That sounds like an easy question, doesn't it? Surely the Kentucky Wildcats have improved since the pre-season schedule -- they have to, right?
Well, not necessarily. North Carolina certainly hasn't improved -- in fact, they've arguably devolved into a team eerily reminiscent of Kentucky last season. In fact, I'm not sure last year's UK team wouldn't beat North Carolina at this moment in the season.
Other teams have devolved, too. The victory against the Connecticut Huskies now looks pretty average, just like the North Carolina Tar Heels game. The win over the Louisville Cardinals still looks pretty good. It's pretty interesting to see how teams, when they get tested, behave. Sometimes teams respond, and sometimes they do not.
So what do you think? Do you think UK has improved? Well, follow me past the jump and find out.
Here are the numbers:
|11/13/10||Morehead St. (sked)||W, 75-59||H||73||103.5||53.9||33.1||55.8||53.9||81.4||41.5||16.6||30.5||18.5|
|11/16/10||Miami OH (sked)||W, 72-70||H||63||113.7||54.7||23.7||46.5||45.3||110.6||63.5||25.3||22.6||25|
|11/19/10||Sam Houston St. (sked)||W, 102-92||H||83||123||69.2||28.9||45.6||48.3||111||49.4||14.5||30.9||24.7|
|11/21/10||Rider (sked)||W, 92-63||H||76||120.6||54.5||21||46.8||42.4||82.6||34.5||26.2||41.2||53.5|
|11/24/10||Cleveland St. (sked)||W, 73-49||N||70||104.5||58.3||27.2||35.7||83.3||70.1||30.5||15.7||20.8||23.4|
|11/25/10||Stanford (sked)||W, 73-65||N||58||111.7||50||22.9||46.4||44.6||99.5||42.7||18.4||40.3||47.3|
|11/30/10||NC Asheville (sked)||W, 94-57||h||70||133.6||58||11.4||42.7||29||81||48.1||28.4||21.7||16.7|
|12/05/10||North Carolina (sked)||W, 68-66||H||74||92.1||50||27.1||33.3||40.7||89.4||44||21.7||34.9||19.4|
|12/09/10||Connecticut (sked)||W, 64-61||N||69||92.8||41.4||18.8||33.3||26.6||88.4||46.1||27.5||42.3||47.1|
|12/12/10||Indiana (sked)||W, 90-73||A||68||132.7||58.3||19.2||56.8||31.8||107.7||54.2||13.3||22.2||23.3|
|12/19/10||Austin Peay (sked)||W, 90-69||H||68||131.7||57.1||23.4||63.5||28.6||101||44.5||16.1||34.3||21.9|
|12/21/10||Drexel (sked)||W, 88-44||H||67||131||61.2||20.8||48.1||32.8||65.5||35.5||23.8||20.7||12.7|
|12/23/10||Long Beach St. (sked)||W, 86-73||H||74||115.5||49.2||12.1||36.3||46.1||98.1||47.1||16.1||29.1||23.5|
|12/29/10||Hartford (sked)||W, 104-61||H||69||150.2||70.6||10.1||40||20.6||88.1||48.3||21.7||20||8.6|
|01/02/10||Louisville (sked)||W, 71-62||H||75||94.7||48.1||24||32||65.4||82.7||36.4||24||34.2||44.1|
|01/09/10||Georgia (sked)||W, 76-68||H||75||101.8||45||18.8||38||55||91.1||52.8||34.8||39||28.3|
|01/12/10||Florida (sked)||W, 89-77||A||72||123||56.4||13.8||37.1||18.6||106.5||44.1||13.8||35.6||29.4|
|01/16/10||Auburn (sked)||W, 72-67||A||66||108.5||57||24.1||35.6||81.4||100.9||49.2||18.1||31.9||23.3|
|01/23/10||Arkansas (sked)||W, 101-70||H||83||121.6||54.5||18.1||48.3||32.5||84.3||32.6||16.9||29.9||40.3|
|01/26/10||South Carolina (sked)||L, 68-62||A||69||89.7||41.2||21.7||35||36.8||98.3||37.5||15.9||40.9||43.8|
|01/30/10||Vanderbilt (sked)||W, 85-72||H||71||119.1||55.6||23.8||50.7||72.2||100.9||53.3||21||13.7||67.4|
|02/02/10||Mississippi (sked)||W, 85-75||H||74||115.5||57.3||23.1||42.4||30.6||101.9||50||20.4||36.8||19.7|
|02/06/10||Louisiana St. (sked)||W, 81-55||A||76||107.2||49.2||21.2||45.3||34.9||72.8||34.9||18.5||22.6||18.2|
Okay, well, that's not as clear as we'd hope, right? Let's visualize it for more clarity. First, the offense:
Now that's a bit more clear. Kentucky is playing a bit faster, are a bit less efficient, shooting the ball a bit worse, taking slightly better care of the ball, getting a smaller percentage of offensive rebounds and getting to the line a bit more often. Overall, that doesn't really look better.
What about on defense? That looks like this:
UK's opponents are more efficient on offense, shooting the ball about the same, the 'Cats are forcing fewer turnovers, allowing more offensive rebounds and getting to the line more against us. At first blush, no improvement there, either. Maybe a little bit the other way.
Of course, by now you have figured out that these statistics really don't fully take the quality of competition into account, and they don't. There is some adjustment for the quality of Kentucky's opponent, but the reason UK is at or even a bit below par numbers-wise is that the quality of the competition they are playing has risen significantly. The average Kenpom.com ranking of Kentucky's non-conference schedule was 121.5, and the average ranking of UK's conference opponents is 85.63. So the quality of UK's opponent has improved, and yet the better opponents have had a negligible impact on Kentucky's statistics as a team.
There is really no doubt at all that the quality of the basketball we are watching, at least in my opinion, is vastly improved even since the Louisville game. The Wildcat offense looks much more fluid and professional, players are more intense on defense, and overall, the 'Cats look more and more like the contender the polls say they are.
So even though the numbers haven't changed appreciably from non-conference to conference, the competition has gotten better and yet the Wildcats keep doing what they do at about the same rate they did it against much softer teams. But Kentucky, at some point in the near future, needs to take that next step up. Maybe the game against the LSU Tigers was a harbinger of that transition, but it needs to happen sometime between now and the SEC tournament.
This UK team still has a ton of room between where they are and where they can be. I'm hoping to see the 'Cats reel in some of that slack in the coming two or three games, and move closer to their full capability.