Dawn broke on the Commonwealth of Kentucky this morning to find the Big Blue Nation somewhat surprised to see the sun after the loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks last night. I think a fair number of Wildcats fans figured the world as they knew it ended last night in overtime, and although we're dazed, confused, angry and unhappy, the Apocalypse did not manage to show up after all. But an ugly postmortem did.
First, a few things about Arkansas. This is a program that I think we always knew would come back from it's long sleep, and in a way, it seems totally fitting that they do so at the expense of Kentucky, their first major rival as an SEC team. Arkansas really gave a lot of effort last night, but it isn't as though they out-worked Kentucky, it's just that they out-played them in a game that neither team will hold up as the finest example of basketball execution. I am happy for Arkansas that they got a signature win, because the conference is better with a strong Arkansas. I am very displeased it came at the expense of Kentucky, but we earned this loss.
I'll have a lot more to say about the team in general going forward, but right now, let's deal with the matter in hand, which is to dissect last night's defeat and see what we fans can learn from it. First, the numbers, courtesy of Ken Pomeroy's site:
"Movement without purpose" is how I would describe Kentucky's offense last night. They seemed to be going nowhere slowly.
Does this team really believe that running down the court and flinging the ball at the rim hoping somebody will put it in is a coherent offensive strategy? Calipari has clearly confused this bunch with facts. I know Kentucky can rebound, and I know they should drive the ball, but it would seem to be necessary to find open shots — and make them — if the Wildcats hope to win basketball games. That requires more than just random drives to the rim and wildly flinging up a shot or a lob.
Kentucky missed — wait for it — 19 (nineteen) layups. That has to be an NCAA record.
For the first time this season, Kentucky was held to under 1 point per possession. At home. 0.87 points per possession is the kind of number Mississippi St. usually puts up in a loss. I consider my vocabulary advanced, and there are no adjectives I can come up with to properly describe the awfulness of that statistic.
Kentucky took 76 shots on goal. Arkansas took 58. Think about that — UK had 18 more shots than Arkansas did, and lost. That should be impossible with anything resembling a decent shooting percentage, which of course, Kentucky did not have.
Kentucky had 18 turnovers, and still had 18 more shots than Arkansas. This box score is a case study in the unusual.
Take a look at the Four Factors. Arkansas' effective FG% was almost ten full points better than the Wildcats, and they needed overtime to win.
Believe it or not, Kentucky's offensive rebounding was only a little better than their average for the year, and they yielded 34% ORs to Arkansas, which is a little worse than average.
Honestly, looking at the box score, Arkansas should have beaten Kentucky by 20. The reason that didn't happen is that the Wildcats forced them into 26% turnovers, and got so many more shots at the rim, some of which managed to find the basket, although looking at the stats, they seemed to be random.
As was pointed out in the comments, passing was poor last night. Kentucky assisted on only 23% of made shots. The season average for this team is around 44%.
If you are looking for the silver lining in this maelstrom of badness, Kentucky had significant stretches in this game where they played some of their best defense of the season. Unfortunately, you can't just play 25% of the game well and hope to win.
There was no lack of effort or quit in the Wildcats last night, but they were fundamentally unsound. They did none of the things on offense that it takes to win except rebound, and they didn't play enough great defense.
John Calipari's desperate search for an effective group of players reminded me disturbingly of last season.
If Kentucky shoots their normal percentage from the line, or Arkansas theirs, Kentucky wins in regulation. Every possession, and free throw, counts, but Kentucky played like there was no time limit on the game and possessions were cheap as Chinese Louis Vuitton knock-offs.
Willie Cauley-Stein had the game of his life. To bad the rest of his teammates decided to take the night off. That mistake he made after stealing the ball, where he just made a no-look pass into a gaggle of Arkansas players still galls me, though.
Julius Randle's game doesn't look bad statistically — for a guard. Making 6-15 shots from where he shoots them is embarrassing. He really defended in the second half, though, and I liked that. I didn't like that he was responsible for 5 of the 19 missed layups. Between him and Johnson, I can account for almost half of the missed layups.
I wonder if it will ever occur to Andrew Harrison that he's supposed to pass the ball more than shoot it? He took 14 shots, almost as many as Randle, and made as many turnovers as he did assists. He didn't even shoot the ball well from the line. This was arguably his worst game as a Wildcat, and among the worst point guard performances this season.
Aaron Harrison not only shares DNA with his brother, but it's like they were psychically connected last night. Aaron was 0-7 from 2, but did make a decent percentage from three. Unfortunately, he gave the ball away 4 times. Aaron made some plays on defense, but not enough to make up for the rest of his poor play.
James Young has been in decline, and last night, he hit rock bottom. I thought his defense was poor, his body language was poor, and he threw the ball away 4 times.
Dakari Johnson was almost comically bad last night. The effort, as always, was there, but he went 1-4, which means he missed 3 layups out of 4, and 2 of them were dead-bang layups with little opposition. He did get 3 rebounds in only 8 minutes, but Arkansas was just too quick for him.
Alex Poythress also struggled, missing all 3 shots and one of his two free throws. He didn't play bad defensively, but when I saw him on the floor, I thought, "This guy is no real threat to score." Arkansas kept him on the perimeter all night, where he is almost a non-factor.
Marcus Lee was also infected by the the aura of dreadfulness that descended on Rupp Arena last night. While he was in, he looked very uncomfortable and not ready to be there.
Jarrod Polson could not work his calming magic on the team last night. He played, but made no statistical impact, and when he was in, the team was no better.
Dominique Hawkins played. He was okay, I guess, but I barely noticed him.
When Jon Hood plays in the middle of the game and nobody is in foul trouble, you know you've got problems. This is not a knock on Hoodie, I thought he played fine, but he was in there because everyone else was playing like crap.
You all know that I am mostly an optimist, and if I could find any way to put a lipstick on this pig, I'd try. Unfortunately, some lips are too ugly to paint, and this is one of them. This game was a frightful mess of fail, and that's all there is to it. Calipari said last night that Kentucky "...took a step back." To me, it was more like a 100-yard dash followed by a triple-jump backward, if that's even athletically possible.
Young team. We've heard it all year, but that doesn't explain this abomination. Or maybe it does, and we fans just can't see the forest for the trees. Whatever the case, Kentucky has to get right back up on the horse, because tomorrow we face the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia, and after this frightful swoon, I have no idea what to expect.
The best thing for all of us is to print this thing out, burn it, and move on. There's a lot of season left, even if it gets much more dangerous from here on. Let's act like we've been here before, because we have.