Few teams in America sport more talent and better depth that Kentucky's rivalry foe, the Louisville Cardinals do this year. All that talent, however, has found a way to play poorly enough to lose three games so far this season, all to teams that had far less individual talent but a better overall team concept.
Kentucky is talented also, but far less so than Louisville. The 'Cats, with the exception of VMI, and two impressive neutral court victories, have won they games they are supposed to win convincingly and lost the games they are supposed to lose. It is against this backdrop that we look at the stats of the two combatants today.
Starters/Major substitutes (Stats courtesy of StatSheet.com):
|Shooting guard||Jodie Meeks||14||14||32.30||24.10||47.50||3.10||1.90||1.60||0.10|
|Point guard||DeAndre Liggins||14||1||20.80||6.80||46.50||3.00||3.80||0.90||0.40|
|Kentucky Additional Reserves|
|Louisville Additional Reserves|
Team Analysis (Stats courtesy of Kenpom.com)
|Adjusted efficiency||105||102||78.8||2||109.8||50||86.3||21||UK||U of L|
|Turnover %||18.4||41||22.3||110||24.3||300||20.7||183||U of L Big||U of L|
|Offensive rebound %||35.2||110||24||3||34.5||132||29.2||53||None||U of L|
|Free throw rate||23.9||180||33.8||117||31.8||29||33.4||112||UK Big||None|
|3-point FG%||34.7||144||28.8||18||33.6||182||32.6||114||U of L||U of L Big|
|2-point FG%||48.4||150||41.6||30||58.8||4||38.7||8||UK Big||UK|
|Free throw %||64.5||270||68.6||177||77.9||6||69.1||202||UK Big||UK|
|Block %||8.4||143||17||10||5.8||26||19||4||UK Big||None|
|Steal %||9.1||112||12.4||40||10.7||228||9.6||198||U of L Big||U of L Big|
This game is between two teams who have opposite strengths -- Louisville is one of the elite defensive teams in the country, and Kentucky is one of the best offensive teams. Louisville is competent offensively, and Kentucky is competent defensively. In the final analysis, this game is a very close matchup on paper.
Offensively in the front court, Kentucky has an advantage, albeit a very small one, due to Patrick Patterson's prolific production. Louisville has done just fine offensively against markedly inferior teams, but have fared much more poorly against teams with talent roughly comparable to their own, particularly in the low post game. Kentucky's inside people, particularly Patterson, have performed well against almost any level of competition.
Defensively, at least on paper, the 'Cats have been better in the front court than the Cardinals, although not by much. The only game in which the Wildcats were not successful in front court defense was the game against North Carolina, and against that team, almost nobody could expect to have much success. The Cardinals have been relatively less successful as the competition increases.
In the back court, it has been feast or famine for Kentucky offensively. Sometimes the 'Cats have barraged opponents with three pointers and penetration baskets. Meeks has been largely responsible for the outside shooting, and both Meeks and Liggins have done a creditable job of getting the ball into the paint. Unfortunately, Kentucky's back court has a disturbing propensity to pass the ball to the other team.
Louisville has been very streaky from the perimeter, either lighting it up or going 1- or 2- for whatever. Much of that is the failure of the Cards to recognize good shots, and put up too many that have been challenged. The back court has been efficient at getting the ball into the paint, particularly the hyper-athletic Terrence Williams.
Defensively, the Cardinals have been simply fantastic in the back court. Louisville's guards have forced opponents into an average of 16 miscues per game, and they are about as tough a defensive group as there is in college basketball. This is the great strength of this Cardinal team. The 'Cats, on the other hand, have been adequate, even excellent at times, but they have not been able to consistently match the intensity of the Louisville guards.
