Kentucky currently has the nation’s 21st ranked offense in the country, according to KenPom, but UK’s offense is looking even better than that in its first two NCAA Tournament games.
The Wildcats scored 1.11 points per possession (PPP) against Davidson. They followed up that performance with 1.28 PPP against Buffalo on their way to a fifth straight Sweet 16 appearance.
The Wildcats’ Round of 32 performance was just shy of one of the top five offensive efficiency performances of the last 10 years of NCAA Tournament performances under John Calipari.
There is a vast difference between the team we are seeing now in March and the version we saw earlier in the year. In non-conference play, Kentucky raced out to 1.17 PPP in transition and early offense.
Once the Wildcats settled into their halfcourt offense, they put up 1.03 PPP. For comparison’s sake, these non-conference statistics mirrored the 1.21 the 2016-17 De’Aaron Fox led Cats put up in early offense and the exact 1.03 PPP last year’s team scored in the later stages of the shot clock.
However, Kentucky’s offense took a dip this season once the competition level stepped up in conference play. In the early slate of SEC games (read: through Kentucky’s four game losing streak), the Wildcats still managed 1.15 PPP in early offense, but after 10 seconds ticked off the shot clock Kentucky struggled to find the basket.
In seconds 11-30 of the possession, UK scored just 0.96 PPP and put up just a 46.1 percent effective field goal percentage. So what changed once the Cats started clicking?
Since Kentucky arrived in Boise, the Cats have increased to 1.18 PPP in early offense, but are even more efficient with 1.23 PPP once settling into a halfcourt offense. Most notably, Kentucky is crashing the offensive boards, grabbing over 45 percent of its misses and are turning the ball over on less than 16 percent of possessions.
Those sound like Final Four statistics to me.
If Kentucky continues to take care of the ball (15.93 turnover percentage in late offense), rebounds nearly half of its misses (45% offensive rebounding percentage late in the shot clock), and continues to shoot an effective field goal percentage of just less than 60 percent in halfcourt offense, the Wildcats will continue to survive and advance.
Calipari’s team is fielding an efficient offensive unit in the NCAA Tournament regardless of when they shoot in the shot clock. Earlier this season, Kentucky was efficient in transition, pushing the pace at every opportunity, but the Wildcats struggled once they slowed up and ran a halfcourt set.
The increased efficiency later in the shot clock here in March shows the patience and growth of this team. Kentucky is running over 60 percent of its possessions in a halfcourt set, and based on the efficiency numbers from the opening weekend, it will take an incredibly hot shooting opponent or staunch opposing defense to keep the Wildcats from San Antonio.