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Kentucky Wildcats Morning Quickies: Tigers and Wildcats Edition

The LSU Tigers visit Rupp Arena tonight trying to unseat mighty Kentucky in their house, but the Wildcats are ready for them.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, and welcome to the Tuesday Morning Quickies.

I have to say, it sure is nice being a Kentucky fan after the ups and downs and ups of this Wildcats men’s basketball team this season. It has been a fun ride, and expectations have been all over the place. But right now, this is a team that looks like a potential Final Four squad. It does not yet look like the best team in the country, however.

But ongoing improvement has been the rule this season, and it’s been a nice, almost smooth curve of improvement rather than the fits and starts we have seen in the past.

Tonight, it’s UK vs LSU. The Tigers this season are currently one of the best in the SEC, having lost only one game in conference just like the Wildcats. LSU has played a comparatively easier SEC and out of conference schedule, however, having faced only two teams inside KenPom’s top 20 – Houston and Auburn – while Kentucky has faced five and defeated four of them.

LSU plays at the highest pace of any SEC team and is 49th in the nation for pace of play. Kentucky will once again be able to control the tempo to their liking, as speeding up a team is much harder than the reverse. Let’s look at the two team’s Four Factors courtesy of KenPom.com, beginning with the offenses:

LSU Kentucky
eFG% 113.3 110.8
TO% 18.7 17.8
OR% 39.0 35.3
FTA/FGA 44.5 36.0

As you can see, Kentucky lags in most areas in SEC play. LSU has been the better offensive team by a small but significant margin. Kentucky does take slightly better care of the ball, but that’s about it.

Now, for the defense:

LSU Kentucky
eFG% allowed 101.5 90.1
TO% forced 21.9 21.6
OR% allowed 28.2 26.4
FTA/FGA allowed 34.6 28.4

What we see here is that UK is a significantly better defensive team. Not only is Kentucky’s DeFG% over 10 points per 100 possessions better, but it is better or equal in virtually every other aspect of defense.

In sum, LSU is slightly better offensively, while UK is significantly better defensively. That’s why KenPom favors Kentucky by 4 points, with a 79% statistical chance of victory.

But that’s all just stats and probability, and the game is played in the real world. Kentucky struggled defensively in Starkville against Mississippi St., mostly in the second half where MSU got hot from the perimeter. Kentucky can’t allow LSU to do that. Even though LSU is not a particularly good 3-point shooting team, they’ve made ten or more three pointers in four games this year, and nine or more ten times, with only one (an overtime loss to Florida St.) in the loss column.

So this is a classic case of where Kentucky must defend the three-point line and force LSU to put the ball on the floor. LSU takes about 5% more 3-point shots than Kentucky, which is not surprising since UK prefers to get more of their points in the paint.

Eleven in a row sure sounds nice. Let’s see if we can get that done.

Tweets of the Morning

Happy birthday, Bill. What a player.

And:

Your Quickies:

Kentucky football
Kentucky basketball

I want to believe, but I’m still not totally convinced. Virginia is awfully good. Gonzaga without Killian Tillie is probably a bit below where they were, so I might cop to them being in the second tier, although I think I’d rather wait and see how they deal with his loss first.

But I’d say that Jones’ argument is defensible.

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