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Kentucky Basketball: Offensive Trends At the Quarter Mark

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats under John Calipari have fallen into a rough cycle of alternating between elite teams followed by less-elite but still good squads.

The current iteration of the Wildcats finds itself in the latter category - a good collection of talent, but not on the same level as their 2010, 2012, or 2015 counterparts. In many ways that makes them more interesting to analyze.

The elite Kentucky teams were so obviously good that analysis of the "why" and the "how" was more about appreciation than answering questions.  In contrast, there are a number of question marks about this year's squad that are worth considering, even if we won't have answers until later in the season.

We are (at the time of writing) 8 games into the season: exactly 25% of the way through the regular season schedule and slightly over halfway through the non-conference schedule.  The Cats have played a variety of good teams across several levels of college basketball and we've started to get a sense of their identity. We're going to take a look at how they are performing in some notable areas alongside previous Wildcat squads as a way to provide some context.

Today we'll look at the offense, with defense covered Friday.

Writers note: All stats in this article were compiled prior to the EKU game.

Offensive Rebound Rate


Coach Cal is excellent at adjusting his offensive scheme to match his personnel, but offensive rebounding is always an important component of the Wildcat attack plan.  The 2016 Wildcats are off to a good start on that end of the floor, as you can see in the chart.

They are squarely in the middle of what previous teams have done at this point in the season, which is actually pretty remarkable when you consider that Skal Labissiere is only grabbing a pathetic 6.4% of available offensive rebounds when he is on the floor.  Marcus Lee is grabbing 21% (5th in the country) while Alex Poythress is getting 12.5% (121st) to lead the team.

For that reason I think Kentucky will stick around the 40% mark for the season.  Lee and Poythress have always been good in this area so there is little reason to expect them to fall off, and as Skal gets more acclimated to the college game his rebounding will improve.  Some of that improvement is going to come at the expense of Poythress and Lee in terms of who grabs the ball, but Skal is going to start getting his share of rebounds that would otherwise go to the other team and that's going to keep the success rate up even as the competition stiffens.

Free Throw Rate


Getting to the line is another big component of Cal's teams: Kentucky has finished in the top 55 in free throw rate every year except 2011 (219th).

So far so good this year, although the renewed emphasis on freedom-of-movement this season adds some murkiness to the numbers.  We only need to look at 2014 to see what happens when Points of Emphasis are disregarded in January and February.

Still, with Jamal Murray, Isaiah Briscoe, and Tyler Ulis driving to the basket as a principle part of the offense, I think  the Wildcats will stay above the 40.0 mark that has characterized most of the previous years.  If the officials really do continue to call the game the way they are told, this team will have a very good chance to finish with the second best rate behind 2014.

3 Point Shooting


It's no secret that long-distance accuracy has been an issue this year.  That's come as something as a surprise as a lot of us thought perimeter shooting would be a real strength.  Jamal Murray is shooting a solid 35.6%, but he's the only one who can claim that honor.

In a pleasant coincidence, Ken Pomeroy just wrote about Villanova and their stunning run of bricks to start the season.  The "Other" Wildcats have shot just as poorly as Kentucky this season (28.4% to 28.5%), but as Pomeroy notes, there's almost no chance that Nova is really as bad as they've shown.  The same argument applies in part to Kentucky - Ulis is not going to shoot 26.9% this year and there is almost no chance that Briscoe is truly a 23.1% shooter from behind the arc.  Still, this probably is not going to turn out to be a good 3pt shooting team.

FT Shooting


The other early point of consternation has been free throw shooting.  The Cats' 67.6% mark is pretty much in line with what they've done through 8 games in previous seasons however, so I don't think there is anything to worry about at this point.

Whether Kentucky gets better from the line or not is, historically, a toss-up.  Three of Cal's teams got better as the season progressed while the other three pretty much "were who they were" after 8 games.  The difference maker this year is going to be Briscoe.  Isaiah plays a style that is going to draw a lot of fouls and he simply has to improve on that 41.2% mark from the line.  If he can get that up to around 70% he's going to be very difficult to stop.

Worth noting: the three teams that got better from the line rank in top 4 under Cal.


In many respects Kentucky is precisely where they should be offensively at this point in the season.  The rebounding and free throw opportunities are in a good place.  The shooting less so, but the hope for improvement is accompanied by some evidence to believe it will in fact happen.  This season is going to be a journey so we'll check back in with these areas at the start of SEC play.