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Kentucky Basketball: Statistical Thinking About UK-Notre Dame

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Terrence Jones was great, but Josh Harrellson was also a major reason behind the Wildcats' victory over the Fighting Irish.
Terrence Jones was great, but Josh Harrellson was also a major reason behind the Wildcats' victory over the Fighting Irish.

It was absolutely awesome to be able to attend the Big East/SEC Invitational last night, and a true pleasure to see Kentucky defeat a talented Notre Dame Fighting Irish squad in front of a sellout crowd.  The support Louisville gave to the Kentucky Wildcats was wonderful, and I gather by perusing the comments that it translated well through the television.

I thought most of the game impressions I saw from Ken and in the comments section were right on the money.  Ben Hansbrough did behave as obnoxiously in person as he appeared on the TV.  Jack Cooley really is a Frankengody clone for whom the talent did not quite take in the gengineering process.  A ridiculous amount of contact was allowed by both teams, and it is a credit to both that tempers stayed well under control.  I have watched quite a few college basketball games in person, and I can't remember the last one that was this physical under the basket, and I was in a position to know -- about 15 feet from the goal stanchion.

But what I really want to talk about here is some of the more interesting stats in this game, and that conversation begins right after the jump.

Check this out, from

Plus/minus Off Court Clutch Plus/Minus Clutch Off Court
Player MIN RR +/- + - +/- + - MIN RR +/- + - +/- + -
T. Jones 38 16 15 67 -52 -1 5 -6 2:07 2 8 8 0 6 8 -2
J. Harrellson 20 26 20 36 -16 -6 36 -42 1:25 -4 5 5 0 9 11 -2
D. Miller 37 12 13 67 -54 1 5 -4 2:07 2 8 8 0 6 8 -2
B. Knight 39 14 14 72 -58 0 0 0 2:07 2 8 8 0 6 8 -2
D. Liggins 26 -10 2 44 -42 12 28 -16 1:31 -4 5 5 0 9 11 -2
S. Poole 2 -4 5 7 -2 9 65 -56 - - - - - - - -
J. Hood 4 -26 -6 6 -12 20 66 -46 - - - - - - - -
D. Lamb 25 -6 4 43 -39 10 29 -19 1:18 -2 6 6 0 8 10 -2
E. Vargas 9 -8 3 18 -15 11 54 -43 - - - - - - - -

For those of you unfamiliar with the whole +/- thing, it is a way of measuring individual performance by looking at how the team performs when that individual is on the floor.  The + is the number of points scored by the team while the player was on the floor.  The - is the number that the opponents scored.  The +/- is the + minus the -.  The RR (Roland Rating) is the on-court +/- minus off court +/-.

The Roland Rating is kind of a "end result" stat that shows how well the team performed with the player on the floor.  It doesn't work very well for players who play limited minutes, so I really am only looking at the guys with 20 minutes or more.

As you can see, Josh Harrellson was did really well in this stat.  Part of it was because he was sitting down when Notre Dame made that big run in the first half, but the idea behind this is to suggest that Notre Dame made that run partly because Harrellson wasn't in the game.  Vargas' numbers bear that out.

We don't have that stat for the North Carolina Tar Heels game (I wish we did), but for the Connecticut game, Harrellson also had a comparatively high RR.  I suspect it would have been that way in the UNC game as well.

The point of all this is that Josh Harrellson, by focusing on rebounding and the other little things, makes this team a lot better when he's on the floor.  Size has a lot to do with it, but if that was all there was, Vargas would be performing better and playing more minutes.  Harrellson has figured out what he needs to do to help this team, and he is doing it.  It isn't scoring, or being a vocal leader.  It is mostly rebounding and getting in good position, setting hard screens and giving the ball a place to go rather than hanging around the perimeter.

I'll be keeping an eye on this to see if it is a trend, but there is no doubt that Kentucky played much better versus the Irish when Harrellson was on the floor.  I didn't need stats to tell me that -- they merely confirmed what I saw.  This is in no way a knock on Terrence Jones, he had an absolutely stellar game.  But he got more rebounds when Harrellson was in the game than when he wasn't.

But we can't talk about individual performances without considering Jones' heroics.  He was absolutely the best player on the court last night in every measurable way.  He made very few mistakes other than jacking up a poor shot or two, and hit the glass like Patrick Patterson in his freshman year.  Not only that, he defended very well in the second half, as did most of the team.

Now, a look at the Four Factors:


What jumps out at you?  I know what jumps out at me.  Take a look at FTRate%.  Notre Dame has been killing teams in this stat, coming in at #14 in the nation according to  Of all the statistical categories that really matter other than eFG%, FTR% is arguably the most valuable.  The free throw line is the most efficient way to score in college basketball, as we found out to our woe versus the North Carolina Tar Heels.  Even though they didn't shoot a great percentage, they got there so often that they didn't have to.

UK held Notre Dame to their lowest FTR% of the season.  Not only that, Kentucky won every one of the Four Factors and dominated in the OR% statistic.  The only reason the game was as close as it was was because most of these stats were reversed at halftime.

In the final analysis, Kentucky continues to do a very good job on the offensive glass, even in the games they have lost.  The have not always won the statistic, but so far this year they have never been walloped on the glass.  Josh Harrellson and Terrence Jones are the reasons why.  The only time UK has lost the OR battle was versus UNC when Harrellson was saddled with fouls, and Jones was not having a good game.  Still, they were competitive in spite of all that.

Harrellson is no Enes Kanter, and he isn't skilled enough to give us a true post presence.  So he has concentrated on the one thing he is skilled enough, and big enough, to do -- rebound.  And it is a big benefit to the team.