Kentucky Basketball: Point Guard Isn't Why Kentucky Is Struggling

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Taking a look at how Kentucky's team in 2012 compares to previous years when it comes to Four Factors performance.

We preach tempo-free statistics and the Four Factors a lot here at A Sea of Blue, and I thought it might be interesting to take a look at how Kentucky has fared this year compared with other years with respect to the Four Factors to Winning, just to see if we can learn anything.

What we'll do is look at nine pieces of data for each of three years starting in 2010: Offensive effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TO%), offensive rebound percentage (OR%), free throw rate (FTR), and their defensive equivalents, with can be thought of as, for example, eFG% allowed by Kentucky. These are all taken from Kenpom.com, along with one other data point, which is the ranking of the opponent.

I know that averaging percentages introduces error, but it will be close enough for this analysis, and it's the easiest way for me to compare the range of games I'm interested in without spending time entering raw data and formulas.

Okay, so first the offensive stats. This chart takes the discrete calculated values of each statistic for each game and averages them over the first eight games in each year, thus:

Offensive Four Factors
Data 2010 2011 2012
Average - eFG% 53.0 53.7 55.2
Average - TO% 16.4 17.5 17.9
Average - FTR 39.3 41.4 40.4
Average - OR% 35.5 37.1 32.0
Average - Orank 72.5 152.9 133.1

As a visual aid, I have highlighted good numbers in shades of green, and bad ones in shades of red. What this table tells us is that Kentucky's effective FG% is better this year, at this point, than either of the last two years, although not by a huge amount. Turnovers are a little higher, but not enough to really matter, and free throw rate is very similar to prior years.

Offensive rebound percentage, though, is significantly down from last year, and down even from the Brandon Knight/Josh Harrellson team of 2010. That's a definite problem.

Also, notice the opponent rank. This year's overall opponent ranking compares favorably to last year, in that it's a little tougher, but is way weaker than 2010. Just keep that in mind for context.

Next, we'll look at the defensive numbers:

Defensive Four Factors
Data 2010 2011 2012
Average - deFG% 43.4 37.6 46.0
Average - dTO% 16.9 21.5 19.7
Average - dOR% 27.8 30.6 29.2
Average - dFTR 35.0 27.5 25.9
Average - Orank 72.5 152.9 133.1

Well, this isn't quite so rosy. The comparison between last year and this year with respect to eFG% allowed is stark - Kentucky this year is allowing over 8 percentage points better shooting than last year's team. It's even allowing better shooting than 2010, which struggled early, if you recall, and played a much tougher schedule.

Even though we've seen stretches where the offense looks ugly, the shooting percentages have been pretty good. What hasn't been good is the defense, and allowing teams to average 46% eFG is going to lose you some games, and we have seen that already.

So how efficient is this year's team compared to the other two? Consider:

Efficiencies
Data 2010 2011 2012
Average - Eff 112.55 114.25 110.95
Average - dEff 93.4 80.05 95.05
Average - Orank 72.5 152.875 133.125

What efficiencies tell us is how many points scored (or allowed, in case of dEff) per 100 possessions. You often see this statistic broken down as points/possession, or PPP, which you get by simply dividing the efficiency by 100. Note that these are adjusted efficiencies using Ken Pomeroy's formula, so they will vary a bit from the raw calculations.

So why is UK shooting a better eFG% this year, and yet still scoring at a lower efficiency? The reason is most likely due to Kentucky's poor free throw shooting percentage, which is at historic lows for a Calipari-coached team at Kentucky. 64% as a team is going to hurt your offensive efficiency quite a bit, and 269 Division I teams are shooting free throws better than Kentucky. This stat is Memphian in its horribleness.

Kentucky has to do a better job in a number of areas in order to improve their situation this year. Only two of Kentucky's starting five are shooting better than 70% -- Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays -- and they are not the ones who get to the line the most.

Despite the claims by many around the Internet that it is the point guard situation hurting Kentucky, the reality is that the numbers do not bear that suggestion out. The offense, despite the PG issues, is humming along reasonably well. The biggest thing making it inefficient right now is free throw shooting, not point guard play.

This is not to say that Kentucky's point guard situation is fine, it's not. As opponents get tougher, point guard problems, if they continue, are going to contribute to losses. In every one of Kentucky's losses to date, turnovers have exceeded 20%, but only by a little, and you'd expect serious point guard issues to show up in ballhandling first. Still, the unsettled nature of UK's point guard situation is going to be felt more in games against tougher opponents, so even though it's the defense that is the problem right now, we do need to get more consistent at the point.

However, the biggest thing that needs to be addressed right now is defense. Kentucky must defend much better if it is to succeed this year.

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