The question all year for this iteration of the Kentucky Wildcats has been the same all season long: What is the identity of this team?
Fans have been unable to get a real feel of what exactly this team can be all season. One reason is because of the lack of a superstar player (Kevin Knox is supposed to be that guy, and before the WVU game he was leaning more on the Skal side than not), and the other is the lack of an offensive identity.
So, what I tried to do is open up the stat folder to answer this question. This is what the numbers told me.
Lockdown on the Perimeter
Kentucky’s best asset defensively this year has been the ability to defend the three-point shot. They ‘Cats have allowed only 28.8% of opponents three-point shots to go in, ranking 4th in the entire nation.
Living at the Charity Stripe
Kentucky is a terror for opponents inside of the arc, and nothing is more impressive than the rate the ‘Cats get to the line. Kentucky is 12th in the nation in free throw attempts, and 22nd in the country in free throws made.
Floaters, Layups, and Dunks
Drawing the amount of fouls Kentucky does comes from the abundance of shots from two-point range. Ranking 34th in the nation in two-point shots attempted, the ‘Cats are even better in putting the ball in the basket sitting at 26th in the country in two-point shots made.
Field Goals Coming Up Wildcats
When it comes to making and defending field goals, few teams can stand toe-to-toe (or paw-to-paw) with the Wildcats. Kentucky is 51st in field goal percentage offensively, while defending the basket to the tune of 40.6%, which is good for 34th in the nation.
While UK has been questionable at times defensively nobody questions their size and length as a team. This reflects in their ability top block shots registering a whopping 118 blocks so far this year, ranking 21st in Division 1 college basketball.
Those are the best trends of Kentucky’s season so far. Now, let’s look at the worst.
One, Two… What’s After Two?
You don’t have to be a mathematician to see that Kentucky hasn’t shot the three well this season. In fact, they haven’t really shot the three at all. The ‘Cats are fourth to last in the entire nation in three-point attempts, with only 317 tries on the year.
They have only made 111 threes on the year, good for 339th in the nation. Kentucky is average in their conversions of the shots, hovering around 35% from beyond the arc. Only Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, New Orleans, Morgan State, and High Point shoot less threes than Kentucky.
Free Throws Ain’t Free
Kentucky is one of the top teams in the nation at getting to the line. The only problem is, they can’t capitalize once they get there. This is typical of Cal teams, and this year is no different. Kentucky has made only 69.2% of their free throws so far, which is 240th in the country. Yeah, not very good.
That’s Just Offensive
Kentucky is downright at keeping offenses off the glass. The Wildcats have given up 268 offensive rebounds on the year, which is the 322nd best rate in the country. Being the 322nd best in a field of 351 teams isn’t typically good.
In fact, Kentucky has three less offensive rebounds than the 268 they’ve given up. This has to improve by tournament time in order to limit opponents’ extra possessions.
Room For Improvement
Though not terrible, Kentucky could stand to force some more steals and limit their turnovers (227th and 214th in the nation, respectively).
In conference stats (so far):
On the plus side:
· 1st in 2PA, 2nd in 2PM, 3rd in FG%
· 2nd in DREB
· 3rd in Defensive FG%
· 1st in 3PT%
· 2nd fewest blocks given up, 3rd fewest defensive rebounds given up
On the down side:
· Last in the conference in 3PM, 3PA, Assists, Field Goal Attempts allowed
· 2nd to last in FGA, 2P% allowed
· 12th in free throw percentage
· Given up 106 offensive rebounds in conference play
The Twilight Zone
Here’s one thing that caught my eye: teams are terrible shooting free throws against the ‘Cats. Teams make free throws at a 67.7% in conference against Kentucky, which is the worst mark (meaning great for Kentucky) among SEC teams.
Poor Riley LaChance.
This also translate on the national scale, as teams have only converted 67.9% of their free throws against Kentucky, which is the 34th worst (again, good for Kentucky) mark in the nation. Pretty bizarre.
What is the identity of this team? The funny thing is that this team is much like any Cal team he’s ever had. They defend well, they score most of their points around the rim, and they get to the line. A lot. Without Jemarl Baker the ‘Cats haven’t had their three-point sniper a la Doron Lamb, Devin Booker, etc.
The lack of a true go-to option has made it difficult to believe they can overcome deficits in crunch time, but that is steadily becoming less of an issue. This team (still) needs some more time, but with everyone sans Jemarl Baker and Tai Wynyard finally healthy, this team has a chance to mold together and become the juggernaut we all expect and hope they can be.
(As of 2/2/18, Statistics retrieved from sports-reference.com/cbb)