeper, the explosion of roundball stats in the last 15-20 years is quite evident. And due to the all-encompassing nature of statistics today, they can be a great gauge of how ones team is performing, telling us why they are winning, or why they are losing.
Although stats are not the final authority on why a team is successful or not -- team chemistry, and coaching decisions are just two important aspects of a teams performance which stats do not directly confront -- they are, though, an excellent reflection of those two all-important categories, as well as other intangible performance metrics.
When looking at stats, one has to remember that the primary goal of any offense is to allow the team to be as efficient as possible in putting the ball in the basket. All offenses are designed, based on personnel, to gain the team the highest percentage shot possible; ideally a layup, or wide-open three. And defensively, the goal of any team is to disrupt the oppositions ability to be efficient. Do this successfully, and the team will win much more often than they lose.
With that in mind, let us take a look at the categories I deem the most important when studying your favorite team's offensive statistics ... after the jump.
Offensively, the most important statistic when evaluating a team's efficiency is its points per possession. In other words, how many points does the team score versus the number of possessions they have during the course of the game. Sub-categories of this efficiency rating is the team's effective field goal percentage (eFG%) -- eFG% is a marriage of a team's two and three-point accuracy, with weight given to the three-point shot because it is worth more: Example -- If a player makes 5-10 shots from the field, he made 50.0% of his FG attempts, but if two of the player's makes are trifectas, meaning he scored 12 points on his 10 shots, that equates to an eFG% of 60.0% (or 6-10 two-point shots) -- its turnover percentage, and finally, its offensive rebound percentage.
Kentucky, through 19 games this year, is averaging 1.14 points per possession, which is good for 17th in the nation and leads the SEC. Although UK's overall field goal percentage is 45.9% (77th, 5th), their eFG% is 52.5% (61st, 3rd) due to the 'Cats' ability to make the three-pointer at a very high rate (40.2%; 13th, 1st), and take, for the most part, good shots. Also contributing to UK's outstanding points per possession number is the team's turnover percentage, which checks-in at 16.3% (9th, 1st); thanks in large part to the strong ball-handling and decision-making of the teams primary ball-handlers.
The other, just as important factor in a team having a strong points per possession number is the aforementioned offensive rebound percentage -- Keeping alive the possession with an offensive rebound increases the chances of points being scored on that possession. Rebounding in general is an area of concern for UK fans and the coaching staff alike this season -- With the presence of only two "big men" who contribute major minutes, the 'Cats have been forced to "gang rebound" in order to stay competitive with teams blessed with more bulky length. But, taking that into consideration, UK has performed quite well in the offensive rebounding sub-category -- The 'Cats are grabbing 36.8% of their available offensive rebounds, which is 53rd in the nation, and 6th in the SEC.
Directly related to UK's offensive rebound percentage is the team's second chance points numbers, which gives us a good idea of how effectively the 'Cats are scoring after grabbing an offensive board. This year, UK has scored 264 second chance points, or 13.9 points per game. For comparisons sake -- Kentucky's opposition are averaging 11.4 second chance points per game, giving the 'Cats a slight 2.5 point per game advantage in second chance points.
Along with UK's rebounding, concern for the 'Cats' points in the paint numbers are of great interest to fans this year. When dissecting these numbers, though, one has to keep in mind that Kentucky is an outstanding three-point shooting team, meaning their points in the paint may suffer a bit.
On the year, UK has scored 1,495 points in 19 games (78.7 points per game), 610 of which have come via points in the paint, or 40.8% of their overall point production. The opposition have scored 498 points in the paint (out of an overall 1,177 points), far fewer than the 'Cats, but at a higher percentage at 42.3%. So, while the 'Cats have been outscored in the paint on a percentage basis, it is a relatively small discrepancy, especially when considering all of the hand-wringing by the fan base at the thought of UK's lack of productive big men.
** In UK's loss to UConn in Maui, the Huskies pulverized the 'Cats in the paint, winning that battle 42-18 (50% of UConn's points). North Carolina also took the interior 'Cats to the woodshed by a 34-14 margin (45.3% of UNC's points). But, in UK's other two losses, versus Georgia and Alabama, Kentucky outscored the two teams in the paint by a combined score of 68-60.
Cliffs Notes Analysis
Overall, Kentucky's offensive efficiency is very strong. As a team, they don't turn the ball over at a high rate, they shoot the ball from the floor quite efficiently -- especially from long range -- and they do an exceptional job of offensive rebounding, and then take advantage of their second chances by scoring the ball. All of these metrics have contributed to UK's 15-4 start to the season, and with some improvement, could carry the 'Cats a long way in the post season. But, as is always true, tournament match-ups are the determining factor in exactly how far a team travels on its way to the Final Four. And with so few dominant big men roaming the floor in college basketball today, coupled with UK's strong guard play -- always important in the NCAA Tourney -- the 'Cats, even with a short bench, will probably have the opportunity to make some noise in the Big Dance.
Beginning next Wednesday, February 2, I will be joining Norm Haney and BC Thomas to talk UK athletics every Wednesday from 5-6 pm EST on 1340 WBGN in Bowling Green. Of course the show will be streamed live over the Internet. We will have on the show an impressive list of guests visiting each week. And this summer the show will be available on radios throughout the state of Kentucky.
I will have broadcast links and more information on each show as we go forward.
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!