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Kentucky Basketball: Defensive Trends at the Start of SEC Play

With conference play starting this Saturday we continue our check-in with Wildcats' statistical trends. Today we see what has changed defensively since early December.

Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope you all had a good time celebrating the hanging of a new calendar.  If you haven't already, be sure to check out yesterday's article focused on the offense.

Block Rate


A little bit of improvement!  This still looks to be Calipari's worst shot blocking team since 2011, but they are trending in the right direction.  And no, the improvement is not solely due to Tyler Ulis owning Quentin Snider last Saturday.  Ulis does have 2 blocks now on the season: one against Duke and one against Louisville.  Something about the ACC must get his dander up.

This is still basically a 3 man show between Marcus Lee, Skal Labissiere, and Alex Poythress.  Skal has struggled in a lot of ways recently, but he does have 6 blocks in his last four games, so he's still contributing a bit in that area.

Opponent 2pt Shooting


The additional blocks have resulted in a slight decrease in accuracy inside the arc for opponents, but not by much (0.2 percentage points).  For all intents and purposes the Cats have held steady in this area, which is actually pretty good.  You can see that most of the previous UK teams had already started to slip in this area as competition got better, so although the 2016 Cats are starting from a higher percentage allowed than those teams, at least we aren't seeing things get worse.

Opponent 3pt FG Attempt Rate


A recurring trend: the Cats still do not allow opposing teams to get open looks at the arc.  Three of their last four games have come against teams that take an above average fraction of their shots from beyond the arc, so it's not like they are facing teams that want to go to the rim.  Kentucky's guards and general quickness in the lineups Cal puts on the floor are doing their job chasing opponents off the line and into shots that aren't worth as many points.

If this aspect of the defense continues to be strong - and history suggests that it can - then the relatively worse 2pt defense might actually be worth the trade off.   I would have to do some additional investigation to figure out what the break-even point is, but it's not hard for me to imagine a scenario in which the Cats are a bit worse than usual defending around the basket, but are so good at preventing threes that the overall effect on the defensive numbers is a good one.

Opponent Assist Rate


Opponents are only getting an assist on 35.7% of their made shots this year.  That is the #1 defensive mark in the nation and if it continues it would blow away the previous season low in this category (38.3% by Presbyterian in 2012).  Once again, the actual importance of this category defensively is rather dubious, but at least UK is #1 in something!

Actually, this goes hand in hand with UK's general strength in preventing 3's.  Roughly 90% of made 3's result in an assist, so preventing a lot of 3pt attempts limits a source of easy assists for opposing teams.  This is just more evidence that Kentucky's defensive plan this season - even more so than usual - is to run teams off the 3pt line and force them to get their shots one-on-one.


Not much has changed in the last four games, at least in these areas.  Three of the last four opponents have been decent-to-good high major teams, so just holding steady is pretty good.  We'll check back in again once UK has played a good number of conference games.