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Kentucky Wildcats vs. Old Dominion: Upon Further Review

Coach Cal will have some good teaching tape after the ODU game, but there was quite a bit of good as well as bad there.
Coach Cal will have some good teaching tape after the ODU game, but there was quite a bit of good as well as bad there.

Having now had time to digest fully the second half of the Kentucky Wildcats vs. Old Dominion Monarchs game yesterday and review the statistics, some things come to light that we may have missed the first time around.

The first thing I noticed is, all things considered, Kentucky's offense against the 3-2 zone was pretty good from a technical standpoint in the second half.  The 'Cats had about three or four possessions where they simply did the wrong things, but the rest of the time they did the right things, and did them pretty well, if a bit too slowly.

The way to attack a 3-2 zone is pretty much the same as the way to attack a 2-3 zone -- you get the ball in the middle of the zone, force the defense to collapse, then hit the wings.  You can either take the open jump shot from the wing, or use a ball fake and a couple of dribbles to further distort the zone, rotate the ball back to the weak side for an open drive, post-up, or jump shot.  ODU was playing a "soft" zone, unlike Louisville, for instance, who plays a "hard" zone with match-up, pressure, and frequent traps.

ODU did none of these things.  They essentially sat back in the zone and grudgingly yielded open 3-point looks, which UK promptly missed.  Several times, Kentucky players would take the first open jump shot that appeared, and while every one of those shots was open and a good look in textbook terms, you need to diversify your attack against a zone beyond open threes.  If you don't make them, you can lose the game.

Kentucky did this.  They started getting inside looks off passes to the soft middle of the zone, and curls that ODU did not pick up very well.  If there was a criticism of the zone attack by UK, it was that the passing was very slow and soft, not crisp and quick.  Quick, crisp passes move the zone further and wrong-foot them more often, leading to better looks and even open layups.  Since I didn't see the first half, I must suppose that the offense against ODU's zone in the first stanza was really bad, as it was quite decent, especially for this early in the year, in the second half.  We just didn't make open shots and free throws or Kentucky would have won going away.

Now, let's have a look at the Four Factors:


What we see here is what we've seen all year -- Kentucky out-shooting the opposition, but the critical difference is that UK is under 50% eFG% for the first time this year, primarily due to simply missing open shots, particularly threes.  The Wildcats shot a lackluster 30.8% from the arc, and at least in the second half, there were maybe two bad shots taken from out there.  All the rest were wide open, in-rhythm looks that you expect UK to make at a high percentage, particularly given that they were taken by Doron Lamb, Darius Miller, and Kyle Wiltjer.

The next thing we see is that the ballhandling was absolutely loathsome.  31+% of UK possessions ended in a turnover, 12 in the first half and 9 in the second.  Ballhandling has been surprisingly poor so far this year for this team, as the Wildcats have had 25+% turnovers against two of the four opponents they have faced, the Kansas Jayhawks and ODU.  Against ODU, that resulted in 3 more shot attempts for ODU.  That has got to change, and soon.

UK dominated the offensive glass, which is good to see after substandard efforts vs. the Penn St. Nittany Lions and aforementioned Jayhawks.  In free throw rate, UK did win the statistic, but by an insignificant margin.  What bugs me about free throws this game is that UK missed so many -- 3 straight and-1 trips in the second half became and-0 because Kentucky couldn't make a 15 foot unopposed shot.

Finally, the officiating in this game was particularly atrocious from Kentucky's standpoint.  Two of Anthony Davis' four three fouls in the second half were simply phantom calls.  Davis did not make contact with the ODU player at all on either one.  The Terrence Jones traveling call in the lane late in the second half was also wrong -- he dribbled, gathered himself and shot.  If that was traveling, there can be no legal movement.  Finally, the Michael Kidd-Gilcrhist charge around the 2:35 mark was a flat flop by the ODU player.  Officials can be forgiven for occasionally missing this call, though, but the others, not so much.

Defensively, UK struggled a bit in the post, but that is going to be our soft spot for a while yet.  For the most part, we responded pretty well when Terrence Jones decided he'd had enough and began to match the Monarch's physicality.  Wiltjer needs to get stronger, and he was out of position a couple of times, letting the ODU player get him on his hip.  He has to learn not to let a post player hold that position.  But overall, when you hold a team under 40%, can you really say that much bad about the defense?

Overall, the reason UK looked so bad in this game was primarily because of ballhandling miscues and poor officiating.  Another contributor was a lack of patience against the zone, but that can be forgiven at this point due to the fact that Calipari wants UK to get up shots quickly.  Against man-to-man defense, the first good, open look is a good shot, but against zone, you really want to be more patient, and UK was not really as patient as they needed to be.  But the technical execution was pretty good, except, too often, for the finish.  ODU's solid transition defense and deliberate offensive execution were also a factor in slowing the game down and limiting UK's transition opportunities.

All in all, this game looked uglier than it actually was, mostly because of how ODU played combined with turnovers and missed open shots.