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Kentucky Basketball: Defense Trends Heading into the Stretch Run

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We conclude our look at the progress the Wildcats have made this season, this time with the defense. Are the Cats trending in the right direction as they enter the final month of the regular 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.  The information here does not include the Tennessee game.

Block Rate

2016UK_BLKR_21games

The Wildcats are bucking history a bit with their shot blocking, holding steady around the 14.0% mark.  They are still on track to finish as John Calipari's worst shot blocking team at Kentucky, but that's relative - they have the 22nd best block rate in the country.  Derek Willis has been a big part of that, with a personal block rate of 4.5 in SEC play (13th best in the conference) helping to make up for Skal Labissiere's reduced minutes.

Opponent 2pt Shooting

2016UK_O2pt_21games

Two-point field goal defense has improved a bit, so that Cats are still doing okay inside the arc without blocking shots.  Overall their 2pt defense isn't as good as previous seasons, but most of that is due to the lower block rate:  their ability to force misses on unblocked shots is about the same as previous seasons.

Opponent 3pt Attempt Rate

2016UK_O3ptA_21games

Opposing teams are getting a few more threes up recently, but most of that increase has come from facing a few more 3-happy teams, notably Auburn, Alabama, and Vanderbilt.  Although Kentucky has been burned by hot perimeter shooting in their losses, they've done a good job overall at limiting those shots.

Opponent Assist Rate

2016UK_OAst_21games

Kentucky still leads the country in preventing other teams from getting assists, although they are no longer on pace for a record-setting mark in the category.  I'm not sure how much this is indicative of quality versus style in defense, but as I mentioned previously we should expect UK to do better than expected against teams that lack players who can get their own shots.  Unfortunately, we aren't likely to see many of those kinds of teams the rest of the year.

What the Future Holds

As with the offense, here's what I think we'll see over the next month in these areas.

  • Block Rate holds steady: With Willis contributing inside, Kentucky's bigs continue to do a good job protecting the basket.  Further improvement can be made if Skal plays well enough in the other facets of his game to earn more minutes.  Ditto for Lee.  The Cats have guys who are capable, it's just a question of them staying on the floor to show it.
  • 2pt Defense remains constant: There's only so good this can be without more blocks, so it's not going to get better unless that area improves (see above).  I don't think it will get worse - the underlying performance on unblocked shots isn't out of the ordinary, so they should be okay.
  • 3pt Attempt Rate goes up: Most of the remaining teams attempt threes at an average or above rate, so even with the Cats holding them down this is bound to go up some more.
  • Assist Rate goes up: Kentucky's upcoming opponents like to share the ball.  Even if the Cats hold them below their average, it will still likely be high enough to increase the season average.  It won't mean Kentucky's gotten worse, just that their opponents have gotten better.