Kentucky handily defeated the Cleveland St. Vikings yesterday afternoon in the Cancun Challenge, but what can we take away from that game? Well, I'm going to do a riff on Spencer Hall's "College Football Alphabetical" to explain it.
A is for AAU: That's the basketball Kentucky's young guys are still playing. In the AAU, you can break guy's ankles and look like the second coming of Earl the Pearl Monroe because much of the competition is decidedly inferior. But when you take college players, particularly players with a year or two under their belt for granted like that, you get miscues.
Too often, Eric Bledsoe and John Wall showed their disrespect for the opposing player by trying to blow by them like their feet were encased in lead. They found, after a combined nine turnovers between them, that not only are the Viking guards not shod in lead, but they are also capable players. Learn that lesson, guys -- respect your opponent.
B is for Bad Cuz: DeMarcus Cousins let his emotions get the best of him, and threw a high elbow in retaliation for some earlier contact that could have gotten him ejected from the game. He was very fortunate that the officials did not do so. DeMarcus needs to learn to harness his emotions, and keep those elbows close to his body.
C is for Careless: Careless with the ball, careless with positioning on the court, careless with this Rolls Royce of a team. Kentucky players must learn to make the simple play, not the remarkable one. I saw far too many remarkable plays that wound up as turnovers or other negative plays.
D is for Determination: Ramon Harris was determined not to be shifted to the end of the bench, and he earned a whopping 19 minutes last night -- fifth on the team, one minute behind Daniel Orton. Harris only had a couple of points, but he had 8 rebounds, one assist and two steals, and played arguably the best perimeter defense on the team. Calipari played him a lot for a reason.
That's the extent of my alphabetical, though. Spencer goes all the way to Z, and I just don't have that kind of patience.
More after the jump.
The first thing I always like to look at when analyzing a game is the Four Factors, provided here by Statsheet.com:
You can clearly see where Kentucky failed, and where they succeeded. Once again, they held their opponent to under 40% from the floor, and were far more offensively efficient. Once again, we see that UK won the offensive rebounding battle by a substantial margin. Once again, UK dominated in free-throw rate, although they shot a poor percentage. And on the bad side, once again we see that UK more than doubled the opponent's turnover percentage.
But win three of the four factors, and you will almost always win the game. A quick look at offensive efficiency so far this year:
As you can see, UK has markedly improved their offensive efficiency over the last three games. But the more telling fact is that over the last two games, the Rider Broncs and now the Vikings, Kentucky has significantly improved their defensive efficiency. The gap between the two is growing, and that is a nice trend that we would all like to see continue.
the last stat I'd like to mention is field-goal attempts. Last night, the Vikings got up 24 more attempts than UK did. That is a number that will beat you every time if you are facing a hot team.
The disparity in number of shots is tied directly to two stats -- turnovers and offensive rebounds. UK had 20 turnovers last night, and gave up 10 offensive rebounds. The OR stat isn't bad at all when you consider that UK allowed the Vikings to corral only 22% of their available OR's but the turnovers are the real problem. 13 of the turnovers were Viking steals, which means they were "live ball" turnovers that often lead directly to transition baskets. CSU had 15 points off UK turnovers. UK only managed 8 off the Vikings.
Tonight, the Wildcats take on the Stanford Cardinal. More on that game later.