Kentucky Basketball: About Last Night...

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Spor

Kentucky lost to LSU because they let the things they could not control affect them.

Often after sleeping on a loss, I like to go back and take a look at basketball games. In the heat of the moment, it's difficult to be rational. You process the information through the eyes of the fan, not the analyst, and last night was a classic example. No matter how hard I tried last night, I couldn't process the reality of this game — that LSU just completely outplayed Kentucky on both ends of the floor.

Sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way, and in the game against the LSU Tigers last night, that was certainly the case. As usual, the analyst in me wants to find the specific cause of the failure, so I go back to Ken Pomeroy's numbers to try to look past my lying eyes. Here's what I see:

  • eFG: 50% — Not good, but not loathsome. Kentucky has won 6 games this season, one of them against Louisville shooting like that.

  • Turnovers: 16.9% — this is a pretty good number for Kentucky, well below their average. No complaints here.

  • Offensive rebounds: 35.7% This is slightly below Kentucky's season and SEC average, but still a very good number. LSU only got 27% of their rebounds, so UK won the battle of the boards.

  • Free throw rate: 17.8%: This is an incredible number, not to be believed. Kentucky usually gets 55% here, and 17.8% is a season low by a huge margin. Kentucky's previous season low was 34.5%, almost double last night's value. This could be the culprit, but normally, FTR is the least important of the Four Factors. This is the reason I criticized the officiating — they weren't just "letting them play," they completely swallowed their collective whistles. Note that this isn't a complaint about unfair officiating, it was mostly fair. LSU got more fouls called in their favor, but they were, from what I could tell, legitimate fouls. You expect a friendly whistle at home, and LSU's was friendly, but not excessively so.

  • Free throws: UK shot 69.2%. Can't blame that.

  • 3-point shooting: 9-20, 45%. Nine made threes is a season high. Can't blame that.

Graphically, and without KenPom's adjustments, here's what the Four Factors looked like last night:

So at this point, you might say, "Good grief, Glenn, you aren't going to tell me Kentucky played well?!?!" No, dear reader, I'm not, and here's why (courtesy of KenPom.com):

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Click to embiggen.

I don't think that needs any exposition. What happened in this game is a confluence of factors that hurt Kentucky, and Kentucky failed to respond:

  • The officials decided that only drawn blood was a foul, for the most part. The emphasis on impeding offensive players with the ball went out the window for this game. That emphasis has, perhaps somewhat unfairly, allowed Kentucky to go to the line an almost unprecedented number of times this season.

    If last year's team had played by this season's rules (not including this game), I think they would have won 3 or 4 more games. Which tells you as much about this season's team as last — 2013-14 just isn't as good as they need to be offensively. A lot of their efficiency comes from the line, and they were robbed of that last night by the way the game was officiated.

    We've seen a trend back to last season's emphasis in officiating, and this was the most blatant example to date. Having said that, you must play the game the way it is called, no matter what. The Wildcats were not getting their normal calls, and they just could not adjust. That's on the team, not on the officials.

  • LSU sped Kentucky up. Dakich pointed this out, and he was absolutely right. Kentucky seems to play best at paces of around 66-69 possessions. The reason for this is that Kentucky is not a good transition team, particularly on defense, and paces above the mid to high 60's usually represent a lot of transition baskets.

    The failures in transition have been an ongoing issue with this basketball team, and it may eventually be their undoing. It certainly contributed a lot last night, and not just in the overall scheme of things, but in possessions where Kentucky's defense was not set, the Wildcats did a poor job of finding their man. Again, an ongoing problem.

  • A hot team. LSU made a lot of guarded shots. Kentucky did have breakdowns, but what we saw last night was a team that once again showed their youth by getting frustrated after guarding well and having someone shoot it in their eye anyway. You can't let that bother you — players are going to make plays, sometimes when the defender didn't do anything wrong.

    How many times, after Kentucky defended well, did I see them drop their heads in frustration? Many. Play the game. If you do your job and the guy scores anyway, pat him on the rump and see if he can keep doing it. Odds are he can't.

    But if he does, that's not on you if you give your all each time. Last night, the team gave up on defense too many times because some part of the game they could not control bugged them. Learning to live with the things that don't go your way and play through them is a very hard thing to do, and even adults struggle with this. We have to understand that young guys have a much harder time with it, and it's showing up consistently for this Kentucky team. Last night was another learning opportunity. I know what you're thinking; but whether it's too late for "teachable moments" is irrelevant. Maturity comes at its own pace, not ours.

    The breakdowns on offense bothered me, though. Kentucky made too many AAU-style plays again last night, even though for the most part they ran their offense okay. But you have to run it more than okay. I'd say for about 30 minutes, the Kentucky offense ran reasonably well. The other ten were breakdowns in one form or another. That's just not good enough at this point in the season.  But if you look at the whole game, it was the defensive breakdowns that were the most problematic.

    Also, you have to credit LSU's defense. They blocked a lot of shots, and got to the 50/50 balls better than Kentucky. It's right there, in the hustle stats, where Kentucky's margin for error is the smallest. Last night, it figured huge.

Kentucky showed last night why maturity matters. A more mature team plays through the things that go against them. Why? They've been there before. Kentucky hasn't had a game this season where so many things went wrong in spite of their best efforts. They wound up letting things external to their team affect them to the point that they quit communicating and began playing as individuals rather than a team. Nothing breaks up a team concept faster than letting adversity bother you.

Again, I am not going to finger-point here. It's not productive, and to be honest, I can find plenty of fault with everyone. The worst thing is that the tendency will be for both UK fans and the national media to blame Kentucky and completely ignore LSU's outstanding play, and I reject that. The Tigers were great last night on both sides of the ball, significantly better than their season average in offensive efficiency, and that was on them. If not for a head-scratching stretch of jacked-up 3-point shots near the end of the first half, they would have had an OE in the 120's or higher, most likely.

I want to reiterate that despite a number of breakdowns, when you run into a hot team, you are usually going to lose. LSU was hot last night, and Kentucky wasn't ready for it.  LSU is a better basketball team than they have showed.  It is entirely possible that we will not see this from them again this year, but if we see them go on a tear, don't be surprised.

I want to note one curious coaching decision, which was putting Julius Randle in the post all game. Calipari has moved him to the perimeter recently, and Randle has been really hard to handle there. Why the change, especially with a great shot-blocker on the weak side? I guess we'll never know unless Calipari addresses the question.  My assumption is he was afraid that Julius (a.k.a. The Turnovernator) Randle would be bothered more by the quickness of LSU's perimeter defenders.

Calipari's mission, should he choose to accept it (and he must) is to point all this out to his team, and find five players who will embrace it.  If it's a different five than have been playing most of the minutes, fine by me.  Whatever works.

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