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Wildcats Basketball: Previewing Kentucky vs. Indiana, Analytically Speaking

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It is a battle of blue-bloods for the right to survive the opening weekend of March Madness, how do the teams matchup?

Kentucky and Indiana both disposed of their opponents in impressive fashion.  Now they face off for a shot to move to the sweet 16.  The game is tomorrow at 5:15 on CBS and is likely to be the marquee match-up of the day for the tournament.

There are quite a few parallels to the programs this year that we will get into, but the immediate realization is that both teams are exceptional on offense, both teams are under-seeded, and both teams have All-American Point Guards leading them.

Before we get into it, let's look at how the two programs stack up historically.

Kentucky is arguably the greatest college basketball program in history, and Indiana is a top-10 program.  To get to see these two go at it in the round of 32 is a treat for college basketball fans.

Undoubtedly, the matchup that will draw the headlines and drive the conversation, before and during the game, is going to be the two point guards playing; Tyler Ulis and Yogi Ferrell.

Ferrell and Ulis will go directly at each other and the winner of that matchup will likely play a significant part in who wins the game.

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The only people who will give IU the advantage here will be IU fanboys.  Ferrell is a great player, but he is a notch below Ulis in every category except for less than 1 rebound per game.

Ulis notoriously rises to the challenge, and the challenge of playing head-to-head with Ferrell (a player some may consider to be better than him) is going to be a big driving factor for Ulis.

I feel that a significant determining factor in 'Yogi vs. Ulis' (other than the turnovers) is the defense SEC Defensive Player of The Year Tyler Ulis will bring to the table.  Ferrell will not provide a formidable D, but you can put money on it that Ulis will absolutely hound Ferrell and pester him all night.

So, what can we expect from the team flows as it concerns their season's performance:

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There is a really good shot this is going to be a barn-burner on offense. Both teams are top-10 in KenPom offensive efficiency and both teams have been scoring a lot of points lately.  Anytime you have a team coming into their own and they have all the offensive parts, it is a beautiful thing.

Now put two teams doing that on the court together (who are both suspect defensively), and it has the makings of potential ridiculousness.  You can go all the way down that list, tit-for-tat on who has the advantage.

  • Both Teams score around 80 per game
  • Both Teams win by 10+ in victory
  • Both Teams have a lot of assists per game
  • Both Teams rebound at a similar clip (and mirror each other in offensive boards)
  • Indiana is a better shooting team, but a lot of that is due to Kentucky's early woes dragging their % down
  • Kentucky does turn the ball over less, which could be a big factor if UK can turn the Hoosiers over a lot.
Bottom Line: This is going to be an exciting offensive game to watch

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Defensively, both teams are very much alike as well.  They are #65 and #69 respectively (I guess?) in KenPom defensive efficiency.

Much like on the offensive end, you can go tit-for-tat trying to figure out who has the advantage.

  • Both Teams give up 68 points per game
  • Both Teams give up just over double digit offensive rebounds per game
  • Both Teams are literally exact matches on defensive rebounds per game
  • UK Blocks about a shot and a half more per game, but IU steals nearly the same clip more than UK
  • Because of those blocked shots, Kentucky gives up a lower effective FG% per game though.
There is not much that jumps off the page that should scare either team to be honest, this game is going to come down to the Jimmies and the Joes *and* the X's and the O's performance on THIS given night.

THE JIMMIES AND THE JOES


We have already looked at the point guard position, so where do the other units come into play and who do we see as being a notch above or below?

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You can see from the above that as you go down the list, the more it goes from advantage UK to advantage IU. It is unlikely that Ulis or Ferrell will out perform one another by a significant margin, so I do not see one or the other winning the game on their own, but if one can push past the other, the pendulum will swing HEAVILY toward that team.

While UK has to avoid a Ulis letdown, IU absolutely CANNOT absorb or overcome a bad effort from Yogi.  Considering those games are few and far between, we should see the normal Ulis... which is a great thing.

Where Kentucky can really make a dent in this match-up and control the game is with Murray/Briscoe vs. the other members of the IU backcourt.  You can see that those two are simply the best of that group of 4.

I think if UK can get just a solid game from Willis, that will be the X-factor in this game (shocker, I know, the season X-factor will also be the X-factor against IU).  Just like most teams we have played, there really is not a match for Willis, being that stretch-4 is a big advantage for UK.  If he can hit a few threes, and grab 5+ rebounds it will exponentially increase Kentucky's chances to win (assuming everyone else performs of course).

In other shocking news, it is going to be the front-court that could provide the biggest swing for UK.  If Poythress shows up (not off picking daisies)... and Skal continues his strong post season play; lookout... it could be a double digit win for UK.

The other side of the coin is that Alex is absentee, Skal reverts to mid-season form, and Marcus F. Lee (F for foul) shows up... well, Thomas Bryant and Troy Williams could have a field day and offset any advantage that Murray, Briscoe, and Willis give.

Ultimately the formula to beat The Hoosiers is not any different than it is for UK to win any other game they have played this season:
  • Do NOT let Indiana lose their mind from Three
  • Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray have to be the normal Ulis and Murray
  • Get a normal to above average game from Derek Willis (10 points 5+ rebounds)
  • The Good Version of Poythress makes the trip
  • Skal and Lee continue their normal offseason play.
If UK follows the above... I think we win pulling away at the end.  If you take one of those away and it will be a nail-biter and could go either way, take 2 of those away and it might be trouble time, take three away and see ya next year.


THE Xs AND THE Os


I thought this might be a no-brainer, and truth be told it really is, but there seems to be a few people out there who have lost their mind and think Tom Crean is a better coach than John Calipari.  That is not a typo, of course the IU delusional think it, but there are a few out there who are drinking the spiked Kool-Aid apparently

First off, I have to submit the ridiculousness that is Tom Crean.  Not just his mediocrity on the court, but his off-the court goofy moments.

Now, let's have a bit more of a laugh by looking at how the two coaches compare with their on-court production.  I know that Calipari has 7 years on Crean, but short of Crean going undefeated the next seasons, it is not even worthy of more than a 2-3 minute discussion.

CONCLUSION

This is going to be a fantastic game to watch as a fan of college basketball, however, it is going to be a miserable nail-biting intense viewing session for die-hard fans of each team.

It is going to be a game of guard play leading the way, and likely A LOT of exciting plays that will make the 'One Shining Moment' reel.

Kentucky is a 3-point favorite and IF... IF they play the good version of their game, UK should win.  If UK plays their A-Game, it could be a double digit victory and a message sender.

Having said all of that, Indiana is a damn good team this year and they could beat us if they go off from three and can somehow prevent Jamal Murray from having one of his NBA Jam 'HE'S ON FIRE!' halves.

I like the 'Cats to win going away in a high scoring affair.  Something to the tune of 88-78 with UK pulling away at the end on free throws and on the back of a big game from Derek Willis.