Sorry for the lateness of this postmortem, the time difference between Las Vegas and the East Coast is partly to blame, and my lack of ability to stay up late is the other part. At this point, though, I’m sure you get the idea that this game was very similar to every other game that Kentucky has played this season, both in terms of how it was played and the ultimate result.
I want to again make clear, in case I didn’t earlier, that I was very impressed by Ed Cooley’s team. They not only play very hard, but they are a sharply-executing team that owes this defeat mainly to the fact that Kentucky is vastly more talented at every spot, and that Providence, while excellent, is not a deep team that can withstand the two-headed monster that is Kentucky. They resisted very well for half the game, but the dept of the Wildcats and inexorable grid of their defensive pressure got into the legs of the Friars, and when that happens, the result is almost inevitable.
Kentucky did not play particularly well in this game offensively, but offense has never been their calling card — defense has. This game was no exception, and went exactly according to every other Kentucky game we have seen this season. The offense was a little less efficient, but other than that, it was as predictable as the sunrise.
What can you say about a defense that holds a top 25 opponent to an eFG% of 0.70? That’s more than impressive, that’s demoralizing.
The Friars rebounded well offensively against Kentucky.
The most impressive thing about this game, and to a significant extent overall, is how many turnovers they force. We are just not used to seeing this kind of aggressive, on-ball defense at Kentucky, and the reason we are seeing it is because of the depth this season’s team possesses. Forcing a veteran team into 25% turnovers is absolutely noteworthy.
Notice that the free throw rates are similar. I think we’ll see this more often than not this season due to the aggressive nature of the defense. A 30% free throw rate is not bad at all, but since UK only made 47% of those shots, it’s not good enough.
I’m a touch surprised that Kentucky allowed the Friars to rebound so well. It didn’t help them, of course, because the Wildcats’ defense was typically impenetrable.
The 1.07 points/ possession offensive efficiency is tied for Kentucky’s worst all season — with the game against the Buffalo Bulls. It’s interesting how those two games mirror each other, with the opponent close or ahead at the half and getting held to sub-20 point halves in the second.
On this point, Kentucky really needs to improve its offensive efficiency. From where this team takes most of it’s shots, effective field goal percentages of sub-50% are, if not quite alarming, certainly frustrating.
- Three-point shooting continues to be a concern.
We continue to see excellent assist rates out of this team, a sign that they haven’t gone away from the team philosophy.
13% turnovers will put a smile on my face every time. The thing is, it could be better if these guys would just make the simple pass. But honestly, complaining about 13% turnovers in a 20-point victory is a new level of anal retentive.
Andrew Harrison had a great game in a string of very good ones. He should have had at least 2 more assists to go with the official 4, and he was great with the ball. Andrew is becoming exactly what we had all hoped he would become at the point, and his on-ball defense is getting better and better. Game ball.
Willie Cauley-Stein is an honorable mention for the game ball and had a terrific game. He was a nightmare defensively, as he always is, and just hounded LaDonte Henton into abject futility. I thought he missed a few too many shots for him.
Tyler Ulis was terrific defensively, and adequate offensively. It’s rare when I point out that Ulis has less than 3 assists, but he did today, being credited with only 1. He didn’t have a turnover, though.
Alex Poythress had a kind of typical game for him. He was menacing on both sides of the ball, but didn’t quite explode. Probably recovering from the bug still, he still looks a bit wan and gaunt to me.
Karl-Anthony Towns played well, but his free throw shooting has got to get better. There is no excuse for him, he has a pure stroke and should be shooting 85% or better. I think his conditioning is still a bit below par.
I loved the game Marcus Lee played yesterday. Both his blocks were "Meet you at the rim, good luck!" kind of dominant rejections. I’d like to see a little better rebounding out of him.
Aaron Harrison continues his season-long struggle. I hope he snaps out of it soon. 4 assists are noteworthy, though, and he played some point.
Tying it all up
Kentucky is showing extreme consistency in their level of defense. As the quality of the opponent goes, up, you see the opponent shooting percentages rise slightly, but as of this moment, Kentucky has yet to give up as many as 1 point per possession. In fact, they have yet to give up 0.9 ppp. If they keep this up, the will be the best defensive team in the Ken Pomeroy advanced stats era by a wide margin, and may be the best defensive college basketball team in my memory. Other will have to help me if we wish to extend the accolades to "ever."
In any event, Kentucky is proving every game that they have established their team identity almost from the opening tip, and that identity, simply stated, is "Unselfish, defense-first team basketball." There is perhaps no better way to define a basketball team in the modern game, and I would take that for a mission statement from every Kentucky team from today forward.
There is very little about this team that can be legitimately criticized other than their offensive execution, 3-point and free throw shooting. All those things should get better as the season moves on, which only makes it harder to see who, and how, sends this team down to a defeat. I am not inclined to join the "nobody can beat them!" crowd yet, but you have to give credit where it is due — to the extent that the basketball commentariat and fans are saying that, it has been well and truly earned to this point.