Okay, the stats are out and its time for a careful review of the game today between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Buffalo Bulls. Despite the fact that there are a lot of things to be frustrated with, particularly in the first half, the second half was an impressive effort, and that deserves to be pointed out. It’s easy for Kentucky fans to get caught up in games where Kentucky underperforms, and this was arguably one of them. At the same time, we are required to evaluate not only the first half, but also the second.
Again, I want to nod approvingly in the direction of the Buffalo Bulls, who really brought it today. There is a trite and shopworn phrase by John Calipari that Kentucky is everybody’s super bowl, and while that has a strong kernel of truth in it, it is also a subtle pejorative directed at our worthy opponents that I consider a little unfair. These teams come in not just to play Kentucky, but to also do their best in competition. Imputing an extraordinary effort to them because of who we are is unfair to them — I’m sure these guys endeavor to bring their best every game.
So, to the Wildcats. As we’ll see below, there were some good things, and some bad things. But what is not generally evaluated in statistical analysis is the difference between halves, and I’ll endeavor to add commentary pointing out the differences as we proceed.
15% steals is extraordinary for a Calipari-coached team. To give a recent example, last season, Kentucky wound up the year with only 7.1% steals, and the most UK has ever had was back in 2010 with 10.4%. If this team can average double-digits steals percent this season, they are going to beat everybody. Right now, UK is at 13.4% after 2 games.
3-point shooting continues to be a problem. One of the reasons the Bulls gave us such difficulty is that they were able to pack-line and zone us at will. If UK had made more threes, that would have broken down the Bulls defense.
I thought the offensive rebounding would not be that great, but I was wrong. 51% is a very satisfactory number, and 79% DR is really good. The Wildcats rebounded just fine.
21% turnovers is no good. No good at all. It had a major effect on efficiency, which was a meager (competition considered) 1.08 points/possession. That’s what you’d expect to have against very high Division I teams, not the Buffaloes of the world.
46% field goal shooting on a team loaded with 7 footers is disappointing. UK missed a ton of point-blank shots, once again. This was also a problem last season.
65% free throw shooting is roughly the floor that this team needs to shoot. You don’t want to be down this low.
Assist percentage of 68% is much better than last game. The ballhandling sucked, but the extra passes were there today. Very happy with that. Kentucky had only 6 assists in the first half, but they had 11 in the second
Consider this: Kentucky allowed 38 points in the first half and 14 in the second.
Kentucky had 10 turnovers in the first half and 4 in the second, mostly due to back-court pressure.
Kentucky had 3 steals in the first half and 7 in the second.
Tyler Ulis was outstanding. He was 4-5 from the field, all threes, had 6 assists and zero turnovers. Game ball
Willie Cauley-Stein played a good game other when he shot it. He was only 3-6 from the floor, and from where he shoots it, that’s no good. But 10 rebounds, 4 assists, a block and 2 steals shows he still stuffed the stat sheet.
Aaron Harrison continues to miss open threes. If he can’t shoot, he has a limited impact on the game, although he did have three assists and zero turnovers.
Alex Poythress was completely useless in the first half, but in the second he was a holy terror on both ends of the floor, and particularly on defense.
Andrew Harrison had only 18 minutes and one assist, along with a turnover. He was really ineffective today.
Karl-Anthony Towns had one of those days you’d like to forget, and fouled out. He was 1-5 shooting the ball and missed a free throw. He did rebound pretty well with five boards in only ten minutes of action.
Dakari Johnson was excellent other than shooting the ball, where he once again missed way too many layups. But he ran the floor well and rebounded like a full-grown man, getting 12 boards, 4 blocks a seal and 3 assists.
Trey Lyles had a very fine game. He made his 2-point shots, made his free throws, rebounded and assisted and made a big three. He had a team high 3 turnovers, though, but still, this was a really good effort from the true freshman.
Devin Booker was invisible in the first half except for turnovers and missed shots, but he came back in the second half, shut down his man, and wound up 3-4 from 2-point range and made all his free throws. He also had 2 steals.
Marcus Lee was up and down. He was only 1-5 shooting, but he had 4 offensive rebounds in his 5 rebound total.
Tying it all up
This may be platitudinous, but it was a tale of two halves for Kentucky — the first half was one in which Kentucky came out with no passion, no energy, and tried to cruise along. The Bulls noticed this, and just outplayed their more talented opponent, and hoped to parlay that effort into an upset.
In the second half, Kentucky came out with energy and attack, and before you could get settled into your easy chair, they had eliminated the five-point deficit and put forth their talent in a focused and competitive way. From then on, the smaller, less talented Bulls just could not re-create the kind of sharp execution they produced in the first stanza, Kentucky's back-court pressure turned them over, and the worm turned. By the middle of the second half, Kentucky had pushed the lead out to eight or nine points and never looked back.
Calipari is said to have desired some adversity, and if so, I suspect he got what he wanted today. Kentucky was equal to the task, but it pales in comparison with their next contest against fellow blueblood, the Kansas Jayhawks, in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis on Tuesday.