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Kentucky Vs. Kansas: A Look at the Four Factors

Coach Cal has some work to do, but he is surely happy with how this game played out.
Coach Cal has some work to do, but he is surely happy with how this game played out.

The Four Factors to winning is always the first place I go when trying to figure out what happened in a game after its over.  They don't always tell the whole story, of course -- stats never do -- but they do show us areas where the Wildcats were successful statistically and where they were less so.  Of course, the only stat that matters is the final score, and we all know how that one turned out.

Unsurprisingly, the Four Factors are four derivative statistics:  Effective Field Goal Percentage, abbreviated eFG%.  eFG% is the field goal percentage taking into account the value of the 3-point shot, which is worth 1.5 what a 2-point shot is worth.  For example, shooting 33% from 3-point range is the equivalent of shooting 50% from 2-point range. eFG% gives you an adjusted percentage that takes this into account.  It's easy to see why this factor is important.  A good number for eFG% is anything over 50%.

The second factor is offensive rebound percentage, or OR% -- the percentage of available offensive rebounds that were actually recovered by a team.  Rebound numbers are statistically deceiving, and expressing them as a percentage of available rebounds gives you a true picture of how well a team rebounded the basketball.  OR% is important because each OR extends a possession, and often results in an extra shot for the offense.  A good number for this statistic is 35% or higher.

The third factor is turnover percentage, or TO%.  This is exactly what it sounds like -- the percentage of possessions that resulted in a turnover.  Turnovers result in lost possessions and shot opportunities for the team committing the turnover -- obviously bad.  This is the only one of the Four Factors where less is more, and a good TO% is 19% or lower.

Finally, there is free throw rate percent, or FTR%.  The formula for this is FTAttempts/FGAttempt.  Free throw rate calculates how good a team is at scoring from the free throw line.  This is important because free throws are the most efficient form of scoring in basketball.  A good number for this is about 40% or higher.

So which ones are the most important?  The order of importance is:

  1. eFG% (40% weight)
  2. TO% (25% weight)
  3. OR% (20% weight)
  4. FTR% (15% weight)

So now that you're up to date on the stats, let's look at the chart.  Roll your mouse over each bar for the actual number it represents:

So what do we see here? Here's what I see:

  • Kentucky kicked butt defensively, and shot the ball very well.  Any time you hold a team under 40%, your defense is kicking butt.  Any time your eFG% is over 55, you have really shot it well.
  • 26% turnovers is unacceptable, and in games where the other team shoots a decent percentage will get you beat most of the time.  Marquis Teague and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were the most generous with the basketball.
  • Kansas killed UK on the offensive glass, particularly Thomas Robinson.  This reflects Kentucky's lack of commitment and strength inside, which needs work.  Anthony Davis in particular is not very good at rebounding in traffic.
  • Kansas shot only two fewer free throws, and made 77% to Kentucky's 55%, but UK's FTR% was higher because Kansas got off so many more shots -- 8 more, to be exact, 5 of which were misses.  The reason Kansas got off more shots?  Turnovers and offensive rebounds allowed by UK.

This graph, plus what we saw, gives us a list of low-hanging fruit that Calipari will want to jump on, namely:

  • Ballhandling.  Teague will learn to take care of the ball better, but right now, he is a lot more like John Wall than Brandon Knight.
  • Rebounding.  This is a toughness issue, and these guys are young.  Calipari will toughen them up.  I have to give them credit, when Kansas tried to punk the young guys in the second half, they were having none of it.  The competitive fire in this team is a major strength.
  • Free throw shooting.  I think UK just had the early-season jitters at the line.  This team will shoot a good percentage of free throws this year as they get more comfortable.  This was a really big stage against a big-time team, and that pressure did get to them a little.  That will change as the season goes along.

The good news is that despite not really having installed the defense, this team defended a solid Kansas unit like they had been doing it for a while.  Help was okay, rotation was not bad, and for the most part, UK moved their feet.  For an early-season effort, you have to be impressed.  Calipari will find plenty to work on, but that doesn't take away from the fact that these young guys brought it defensively.  It helps that they are longer than almost anybody.

What these stats cannot tell us is how well this UK team runs the floor.  Man, do they run the floor.  No team in America is going to be able to keep up with them, which means we are going to see a lot more controlled-pace games as teams begin to realize how hard it is to stay with Kentucky.  Kansas simply could not.

Another thing that you can only see buried in these four stats is how well UK shot the three. 47% is tough for an opponent to handle, especially when they shoot under 30% like Kansas did.  You can't pack it in on Kentucky, or the Wildcats will make you pay.

Overall, I don't see how anybody could be unhappy about this effort.  Kentucky played for the first time on the big stage like a team that is a contender for the national title, and there is little doubt as of this morning that they are all of that.  I'm certainly glad we have a couple of weeks before we face North Carolina, but the team we saw last night and the team that will take the floor against the Tar Heels will be very different.