What to expect from Louisville
Rick Pitino remembers the difficulty Kentucky had with the match-up zone they played last year, and I would be surprised if we don't see that again. That will make it very difficult for Kentucky to get the ball to Patterson unless they are much more patient than they have been. Louisville will also pressure Kentucky's guards in the back court, particularly Michael Porter, who has a tendency to turn the ball over under pressure. He has done better lately, but he will be sorely tested today with back court pressure and traps.
Offensively, Louisville will work hard to get the ball to Samuels, and Kentucky will not want to double-team him. That means that whoever plays Samuels will have to work very hard to keep him from getting too close to the basket. Samuels, though, is not a particularly good passer out of the post, so this strategy will probably be subject to change. The other thing they could do, depending on who guards who, is try the same thing with Earl Clark. Clark is more comfortable when he can freely roam the floor, but he is a very effective post player and a much better post passer than Samuels.
Terrence Williams is likely to try to get the ball into the paint a lot against Kentucky, and if he does, it will be real trouble for the 'Cats. Even though Williams has a tendency to unilaterally increase the degree of difficulty of his shots, he can finish near the basket and is one of the great finishers in college basketball close to the rim. His athleticism should allow him to attack Kentucky, and his great passing ability will surely put pressure on Kentucky's defense.
Jerry Smith will want to get off early, as he is Louisville's best 3-point threat and lit us up last year. McGee is also capable of a good shooting night from the perimeter, and neither of them is afraid to take the shot, regardless of how they are falling.
What to expect from Kentucky
Because Kentucky does not zone, the Cats will have to figure out a way to guard the Samuels/Clark combination in the paint. Patterson can likely guard either guy, but Stevenson is going to be hard pressed to handle Samuels in the post or Clark away from the basket. UK may try to double-team Samuels every time he touches the ball, because the 'Cats are longer and more athletic and Samuels is not a good passer out of the post. Whoever guards Clark will have to guard him honestly, because Clark can post, pass and shoot the ball from everywhere.
Expect the Kentucky guards to put a lot of pressure on Louisville's guards. That strategy is valuable because statistically, the Cardinals are a very poor offensive team when they don't have a high number of assists. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see some double-teaming off Terrence Williams, as Williams is the most inconsistent of Louisville's perimeter players. If Williams is hot, Louisville will be almost impossible to beat, so we just have to hope he isn't. It's important that whoever guards Williams tries to frustrate him as much as possible, because even though Williams doesn't appear to be all that emotional, when his offensive game is pressured, he tends to play poorly in other areas.
I wouldn't be surprised to see the 'Cats slow this game down a bit for a couple of reasons -- one is to attack the various zones Pitino is bound to throw at them. Lack of patience has been Kentucky's most obvious failing against zone defenses along with a lack of movement. If Meeks is relentlessly moving around the court looking to come off screens, Louisville's zone will have to react. That will free up entry passes on ball reversal if Meeks can ever figure out how to pass the ball to someone else.
This game looks even on paper, but the reality is that if the Cardinals play well, Kentucky is unlikely to beat them. Louisville is definitely a significantly better defensive team, and for UK to have success, they are going to have to move the ball extraordinarily well or wind up settling for a lot of challenged threes. Kentucky can offset this a bit with good offensive rebounding, especially when Louisville is in the zone, but that hasn't been a major strength of the 'Cats all year.
Kentucky's best hope for this game is to be patient with the basketball and not turn it over. Louisville's offensive success depends a lot on steals and turnovers, so if UK can take care of the ball, it will auger greatly in their favor. Good ball movement is absolutely critical in this game to force the Cardinals out of the zone. We can also expect one of Louisville's guards to shadow Meeks, but that will be tougher if Louisville goes zone.
This game is a critical test of Gillispie's coaching. We do not match up particularly well against the Cardinals, and they are just as long and athletic as Kentucky is at every position. Kentucky has better post play, but that is likely the first thing Pitino will try to deny. How successful he is will determine the outcome of this game, and how successful he is will be determined primarily by how Gillispie responds.
I will take Kentucky in a squeker, 75-73.