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Kentucky Basketball: Offensive Trends heading into the Stretch Run

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The calendar turns to February - the make or break month for teams across the country. It's a good time to check and see how the Wildcats have progressed in some of the offensive categories we've been tracking this season.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Previous Reports

If you've read any of the previous entries in this series you know what's what.  Let's get right to it.

Offensive Rebound Rate

2016UK_ORR_21games

Offensive Rebounding remains the best part of the Kentucky Offensive attack.  The Wildcats rank 10th in the country in OR% and no better than 69th (eFG%) in any of the other 4 Factors categories.  The percentage is dropping off, but as we can see from previous seasons that's perfectly normal for this time of year.

One way for UK to buck the trend would be for Marcus Lee to get his mojo (and minutes) back alongside Derek Willis.  Those two are leading UK in OR% in SEC games and getting Lee's minutes back up would go a long way to maintaining the high team rate instead of watching it drop any further.

Free Throw Attempt Rate

2016UK_FTR_21games

As Kentucky has become more perimeter oriented, the rate at which they get to the line has likewise fallen.  The Cats also haven't had many games recently in which the opponent was forced to foul to stop the clock - UK's recent wins have all come by large enough margins that there was no reason to do so. The drop has been quite rapid too - almost 8 attempts per 100 field goal attempts since the start of the season.

This is quite uncommon for Cal's teams - only the 2011 squad got to the line at a lower rate. That was another perimeter oriented team, but they excelled at shooting 3's to compensate for not having as many chances at free points.  This UK team is not going to shoot as well from outside, so reversing this trend is going to be a necessary component for elevating the offense going forward.

3 Point Shooting

2016UK_3PT_21games

Three point shooting still isn't good in an absolute sense, but it is getting better.  The Cats are shooting 32% on the season, and in SEC play that's up to 34%.  Increased minutes (and shots) for Derek Willis certainly helps.  Derek is shooting 41% on the season and 51.7% (!) in SEC games.  Nearly half his shot attempts have come in conference games too, so he is having a much greater impact on the team accuracy now than he was in November and December.

Jamal Murray continues to be good from distance as well.  Murray is shooting 37.4% on the season and 36.5% in SEC play - basically the same accuracy for all intents and purposes.  Tyler Ulis still has not regained his Freshman shooting touch (31.4% in SEC, 29.8% overall), but his FT% remains very good so I don't believe he's lost his touch.  Even just getting back to 35% or so consistently would be a boost for the team.

Free Throw Shooting

2016UK_FT_21games

Free throw shooting is down ever so slightly, but is mostly holding steady at 66.7% (67.1% in conference).  Many of Cal's previous teams were showing upward trends at this point in the season, maybe the newly reformed Breakfast Club will help?

What the Future Holds

Obviously there is no way to know what will happen in games until they are played, but given the combination of history and UK's performance-to-date, here is what I think will happen in a Big Picture sort of way in February and heading into the SEC Tournament:

  • Offensive Rebound % will continue to decline: History is too strong here and it doesn't look like Poythress, Lee, and Willis can play consistently well for more than a few games at a time.  We're going to continue to see some combination of 1 or 2 playing great and everyone else somewhere between average and invisible.  Skal doesn't even enter the discussion given his total and complete aversion to rebounding.
  • Free Throw Attempt Rate: I think this will rebound a bit.  We'll see more driving from the guards and in general more emphasis on getting the ball inside.  UK will also have more games where they enter the final minute with a 5-10 point lead, causing their opponent to foul to stop the clock.
  • 3 pt Shooting: The Cats aren't going to ever be good, but going forward most of the attempts will be concentrated with Murray, Willis, and Ulis leading to an overall better team percentage, something around 36% for the remaining games.
  • FT Shooting: This is who the Cats are.  They have a few good options in Ulis, Murray, and Willis for holding a late lead so they shouldn't be vulnerable to giving away games at the line.  Where this hurts most are the games like Kansas, where early misses cost the team a chance to either stay close or make a lead bigger.  We all hope a switch will flip for Briscoe and/or Lee, but it's foolish to count on it happening.