I sometimes go to Kenpom.com to try to isolate some things in the statistics that might give us a clue as to where Kentucky's strengths and weaknesses lie, and today I came across something I haven't seen in a UK team in quite a while. Take a look at this table:
|Sat Dec 1||29||Baylor||L, 64-55||H||75|
|Wed Jan 2||247||Eastern Michigan||W, 90-38||H||74|
|Sat Dec 22||212||Marshall||W, 82-54||H||74|
|Tue Jan 29||24||Mississippi||W, 87-74||A||74|
|Fri Nov 23||215||Long Island||W, 104-75||H||74|
|Sat Dec 8||274||Portland||W, 74-46||H||74|
|Fri Nov 16||199||Lafayette||W, 101-49||H||73|
|Sat Dec 15||305||Lipscomb||W, 88-50||H||73|
|Sat Dec 29||4||Louisville||L, 80-77||A||72|
|Tue Dec 4||298||Samford||W, 88-56||H||71|
|Wed Nov 21||195||Morehead St.||W, 81-70||H||70|
|Tue Jan 15||102||Tennessee||W, 75-65||H||69|
|Sat Jan 26||118||Louisiana St.||W, 75-70||H||69|
|Fri Nov 9||55||Maryland||W, 72-69||N||68|
|Sat Jan 19||166||Auburn||W, 75-53||A||67|
|Thu Jan 10||159||Vanderbilt||W, 60-58||A||67|
|Tue Nov 13||5||Duke||L, 75-68||N||65|
|Sat Jan 12||94||Texas A&M||L, 83-71||H||63|
|Tue Jan 22||66||Alabama||L, 59-55||A||63|
|Sat Feb 2||94||Texas A&M||W, 72-68||A||62|
|Thu Nov 29||50||Notre Dame||L, 64-50||A||57|
What we see here are UK's games sorted by pace, highest to lowest.
Keeping in mind the warning that "correlation does not imply causation," Kentucky is showing an inclination to pace sensitivity. I don't think the pace is the cause, but I suspect it does point in the direction of the problem.
UK has lost, or nearly lost, every game they have played under 67 possessions. Now, we know this year's team is not exceptional in transition offense or transition defense, so it may seem strange that pace would help or hurt the Wildcats, and I don't think the pace of the game itself really does.
What I do think is that this team is very average, or even below average, in half-court execution. The more they have to run offense the more trouble they seem to have. But I think it drills down even deeper than that.
This team is much more efficient when they attack before the defense is set. Conversely, Kentucky is very efficient defensively without being set up because of the presence of Nerlens Noel. In fact, it seems to be a negative for Kentucky to have teams run their half-court offense against us. What happens, too often, is that UK defends well for about 20 seconds, and then breaks down.
Last year's team was great in the half-court. They would patiently work the ball until they found a weakness or an open shot, and then score. This team is almost the opposite -- the more they work the ball on offense, the more likely they seem to be to turn it over. there is a weak correlation between pace and turnover percentage, so there is some support for that idea.
This gets directly back to the reality, which I'm finally coming around to belatedly, that Ryan Harrow simply isn't a very good point guard right now. Since entering SEC play, Harrow has turned the ball over almost 19% of the time he has it -- only 2 fewer times than Archie Goodwin during the same stretch of games. A lot of Harrow's turnovers have been the kind that point directly to a lack of confidence and "toughness." Harrow right now is playing a very weak game in a critical position.
Unfortunately, Kentucky just doesn't have many options at that spot. Jarrod Polson tries and gives good effort, but he's just not quick enough to penetrate with any consistency, and a defensive liability against most opponents. Goodwin was tried at point, and he didn't do so well. How about Julius Mays? I don't know, he's not much quicker than Polson, and an almost equally challenged defender.
In my considered opinion, this pace sensitivity is more a symptom of inadequate point guard play than anything else. I'm not sure what UK can really do about it other than hope Harrow gets better. It's not all his fault, of course -- Harrow can't run the offense if everybody is standing around, not attacking the ball on the pass, or just plain being soft.
This UK team right now looks like a ripe peach -- soft on the outside, hard on the inside where Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein live. That needs to change.