Kentucky Basketball: Perceptions vs. Reality for the Wildcats

Kentucky is known for their defense, but their offense is extremely efficient as well.

There is a notion going around, and justifiably so, that Kentucky has the best defense in the land. Subjectively, we could argue about that all day, but objectively Kentucky currently has the 5th best adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation.

What's getting overlooked is the outstanding offensive efficiency that Kentucky is generating. Ken Pomeroy's adjusted numbers show Kentucky weighing in at #3 nationally in that measurement, with two players, Anthony Davis and Doron Lamb having national top ten offensive ratings (a measure of personal offensive efficiency).

Basketball Prospectus has this interesting piece by John Gasaway up today looking at each conference and team performances to date, summarized with record, pace, OE, DE, and EM (efficiency margin, which is your scoring margin), all considering only conference play.

Kentucky is scoring 1.19 points/possession in league games, and allowing 0.92 points/possession. That leaves a scoring margin of 0.27 points/possession, as Gasaway puts it, a "ridiculous" number for a major conference member. For comparison, Ohio St., who happens to have the best defense in the land considering all games and a better defensive efficiency than UK considering only conference games (where teams are presumed to get their toughest top-to-bottom challenges), the offensive efficiency they are putting up is only 1.10 P/Pos while allowing 0.89, a margin of only 0.22 -- still awesome, but well behind the Wildcats.

To be fair, there is no doubt that the Big Ten is better top to bottom, so Kentucky can't get too comfortable with their position from a statistical point of view. But I find it pretty interesting that many people assume Syracuse to be the main threat to Kentucky should we all be so fortunate as to make it to a Final Four. I think that's largely because Syracuse has a style somewhat similar to Kentucky offensively, and is a very athletic team.

But Syracuse's numbers don't back up that perception. The Big East is widely considered weaker this year than the Big Ten (and barely stronger than the SEC), and Syracuse's 1.12 OE and 0.95 DE (EM 0.17) don't seem to be in the same rare air with Kentucky and Ohio St. so far, and I think it's really notable that neither of the others have a offensive efficiency as high as Kentucky, a team that's been lauded mostly for defense.

Look, there could be a number of teams that can beat UK on a given night. Vanderbilt came closer than most UK fans would like to admit on Saturday to completing a big comeback and hanging a loss on the Wildcats. With that said, I have a lot of confidence in the 'Cats right now, as I think most Kentucky fans do.

When it comes to finishing off the season, the odds of UK running the table in the SEC aren't overwhelming -- Log5 sets them at about 53% using Ken Pomeroy's numbers. The odds of UK running the table through the SEC tournament are a bit more daunting at 35%, according to one of Ken's tweets from the other day.

Is Kentucky the favorite to win it all? In many minds, sure, but there is still quite a bit of basketball to be played, and an unexpected loss or two could go a long way toward mitigating all the optimism of the Big Blue Nation and outright awe of some college basketball pundits.

When it comes to being in New Orleans on March 31st, if Kentucky wants to still be dancing, they'd better focus on getting better. They can never be too good, that's for sure.

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