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.
Offensively the Cats are a juggernaut. They rank 2nd in Adjusted Efficiency this season and in conference play they are putting up silly numbers against the rest of the SEC. This is a good thing. To win the title you pretty much have to have a really good offense. Here are the Adjusted Offensive Efficiency ranks of the last 9 national title winners: 16, 1, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 4, and 11.
The Wildcats have only been held under a 100 efficiency 3 times this season: against Old Dominion (92.4), Louisville (86.9), and at Tennessee (97.5). They've been over 110 efficiency 24 times and 10 straight. The last time they had a "bad" offensive game was at Georgia (101.7). This is a team that knows how to score.
After the jump we'll look at the strengths and weaknesses of the UK squad as well as some final numbers for the players.
Note: All team stats come courtesy of Ken Pomeroy.
Wildcat Offensive Strengths
- Versatility: As Georgia coach Mark Fox noted, Kentucky has multiple players that opposing teams must guard. Defenses can not focus on only one, two, or even three players. Kentucky has 5 players averaging double figures and Marquis Teague is a whopping 6 points away from making it 6. More than that, the boys in blue are scoring efficiently: 6 players boast Offensive Ratings better than 110 led by Anthony Davis (138.5) and Doron Lamb (131.7).
- Shooting: Did you know that UK ranks 22nd in the country in 3pt FG%? The Cats are shooting 38.8% from beyond the arc and they are improving - in SEC Play they shot 41.3%. Darius Miller (38.8%), Doron Lamb (48.0%), and Kyle Wiltjer (41.2%) give the Cats three outstanding shooters from distance. Overall the Cats have a 54.2 eFG% which is 15th in the country.
- Offensive Rebounding: On the rare occasions that a Cat does miss, they stand an excellent chance of getting the ball right back to take another shot. UK grabs 38.2% of their own missed shots, the 16th best mark in the nation. Anthony Davis and his Go-Go-Gadget arms are a big reason why, but Terrance Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist aren't far behind.
- Taking care of the ball: Kentucky does not beat itself by giving the ball away. The Wildcats only turn the ball over on 17.2% of their possessions for the season and that mark is even better in conference play (15.1%). Fun fact: Anthony Davis had 10 turnovers for the entire SEC season. That's insane.
Weaknesses things that aren't as strong as what's above
As a team, Kentucky doesn't have any weaknesses on offense, only a few things that aren't quite good enough to be listed above.
- Getting to the free throw line: Kentucky is in the top 25 in 3 of 4 of the Four Factors. The one exception is Free Throw Rate where they rank "only" 85th in the country. They only get to the free throw line 39.6 times for every 100 field goals they attempt, but that mark is still better than last year. The 2011 Final Four team was 219th in the country in this mark.
- Free Throw Shooting: When Kentucky does get to the line they shoot 72.3% as a team. 6 players shoot 70% or better. Lamb and Wiltjer are above 80% and Miller is a career 80% shooter although he is shooting 74.5% this season.
- Attempting three point shots: This is really more of a style choice. Only 26.8% of Kentucky's shots come from beyond the arc which is well below the first two seasons under Cal. The 3pt shot is a complementary piece of this offense, not a central element the way it is for a team such as Indiana. The team has shown good discipline in deciding when to take long distance shots. Anecdotally, I think they take fewer bad 3s than most other teams I've watched.
In the early days of the season Miller couldn't buy a basket from outside. Then conference play rolled around and he shot 43.1%. Darius isn't just a one trick pony either - he's nearly as deadly inside the arc as he is outside it. On an odd statistical note, I'm not sure how he has a lower Offensive Rating for the season than he does in non-conference or conference play, but this is kind of a tricky stat to compute with a lot of moving parts going into it so it could just be due to rounding.
The next time you hear someone complain about Jones not performing offensively, feel free to tell them to shut up. With his finger better Terrence has been incredibly efficient in conference play and he is getting really tough to stop around the basket shooting 59.3% and dramatically cutting down on his turnovers.
Look at Doron's 3P FG%. Now look at his 2P FG%. I always though the longer shots were more difficult?
Poor Teague - he's the one guy not on the High Efficiency Train. The main culprit is that 43.8% shooting on twos. I don't know how much of that is missed layups and how much is long jumpers, but if Marquis could just get that up to around 46 or 47% it would really boost his overall effectiveness. That's really nit-picky though. Teague is the initiator of one of the best offenses in the country - that's all that really needs to be said.
MKG has seen his shooting fall dramatically since conference play began including an ugly 2-16 on 3pt attempts. He still does a lot of other things well including getting to the line and grabbing offensive rebounds. If he could get his shooting back up to his non-conference levels he would be the most complete player in college basketball - yes, even more so than Anthony Davis.
Speaking of Davis, look at that Offensive Rating. Even for a guy who seems to get 87% of his baskets on lobs, that's jaw dropping. In the season finale against Florida Davis unveiled a variety of moves around and away from the basket that we hadn't seen him use much previously. If he starts scoring consistently on those moves he will be completely unguardable and I will have to take back what I just wrote about MKG.
Kyle gives the team a terrific shooter coming off the bench: a more versatile Cameron Mills if you will. His 3pt shooting has improved over the season and he is 3rd on the team in 3pt attempts - pretty great considering how many fewer minutes he gets compared to his teammates. Kyle needs to get better at finishing around the basket, but Cal can bring him in and not lose anything offensively.
Enjoy this offense folks - it's something special and I'm not sure we'll see anything quite like it again. Tomorrow we'll look at the defense.