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Kentucky Basketball: Picking Through The Wreckage Of The UNC Game

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This morning, I got up with a hangover.  Not a hangover from an excess of adult beverages, mind you, but a hangover from a game that the Kentucky Wildcats should have won.  Lounging around the house for a few hours massaging my badly bruised fandom seemed like the best recovery method other than a Bloody Mary, which I rejected on "not on vacation" grounds.  Ultimately, watching Charlie's Angels (the movie) again was my cure, which was worth suffering through the weak storyline, predictable dialogue and lame humor if only to watch Cameron Diaz dance in her delicates, and Drew Barrymore roll down a big hill in the altogether.

With that now in the rear view, it seems time to put the nose to the proverbial grindstone and employ time-tested forensic techniques in order to determine exactly what went wrong in the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels.  I know, I know, we have gone over many of the more obvious problems in the game thread and postmortem, and rehashing those is not really productive.  Instead, it should behoove us to compare our perceptions against statistics to see how accurate they were.

So the first thing we will be doing is examining the Four Factors to Winning, and see what those tell us, after the jump.

The Four Factors look like this:

Now, I confess to being a bit surprised when I saw this.  For all the world, I thought we got killed on the offensive glass, but that simply was not so.  Yes, the Tar Heels did beat us on the offensive boards, but it was not the utter domination first impression suggested.  19%-23% is simply not a drubbing in any sense of the word.

Why did it look so bad?  Probably because there were a few more OR's available to the Tar Heels, and it just felt like Kentucky was not getting the job done.  Another problem was that when UK did get an OR, they did not convert it, and the Tar Heels did.  The Heels more than doubled UK's production in second-chance points, 11-5, despite only a 4% advantage in the OR% statistic.  In other words, they were much more efficient with their OR's than UK.

No, the real culprit for this loss is pretty easy to see.  UNC more than doubled UK's free throw rate percent, which means the number of free throws attempted per field goal attempt.  North Carolina shot more than half a free throw for every field goal attempt, or converted into a better number, shot a free throw slightly more than once for every two shots they took. Kentucky shot free throws only once for every three shots they put up.  Right there lies the roots of Kentucky's defeat.  It was only as close as it was because Carolina was so ordinary in FT%, although they did shoot much better than they have been of late.

Another problem that Kentucky had was how well the Tar Heels took care of the basketball.  UNC had been turning the ball over at over 22% per game.  For instance, against the Vanderbilt Commodores, they turned the ball over on almost one possession in three.  Against Kentucky, their TO% was less than half that.

This is a continuing problem for Kentucky.  The 'Cats simply are not forcing enough turnovers in games, and that speaks volumes about their defense.  Good teams, like the Duke Bllue Devils and the Ohio State Buckeyes are forcing around 25% or more turnovers versus their opponents.  If UK had forced Carolina into those kind of turnovers, they would have likely won the game based on their points off turnover production.  Smaller teams like Kentucky should be able to turn over bigger teams at a higher rate than this.

In the final analysis, the story of this game is a simple one.  Kentucky did not play defense well enough to win, and Carolina got to the line an excessive amount.  The offensive rebounding of UNC was a comparatively minor contributing factor.  Failure to turn over the vulnerable UNC ballhandlers was, in my opinion, a bigger factor than the OR% difference.  Fouls, ultimately, were what lost the game, both in terms of fouls to our big people and FTR%.

This is a good shooting, good ballhalding Kentucky team, but it has a long way to go defensively.  Depending on DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller for good defense on the primary scorers is fine, and it usually works, but the larger problem for this team is that they simply don't get after it on defense enough.  Until they do, these kind of losses will keep cropping up.