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Louisville vs. Kentucky -- Some fun with stats

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I decided to crunch the numbers and see where, statistically, Louisville and Kentucky stand, and what each team must do to win tomorrow's game at Freedom Hall.

The year started out with Louisville a highly ranked team, as high as #3 in the nation in some polls, and this looked reasonable on paper.  Louisville was returning 4-year starter Terrence Williams, highly skilled junior Earl Clark who could well have been drafted last year had he come out, highly regarded freshmen Samardo Samuels, Jared Swopshire and Terrence Jennings and talented guards Edgar Sosa, Jerry Smith and Andre McGee.


But so far this year, the Cards have been less than expected, primarily because of difficulty initiating their offense.  Sosa has been wildly mercurial his entire career, and it was hoped that this year he would settle down and fulfill his promise, the promise we all saw his freshman year in the NCAA tournament.  Unfortunately, that simply hasn't happened.  Andre McGee is a good point guard, but he was not recruited to be the starter, Sosa was.  As talented as McGee is, he has also suffered from inconsistencies.  Jerry Smith has been the steadiest of the three, but his natural position is at two guard.  Lately, Pitino has had him at the point some, and that has also been a less than ideal situation for the Red and Black.

I took some time to do a correlation matrix of the 'Cats and Cardinals' game stats to date.  There are some things that have been revealed that surprised me, and it will be interesting to see how they play out over tomorrow's game.  So let's take a look at what this analysis suggests, keeping in mind the data set is small:

  • An extremely strong correlation between the number of assists and scoring at nearly .94.  You would expect a correlation to exist there, and it exists with Kentucky as well, but to a much lesser degree at .77
  • Not only is there a strong correlation between assists and scoring, but a .86 correlation of assists with victory.  When the Cards pass poorly, they don't just have a bad game -- they lose.
  • Finally, assists also have a very strong correlation with the Cardinal's FG% at .90.  Kentucky's is relatively weak at .28.  It seems that a relatively high number of assists are critical to the Cardinals' success.
  • An extremely strong correlation between the total points scored and victory at .90   It seems that this Louisville team, so far, hasn't won any low-scoring games.  Hold Louisville under 70 points, and their chances of victory are statistically much lower.  This correlation is very weak for Kentucky at .17.
  • FG% strongly correlates with Cardinal success, and it's easy to see that in their results.  When Louisville's effective FG% (and note, that is not the stat I used, but raw FG%) is below 45, they have lost every time.  It is notable that Kentucky's correlation between victory and FG% is much, much weaker at .41.  A lot of that is because Kentucky makes up for a poor shooting night by getting to the line frequently, keeping our eFG% considerably higher than it would otherwise be.
  • A very interesting correlation, which I wouldn't have expected, is between steals and 3point % for Kentucky, but it is quite strong at .61.  Louisville's is very weak at .13.  I wonder why this might be, and I suppose it could be just a coincidence.

On the defensive side of the ball:

  • Fouling Louisville would seem to be a very good idea.  There is a -.58 correlation between opponent fouls and Louisville's chances of victory.  That would seem to make sense, given the Cardinal's poor free-throw shooting.  I can't imagine that Gillsipie will fail to notice this.
  • Big first halves by opponents tend to doom the 'Cats.  There is a -.84 correlation between opponent's first-half scoring and the 'Cats chances of victory, compared to only a -.19 for the second half.  Louisville also has this correlation, but to a lesser degree at -.39.
  • Kentucky is more vulnerable to opponent 3-point shooting than Louisville.  UK's correlation is a -.69, and Louisville's is only -.31.
  • Steals also have a very negative impact on Kentucky's chances, at -58.  Louisville does not have this vulnerability, possibly because they turn the ball over so much less.

So what does all this mean?  Well, holding the Cardinals shooting down will obviously help Kentucky, and if they keep the game under 70, the Cards will have to break precedent to win.  Kentucky certainly should not allow any easy shots, and putting the Cardinals on the free throw line is a very good idea.

Putting pressure on Louisville's passing game would be a big help, since Louisville statistically does poorly when their assists go down.  Forcing the Cards to go one-on-one, therefore, would seem to make sense.  Kentucky must control turnovers and particularly steals, since those seem to have a very negative impact on Kentucky's shooting.

Kentucky must zealously guard the three-point line.  Failure to do so would appear to be a major boon for Louisville.  Kentucky must also prevent Louisville from getting off to a big first half scoring-wise.  Kentucky does not do well when that happens.

So that's what I see in those stats.  We will have more analysis of the big game later.