The Kentucky Wildcats have been different this season, maybe a lot more different than most UK fans would really like. With that said, the season is a process with every team, with the goal at the end an NCAA championship That is no different this season in spite of some bumps in the road.
First of all, this isn't going to be all about stats, but a combination of statistical evaluation and "eyeball test" analysis. We'll be looking at the good and bad, and trying to sort out what it all means for the future in terms of a "best guess."
What's going right as of today:
- Nerlens Noel. Noel is every bit the beast that he is supposed to be. He's not on the Wooden award watch list, but that's more a function of how Kentucky is performing as a team than how Noel is performing individually. His numbers are not quite as good as Davis, but they are remarkably similar. He is once again SEC Freshman of the Week and is the only player in the NCAA over 6'5" that ranks in the top 30 in rebounds, blocks and steals.
- Kyle Wiltjer has been on a roll, and in the best possible way. He has found ways to score and help the team beyond being just a spot-up shooter. His season percentages are now 50% from the field, 42% from the arc, and in the last two games his offensive rating has been 145 and 134, respectively -- very high efficiency. Wiltjer has had 7 assists in the last two games against only 3 turnovers -- point-guard numbers.
- Kentucky is shooting it better as a team. Over the last 2 games, Kentucky has been over 54% eFG, which is the kind of performance that will normally win you ball games.
- The team is figuring out how to play on offense. This team has struggled offensively against solid competition, which can be seen by the fact that they have been over 108 offensive efficiency only 4 of 9 times against teams in Ken Pomeroy's top 200, but two of those were the last two games.
- Ryan Harrow has had 13 assists against only 5 turnovers in the last two games. That is an outstanding A/T ratio. Julius Mays has turned the ball over only twice in the last four games, and garnered 8 assists. Mays is also out of his shooting slump, making 57% of his threes over the last two games.
- In the SEC, Kentucky has kept 3 of its 4 opponents well under 1 point/possession defensively.
- Kentucky has upped it's game in league play, and is 5th in offensive rebounding.
- Kentucky is allowing conference foes to shoot only 27.8% from three -- 3rd best in the league.
- Kentucky dominates the league in blocks at 17.9%, #1 in the SEC.
- UK is second in eFG% in league play, behind Florida.
- Despite his tendency to disappear, Alex Poythress is 13th in the nation in effective FG% and true shooting %.
Things that aren't going as well:
- Kentucky's offensive efficiency is suffering because of their abysmal free-throw shooting, which is only 65.5% in conference, which is strange considering that UK has 2 players, Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays, shooting over 80% from the line. The biggest problem is that Archie Goodwin, who has made almost as many as the second most frequent shooter has attempted, is only managing 67% from the line
- Kentucky has so far played the third weakest schedule in the SEC.
- Against conference opponents, Kentucky ranks only 7th in defensive efficiency, and that is against one of the weakest schedules so far.
- Kentucky is only third in the conference in offensive efficiency against the third weakest schedule.
- The Wildcats have not been able to hit 3's in conference. UK is hitting only 30.8% of 3-point shots against conference foes. That's another factor really hurting the Wildcats' offensive efficiency.
- Kentucky has been turning the ball over too much against conference foes, currently at 20.7%
- Kentucky is 11th in the SEC in offensive rebounds allowed.
- Kentucky has a much tougher schedule ahead of them than they've played so far, and they are only 3-1.
As you can see, it's a mixed bag of good and bad news so far. What we seem to be seeing now is the light coming on for Kyle Wiltjer, Noel continuing to improve, Harrow playing well but suddenly cold from the perimeter, Mays warming back up again, and Poythress is playing well, but not quite well enough.
This team has to improve substantially over the next couple of weeks if they want to have any chance at all of getting even an okay seed in the tournament, and it doesn't get easier from here. The game against Alabama tomorrow will put UK on the home floor of a team that has only lost there twice all year, and just beat the same Texas A&M team that defeated Kentucky at home a couple of weeks ago.
Alabama has the same SEC record as UK, and is a tough, focused bunch that will be a major test tomorrow night.