The Kentucky Wildcats enter postseason play as the undisputed favorite to win the SEC and one of the top contenders for the National Title. Throughout the season I've been keeping track of the development of the team and players on offense and defense. With the regular season completed it's a good time to take stock of what we've seen from the Cats this year and pontificate a bit on what it could mean in the postseason
I apologize for the tardiness, I meant to get this up on Thursday before UK started the SECT but one thing or another got in the way. In addition to having an elite offense, Kentucky boasts one of the best defenses in all the land, currently ranking 5th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Combine that mark with their offensive prowess and the Cats have proven they have all the tools needed to win a national title. The last 9 national champs ranked 14, 4, 16, 1, 12, 5, 5, 5, and 19 in defensive efficiency. There's a much bigger spread there than in the offensive rankings, but Kentucky's defense fares well when compared to recent history.
Only 6 teams have managed to score better than 1 point per possession against the Cats this season and only twice have opponents managed to top 1.10 points per possession (UNC and Vanderbilt at Rupp).
After the jump we'll look at the strengths and weaknesses for the team and I'll present the final regular season defensive numbers for the players from the DSS charting.
Note: All team stats come courtesy of Ken Pomeroy and are current as of Friday's games.
Wildcat Defensive Strengths:
- Field goal defense: Thanks to the shot blocking prowess of Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, UK is the top team in the nation at defending two point shots holding opponents to 38.1%. They are 48th in the nation at defending threes as teams are shooting just 31.4% from long distance. Put it all together and Kentucky holds opponents to just a 40.9 eFG% - the best mark in the nation.
- Versatility: Kentucky's combination of size, length, and quickness allows the players to guard multiple positions leading to an effective switching defense. The Cats can throw out nearly any lineup on the court with confidence that it can both score on offense and get stops on defense. That helps insulate the small rotation Cal uses from foul trouble and makes it very difficult for other teams to find mismatches to exploit.
- Defending without Fouling: Kentucky only send its opponents to the line a little over 25 times for every field goal they attempt severely limiting their chances for easy points and helping keep the Cats on the floor. Keep this in mind the next time you hear some pundit talk about how the Cats aren't deep and the key is to get them in foul trouble - it just doesn't happen very often.
Kentucky Defensive Weaknesses
As you would expect, there's not a lot here: only one real weakness (and that mostly by choice) and one area that just isn't as strong as what's above.
- Forcing Turnovers: This is very much an element of coaching as Cal has repeatedly said that he wants his team to finish last in the conference in steals. In fact, UK has been basically average at forcing steals, doing so on 9.6% of all possessions. Where the Cats are below average are getting the non-steal turnovers: walks, charges, etc. Most teams will get non-steal turnovers on about 11% of possessions, but UK only gets them 8.7% of the time.
- Defensive Rebounding: This isn't really a weakness as Kentucky is 97th in preventing opponents from getting their own missed shots, but it's not as strong as it could be. There popular theory is that when Cats go for blocks and don't get them it opens up space for offensive rebounds. I think there is some truth to that, but there is room for players - especially Darius Miller - to do better in this area. A team such as Michigan St which is incredibly good on the offensive glass could pose a serious threat to UK.
Now here are the final regular season charting results for individual defense. These do not include the SEC tournament games.
|Darius Miller||M%||DRtg||Usage%||Stop%||DeFG%||DR%||Blk%||Stl%||FTO%||FTR||DFT%||D2P%||D3P%||Opp Eff|
Miller had a rough go of it in conference play early as his man always seemed to hit shots and Miller was prone to committing shooting fouls. He's been better more recently but he can do better on the defensive glass. I also still have no idea why his blocks are way down this year - his first three seasons he blocked 22, 22, and 43. This year he has 8.
|Terrence Jones||M%||DRtg||Usage%||Stop%||DeFG%||DR%||Blk%||Stl%||FTO%||FTR||DFT%||D2P%||D3P%||Opp Eff|
Terrence Jones was one of the best defensive players on the team last year and he is one of the best defenders this year too. He gets overlooked because of the prowess of Davis and MKG on this end, but there is no doubt that Kentucky would be hurting without him. Terrence takes all manner of flak for his offense, but never gets the credit he deserves for his consistently excellent defense.
|Doron Lamb||M%||DRtg||Usage%||Stop%||DeFG%||DR%||Blk%||Stl%||FTO%||FTR||DFT%||D2P%||D3P%||Opp Eff|
Doron isn't the best defender on the team, but he does find ways to contribute. A Defensive Rebound Rate of 8.5% is pretty decent for a shooting guard and there are times when he can rise to the occasion and make things difficult for an opposing guard. The way he guarded John Jenkins in Lexington is the best way for him to contribute I think - by chasing a guard and making life as difficult as possible for him during a game.
|Eloy Vargas||M%||DRtg||Usage%||Stop%||DeFG%||DR%||Blk%||Stl%||FTO%||FTR||DFT%||D2P%||D3P%||Opp Eff|
I really thought Vargas would be a regular rotation member this year because of his defense. He was outstanding in the non conference portion of the schedule, then could hardly get off the bench in conference play. I'm disappointed that he didn't get more of a chance because I think he would have been a valuable contributor on this end of the floor.
|Marquis Teague||M%||DRtg||Usage%||Stop%||DeFG%||DR%||Blk%||Stl%||FTO%||FTR||DFT%||D2P%||D3P%||Opp Eff|
I can't quite decide what to think about Teague's defense. His numbers are good - above average Stop%, the best Cat at forcing turnovers, and a strong Defensive Rating are all marks in his favor. He's gotten better at switching on screens and not losing his man in traffic, yet he just doesn't look like a strong defender when I watch him play. That probably says more about me than anything else, but what do you guys think?
|Michael Kidd-Gilchrist||M%||DRtg||Usage%||Stop%||DeFG%||DR%||Blk%||Stl%||FTO%||FTR||DFT%||D2P%||D3P%||Opp Eff|
There is an argument to be made for Michael as the best defender on the team. It is a difficult argument to be sure because of Anthony Davis, but MKG has a defensive versatility that isn't quantified. While most all of the Cats are able to switch and defend multiple players on any given possession, there are very few who can actually change defensive assignments for an entire game. MKG can do the latter and that is incredibly valuable to this team.
|Anthony Davis||M%||DRtg||Usage%||Stop%||DeFG%||DR%||Blk%||Stl%||FTO%||FTR||DFT%||D2P%||D3P%||Opp Eff|
If I were giving a DSS POY award it would go to Davis. He impacts the most possessions of all the Cats (engaged on 26.6% of all possessions while on the floor), has the best Stop% at 65.2 and is nearly impossible to shoot against (33.1 eFG%) thanks to his prodigious Block Rate and length. All this while being nearly impossible to get into foul trouble. His Defensive POY awards will all be well deserved.
|Kyle Wiltjer||M%||DRtg||Usage%||Stop%||DeFG%||DR%||Blk%||Stl%||FTO%||FTR||DFT%||D2P%||D3P%||Opp Eff|
Kyle does some nice things on defense - he's not a bad shot blocker at 2.9% Block Rate, doesn't foul much, and he does a pretty good job at forcing tough shots, although his DeFG% doesn't look as good when compared to his teammates. But a 10.5% Defensive Rebound rate is too low for a player his size and a lot of that is strength as Wiltjer seems to get quite a few basketballs ripped out of his hands. He may not be at the same level as the rest of the team individually, but he's shown enough that I believe he will improve a lot in this area over his career.