Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Offense on the Upswing

Andy Lyons

Kentucky ended the regular season with some of their worst basketball of the year. The Cats have regained their offensive mojo during tournament play however, just in time for another classic battle against Louisville.

The end of the season was pretty ugly for the Wildcats. They had a hard time doing much of anything right on offense and played some of the most visually-displeasing basketball we've seen in a while. But then came tournament play and The Tweak and maybe some better officiating. Whatever the cause, Kentucky's offense is operating now as well as it has all season.

What follows are graphs showing a running 5 game average of UK's performance in each of the 4 Factors. I've also included the average of opponents' season-long defensive number for each category (so UK's eFG% is plotted against the average of their opponents' defensive eFG% for the season). This will help give some intuition on how the Cat's performance matches up against the defenses they've faced.

The horizontal axis marks the 5th game in the particular group being averaged. For example, the first Florida game on the graph marks the average of the Florida game in Rupp along with the four games preceding it. The last point on the graph is the most recent five games: the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament.


Shooting:

5gameefg_medium

Look at how awful the shooting got at the end of the season. Yes, Kentucky faced some teams that collectively got better defending this area, but holy moly it was awful. The 5 games since though? Pure (string) music.

Ball handling:

5gameto_medium

Along with shooting the ball poorly came an increase in turnovers. That's settling back down though as the Cats have basically been average recently. Even "average" is an improvement though and for this team that is probably good enough to win most games, even in tournament play.

Rebounding:

5gameorb_medium

Rebounding has been a strength all year long. Even at the end of the season when Kentucky couldn't do much right on offense they still grabbed their own misses at an elite rate. This has actually gone down a bit in recent games although UK has faced a succession of teams that are pretty good at defensive rebounding which likely explains part of the decline. Still, I wonder if there's some tweaking going on related to improving the transition defense at the cost of not going after missed shots as much.

Free Throws:

5gameftr_medium

The other half of the best elements of Kentucky's offense this year saw a big slip in the middle of conference play. Anecdotally, this is where I started seeing a lot more comments on ASoB about how much the referees were allowing contact inside, particularly against Randle. Since that time however Kentucky has been getting to the line at roughly the same rate which, much like their offense rebounding, is elite.


Wrapping it up with a Big Blue Bow

The biggest improvement the last 5 games has been shooting. The Cats have climbed back from being one of the worst shooting teams in the country during their slide at the end of the season to being solidly above average since tournament play began. Combine that with solid ball handling and their typically elite rebounding and free throw rate and you get a team that is playing as well offensively as they have all season, but doing it against the best competition they've faced since the December stretch against Baylor, Boise St, UNC, Belmont, and Louisville.

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