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Kentucky Basketball: Hoosiers in the Rear-View Mirror

I think it is almost universally agreed that the Kentucky Wildcats played its best overall game of the season yesterday afternoon against the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall in Bloomington.

Working on that assumption, what we want to do now is take a look, statistically, at what went right and why it was better than what the 'Cats have been doing lately.  John Calipari was obviously excited about how well the Wildcats played yesterday, for good reason.

So what are some of the things we should be looking for in a good game, statistically speaking?  Here are a few of them:

  • High effective field-goal percentage;
  • Low opponent effective field-goal percentage;
  • Low turnovers;
  • Good rebounding;
  • High number of points from the free throw line.

Those are the things measured in statistics, but what causes these things to happen?  Obviously, it's different for each factor, but here are some of the things that have the greatest impact on good basketball:

  • Getting into offense early in the shot clock;
  • Getting back quickly on defense and preventing easy baskets;
  • Good ball distribution in the half-court offense;
  • Good ball pressure in the half-court defense;
  • Good low-post play on offense;
  • Good defensive rotation on defense.

There are more, obviously, but we want to stick with the simple things.  All these characteristics are fundamental to winning basketball, and the better you do them, the more likely you are to win.  They may seem obvious, but how they interact with each other is less so.

Follow me after the jump for more.

First, the early offense.  The reason early offense is important is because it takes advantage of the fact that the defense is usually not properly set up when early offense is initiated -- people are out of position, on the wrong man, or in the process of figuring out where their man is while trying to watch the ball.  There are far less distractions on the offensive players, who's sole objective is to score.  Early offense is easy offense.

Getting back quickly on defense is an obvious one in preventing your opponent from using his early offense against you.  This is particularly important against teams like Indiana who like to play fast.  A 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 is an advantage for the offense, particularly if the guards are the ones initiating it.  That's why it's important to outnumber the offense when getting back.

Good ball distribution is all about putting players in the best possible position to execute a successful shot on goal.  When the ball is moved quickly, forcing defensive reaction, the offense almost always winds up with a quality shot.

Good low-post offense forces the defense to collapse inside, which provides open shots from the perimeter and can force a rapid defensive rotation that leaves a player open in the post.  Whenever you force the defense to move out of where they want to be, the offense has a big advantage.

Finally, good defensive rotation is critical.  If the defense rotates properly in response to a drive or a pass, it can always be in a position to challenge the shot, especially when you keep in mind which players are most effective from which spots on the floor.

So with all that in mind, let's examine the Four Factors to Winning for the IU/UK game:



As you can see, UK won three of the four factors, and overmatched Indiana completely in the area of offensive rebounding.  In fact, that is some of the most dramatic domination on the offensive glass I have seen all year, and is one of the reasons that the Wildcats have been able to overcome turnovers in most games.

Notice that Indiana doubled us up on ballhandling.  But that isn't a problem, because anything less than 20% is fine, and anything less than 15% is probably too low for this offense, because as coach Cal has said, it could indicate a lack of aggression.

What this chart does not show you is shots on goal, which is where TO's affect you most.  But UK's offensive rebounding was so dominant, it exceeded the turnover difference, and UK still got six more shots on goal than the Hoosiers.  Combine that with a higher eFG%, and it's easy to see the UK advantage.

Surprisingly, the 'Cats did not shoot that much better than IU.  The Hoosiers had an eFG% of 54.2% versus UK's 58.3%.  But notice the free throw discrepancy.  That's where Indiana could have made up some ground, but UK also dominated that statistic by a significant margin.

The bottom line is that this graph indicates the following:

  • UK shot well, and was very efficient (132.7 OE, 2nd highest of the year).
  • UK played relatively poor defense, allowing Indiana 107.7 efficiency and 54.2 eFG%.
  • UK took good care of the basketball.
  • UK scored from the line comparatively well, but by no means their best performance of the year.

So what made Kentucky so efficient offensively?  That's easy -- John Wall.  John Wall put in what was easily his best performance, competition considered, so far.  He penetrated the lane, forcing rotation, and made great decisions about what to do with the basketball.  That put UK in a position to move the ball quickly, or just take the open shot from the first post-penetration pass.  It was beautiful offensive basketball.

But what isn't good is that UK allowed a higher OE by Indiana than Kansas, for example, has allowed all year.  Now, there is no doubt that the 'Cats have played a tougher schedule than the Kansas Jayhawks so far this year by a wide margin, but it does highlight that Kentucky has a ways to go yet to reach the kind of performance that will truly justify a top five ranking.

What else can we learn? Take a look at this graph:



What this shows is a fairly strong positive correlation between between Wall's assists and and team eFG%, and a moderate negative correlation between Wall's points and eFG%.  In everyday terms, it means the more assists Wall has, the more efficient we are offensively.  The more points he scores, the less efficient.

As a general proposition, the better Wall passes the ball, the better UK scores, and the more Wall scores, the worse.  That's why a great point guard can change the game, and exactly illustrates why the UConn game upset me, and coach Cal as well.  Wall was trying to make plays, but by making most of them himself by scoring, he helped make the team less efficient.

Because Wall touches the ball so much, he has to do one thing or the other, not both.  You can see that he rarely has high scoring games and high assist games, and vice versa. Look at the Indiana game.  High assists, relatively low points, and our second-highest eFG% of the year. 

Coach Cal totally gets this, trust me.  And I think, now, so does Wall.