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Kentucky Basketball: Enjoy the Ride? Actually, This Year... Yeah.

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Coach Cal has no shortages of tag-lines, one-liners and generally corny marketing phrases. One of his favorites is telling fans to “enjoy the ride" and generally it goes in one ear and out the other, but this year... the man has a point

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone knew this year had the potential to be a special for the Big Blue Nation. I am not sure anyone thought it would be this good in November.  The obvious goal for the BBN is for this year's team to hang banner number nine.  Having said that, it may not happen. We all know that things can go awry on any single night.  Sometimes we fans get wrapped up in the accolades instead of the experience and this year has the potential to produce both.

Although a national championship cannot be written in ink for 2015, what can be counted on is a special season.  Barring a monumental collapse, this year's team is going to flirt with, break, or shatter several records by the time the final seconds tick off the clock.  I wanted to see where the 2015 version of the Wildcats may be heading so I took some time, dug through the record books, and compared them to some of the better teams in Kentucky basketball history.

It is certainly early in the season and we have tougher games to come, but the SEC is likely to have more games that inflate UK's stats vs. hurt them.  My point being that barring the aforementioned monumental collapse, the averages are likely to be similar or possibly better than now.

The statistic that is the least likely to continue is the scoring margin difference.  We are killing teams right now to the tune of 34.4 points per game.  This will not continue but it will not likely plummet by that much either.  In fact, during the modern period of college basketball (shot clock/three pointer), the biggest margin was 22 points by the 1996 "Untouchables."  This team has a great shot at beating that mark and they are currently out-pacing the all-time UK record of 30.2 set in 1947.

Scoring Margin
Year
Per Game Win Margin
2015
34.4
1947
30.2
1954
27.2
1952
26.9
1948
24.6
1949
23.2
1951
22.3
1996*
22
1946
20.9
1997*
20.3

* Shot Clock / Three Point Era

The recipe for a blowout and winning by 34 points per game is not just scoring; it also involves a strong defense.  This is where these ‘Cats have really proven dominant, the numbers do not lie and they paint a picture of championship defense.  For the majority of the analysis I looked at the teams from 1986 and on because it is a fruitless endeavor to compare teams before the shot clock and three-point shot.

There are many years in history where the Wildcats had a massively dominant rebounding margin, but you have to go back to the 60's and earlier to find them.  You will see below that during the modern era, the biggest rebounding differential was last season at +9.4.  Notice the years that follow, those four years produced two National Titles, one Runner-Up, and one Elite 8 that lost only three games all year.  Suffice to say that rebounding margin is a big deal and the fact that this year's team is on an absurd +14.4 pace, is pretty exciting.  They are also averaging more total rebounds per game than those teams also.

Rebounding
Year
Rebounding Margin
Per Game
2015
14.6
44.4
2014
9.4
40.2
1998
8.2
42.1
2010
8.1
41.7
2012
6.8
38.9

The statistic that leads to the most rebounding opportunities would be opposing field goal percentage.  Kentucky is only giving up 44.6 points per game; the crux of the reasoning is due to defense and rebounding.  Teams shoot poorly against them and they do not get second chances, simple formula.  The efficiency at which they are performing this combination is amazing.  Kentucky's opposing teams are shooting a frigid 28%.  For perspective, the 2012 title team was a full 9% higher at 37% and they were one of the historically great defensive teams.

FG % Defense
Year
Opp FG%
2015
28%
2012
37%

A significant reason for lower shooting percentages comes in the form of the ball not even getting to the rim.  Kentucky has been one of the best shot blocking teams in America under John Calipari and this year is not only the norm, they have taken it up a notch.  Kentucky is the biggest NCAA team in America this year and they are only bested by the Portland Trailblazers as the biggest organized team on the planet.  That is an impressive characteristic, but the product of that size is even more impressive, as seen below.  Can Kentucky average double digit blocks per game this year?

Blocks
Year
Blocks Per Game
2015
9.3
2012*
8.6
2010
7.2
2009
6.6
2013
6.5
2011
6.3
1998
6.2
*All-Time UK Record also

The ‘Cats only put up 58 points against Providence, but by and large scoring in college basketball has been down for years so it is unlikely we will see UK sniff the school record of 96 points per game.  We probably will not see them even match the '96 team's 91.4 per game.  I do think, however, the ‘Cats will average over 80 per game for the first time since 1998.

Points Per Game
Years
PPG
2015
79
1996
91.4
1990
88.8
*Not Pacing, but have not broke 80 PPG since 1998

We are all well aware of the talents of this group.  They are all great kids as well as ballplayers.  We only see talent like this assembled every few decades and we need to know what we are watching is special.  I plan to take every chance I can to enjoy this year and I hope everyone else will too, March should take care of itself.

In Addition: Below is a comparison of some of the best teams at UK in the last twenty years.
Year G FG% 3FG% FT% Rebounds Per Game Margin Assists Per Game Blocks Per Game Steals Per Game Points Per Game
1992-93 34 48.0% 39.4% 68.8% 40.1 6.0 19.6 4.7 9.5 87.5
1995-96 36 48.7% 39.7% 71.3% 41.7 5.9 21.8 4.9 12.1 91.4
1996-97 40 47.1% 36.9% 68.2% 39.4 5.2 19.4 5.1 12.0 83.1
1997-98 39 48.2% 36.7% 67.5% 42.1 8.2 17.7 6.2 8.7 80.1
2002-03 36 48.8% 35.6% 70.4% 36.8 5.8 15.9 4.9 7.8 77.3
2009-10 38 47.8% 33.1% 66.8% 41.7 8.1 15.1 7.2 7.3 79.3
2010-11 38 45.9% 39.7% 71.0% 37.4 3.6 12.7 6.3 5.6 74.9
2011-12 40 48.8% 37.8% 72.3% 38.9 6.8 13.3 8.6 6.1 77.4
2013-14 40 45.3% 33.2% 68.2% 40.2 9.4 11.2 5.9 4.7 74.8
2014-15 7 47.7% 32.3% 65.3% 44.0 14.6 17.1 9.3 8.7 79