Kentucky Basketball: Reviewing The Vanderbilt Game Statistically

Coach Cal has more than a touch of additional gray hair after last night. - Frederick Breedon

Kentucky performed at a season-worst performance in many key areas last night in Nashville. They won the game anyway.

Anytime there is a game that yields an unexpected result, be it a close win, close loss or a lopsided affair that wasn't expected to be, it helps to look back at the stats to see what light they can shed on the subject. Before I do that, mandatory disclaimer: Nothing hereafter is intended to cast a negative light on Vanderbilt's performance, or minimize their effort in this game. They had a major say in why all these events happened, and that should not be overlooked or minimized by the reader.

Anyone who saw the game last night has a pretty good idea of what happened. Kentucky played reasonably well against the Vanderbilt Commodores in the first half, but there were troubling signs even then that the game could take an ominous turn at any minute, and about six minutes into the first second half, that ominous turn materialized in the form of a nearly 8-minute segment of the game (7:54 to be precise) where Kentucky failed to score a single point. Let's take a look at that stretch from a few key angles:

Time Turnovers Shots Steals By Vandy Vandy OR
13:48 Goodwin Harrow missed 3 Johnson Team

Mays Goodwin missed 2 Johnson Jeter

Goodwin WCS missed 2

Wiltjer missed 3

Harrow missed 2

Harrow missed layup

WCS missed 2

Goodwin missed 2

Wiltjer missed 2

Noel missed 2

Totals 3 10 2 2

Note that the time is not to mark events, but just to indicate the beginning and end of the drought.

Ten missed shots, 3 turnovers and two offensive rebounds, which could have resulted in as many as five extra shots in that stretch for Vanderbilt, on top of the ten consecutive shots UK missed. It's really not hard to see how Kentucky lost their lead, is it?

The Four Factors for this game are revealing:

You look at the shooting percentage, and you wonder how a nearly 10% eFG% advantage can be overcome. The answer lies in the ballhandling and offensive rebounding statistics. We are used to seeing Kentucky stink in OR%, but 29% is just dreadful. On top of that, Kentucky allowed Vanderbilt almost 42% OR, leaving a season-high margin of 13%.

Worse, Kentucky chose this game to turn the ball over at it's highest rate all year long, including the awful Baylor Bears and Notre Dame Fighting Irish games. Turnover% of 20% or greater correlate very strongly to Kentucky losses this year, and 24.2% is way over that. The reason this team is so turnover-sensitive is that it rebounds so poorly.

Then, we have free throw rate. Believe it or not, as bad as we were from the line, free throws were a net plus for this game. Had Kentucky made a respectable 70% or so instead of 60%, 2 more points would have separated the teams, making that last possession less of a heart-stopper. One more made free throw would have made overtime the best outcome Vandy could have hoped for, rather than an outright buzzer-beating win.

Another notable problem for Kentucky was 3-point percentage. UK wound up at 17.6%, tying a season low. That's a problem, considering the Wildcats took 17 3-point shots. If they had taken those from 2, where they shot 58%... well, you do the math. Yes, Kentucky needs to get more than 23% of their points from the arc, but you can't do that shooting so poorly.

In many ways, this game is an anomaly from most of the games we've seen Kentucky play. The nearly 8-minute drought dwarfs the longest scoreless period in any other game this year by over 2-1, and that Kentucky was even able to pull this thing out after that is something of a surprise.

So consider this: Worst scoring drought + worst turnover% + worst OR% margin + worst 3-pt % + road game = ... Victory? Does that look like a formula for success to you? But it was, or rather, Kentucky managed a victory in spite of an appalling statistical performance.

Rarely do you see this much significant statistical badness in a win. Rarely. In fact, I'm hard pressed to think of another one. These are not insignificant matters, they are all season worsts, all at the same time.

So from that standpoint, a victory last night represents a genuine accomplishment.

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