Kentucky Basketball: Beating Kentucky Through Increased Tempo

Is running on Kentucky the best way to beat the Wildcats?

Yesterday, JLeverenz gave Jeff Haley (a.k.a., Reggieball) and his website, hoop-math.com, a nice plug. I'm here to provide more kudos, talking about a piece Haley wrote specifically focused on Kentucky for the Team Rankings "Stat Geek Idol" challenge.

Haley uses his play-by-play data to analyze Kentucky's defensive numbers, and was particularly interested in trying to isolate a weakness. He started with a hypothesis that "the best way to attack the Kentucky defense would be to minimize the opportunity for Kentucky to block shots." Call it the Anthony Davis effect.

To begin, Haley looks at the raw field goal percentages by the number of seconds into a possession an opponent shoots:

31% of the initial shots in a possession against Kentucky occurred in the first 10 seconds of the possession, and the effective field goal percentage on these shots was 52%. If teams don’t shoot within the first 10 seconds of a possession against Kentucky, things become much more difficult. Initial shots that occur between 11-25 seconds after the start of the possession make up 55% of the initial shots taken against Kentucky, and these shots have an effective field goal percentage of 35%. Initial shots that occur after 25 seconds compose the remaining 14% of the shots in this study, and the effective field goal percentage on these shots is 39%.

Strictly looking at those percentages, it would make sense for opponents to shoot as quickly as possible. Quicker shots prevent the defense from getting settled into a defensive set, and also make it less likely for big men to traverse the court in time to protect the paint. The numbers become even more in favor of shooting early against Kentucky when taking into account all D-1 percentages.

Using my entire play-by-play database, which includes a majority of the games played in division one college basketball, the effective field goal percentage on initial shots taken in the first 10 seconds of a possession is 54%. Kentucky’s field goal percentage defense in the first 10 seconds of a possession is only a little bit better than average for division one college basketball.

On average, Initial shots taken between 11 and 25 seconds have an effective field goal percentage of 48%, and initial shots taken after 25 seconds have an effective field goal percentage of 43%. Kentucky’s defense becomes significantly better than average after the first 10 seconds of a possession.

Haley goes on to qualify what happens by possession in terms of block percentage, as well as isolating data on non-steal possessions (which would naturally be more prone to a quick shot offensive possession).

Lately, it appears that teams have been having success against Kentucky in halfcourt sets by drawing Davis to the perimeter, preventing him from patrolling the paint and swatting away driving ballhandlers. For example, Iowa St., which generally has just one big man on the court in Royce White, ran four shooters onto to court and prevented Davis from camping inside. Simple play-by-play data can't tell us how effective this type of halfcourt tempo offense is. However, if Kentucky were to go on and meet a team like Baylor, which features outstanding perimeter-comfortable big men like Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy, it could be a consideration.

There are fifteen other articles featured on Team Rankings. I've read a couple with great interest, and they're worth checking out. You know, for some light reading calm before the Kentucky storm.

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