30 days and counting to Big Blue Madness!
Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News has a new article out today in which he speaks to Kentucky head basketball coach Billy Gillispie. DeCourcy asks him the same question, apparently, as many in the media have -- about Gillispie's style of play. DeCourcy's read on Gillispie's initial response is that the coach had heard this question far too often for his comfort, but he graciously gave him this response:
On defense, he wants to limit opponents to one shot or none on each possession. That requires picking up steals, forcing errors and grabbing every available rebound.
"Sometimes, based on your personnel, that's going to be a little faster," Gillispie says. "Sometimes it's going to be a little bit slower."
That seems to be quite consistent with what Gillispie has been telling others who asked him that question. Style of play, and particularly pace, have been frequently cited as contributors to Kentucky's recent decline. Understandably, those who prefer a faster style of basketball than Tubby Smith coached will be very interested in this particular metric.
But how did Kentucky compare with the rest of the basketball universe under Smith in the area of pace. What about Gillispie? Here are a look at some of the statistics compiled by Ken Pomeroy.
First, let's look at some of the faster teams, like North Carolina. UNC had the 9th fastest adjusted pace out of 336 Division I teams in Pomeroy's database. Another pretty fast-paced team was Bruce Pearl and Tennessee, who clock in at 22nd fastest.
Now let's look at Kentucky. Last year under Smith, Kentucky's pace was the 159th fastest, well in the top 50%. Gillispie at TAMU was 235th out of 336, well in the bottom third in terms of pace. Finally, just for the sake of comparison, our former coach, the Armani here in Derby Town, clocked in at ... wait, this can't be right ... everybody knows that ... well, here it is folks -- 229th. Yes, you read right -- Rick Pitino coached a slower pace last year than Tubby Smith. Don't shoot me, I'm only the keyboard player.
Anyway, if you do the research, you'll find that Gillispie's pace for the last two years have been over 200th. He was in the 150's at UTEP, so we have yet to see him coach a team with a truly high tempo, so those who are expecting a return to the Pitino 1990's pace are likely to be disappointed.
But does a higher pace indicate a more successful team? I don't really know historically, but I can tell you that last year's final four consisted of teams that looked like this in terms of pace: UCLA (266th), Ohio State (218th), Georgetown (328th) and Florida (154th). Based on last year's results, anyway, a more deliberate pace seems to be a common factor for all the teams who made it to the last weekend of the year. But one thing that we see in common with most successful teams is a high offensive efficiency. The exception would seem to be UCLA, who got there on the back of the second highest defensive efficiency in the land.
There is no doubt, regardless of Gillispie's style, that most Kentucky fans will find it faster and better than the previous coach, whether or not it actually works out that way statistically. That isn't meant as a criticism of either the coaches or the Big Blue Faithful, for there is no doubt whatever that Kentucky basketball had become almost as painful as it was exciting with a divided, bickering fan base. Smith's act had gotten old around here, and any change will look like change for the better. If we can just get past our old divisions, we might have a season to remember. Unfortunately, that is not as automatic as we might assume, given recent commentary I have read at UK fan sites which shall remain nameless.
Gillispie says one thing at the end of the article which will warm the cockles of any Kentucky fan's heart:
Preach on, Brother Gillispie, preach on.