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Kentucky Wildcats Morning Quickies: What’s in a Seed Line Edition

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Some Wildcats fans are concerned about recent bracketology showing Kentucky at a four seed. There’s a reason for that, and it boils down to a perspective by college basketball analysts that’s been over a decade in the making.

Florida v Kentucky Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, and welcome to the Thursday Morning Quickies. I’ll be your replacement host for today.

I want to briefly discuss all the sturm und drang over Kentucky’s projected seed in the NCAA Tournament. Last week, Joe Lunardi and others dropped UK a seed line despite significant victories on the road at LSU and versus Florida, and the Big Blue Nation reacted with outrage and scorn. Recent revisions have restored Kentucky to the three line, but that hasn’t reduced the restiveness of the Big Blue Nation much. I won’t be needlessly pointing out the obviously overblown nature of this reaction, but I will give a few thoughts on why this is, and try to make some sense of it all.

First of all, Kentucky’s overall efficiency on both sides of the ball is very pedestrian compared to an unusually high number of teams. Those same metrics that reliably predict outcomes repeatedly suggest that Kentucky should lose games they are winning. Looking at the metrics, and comparing them to the metrics of the competition Kentucky has been playing in the SEC make it easy to conclude that they are, at best, a four seed in the tournament. Another factor is that UK tends to under-perform late in games, making them much closer than they otherwise would’ve been. From a purely analytical standpoint, I agree with the analysts like Lunardi and others, who question Kentucky’s position.

But besides my partisan affiliation, the point that is being set aside, or at least minimized, is Kentucky’s relative success in difficult games — and I’m mostly talking true road games here.

Kentucky is 7-2 in true road games. For a team ranked as low as Kentucky is on the metrics (#27 currently on KenPom and 19 in the NET), that is unusually good. For just a couple of quick examples, Oregon (who is ranked above UK at 24 in KenPom) is 4-5 in true road games in a similar conference. Texas Tech, ranked 19th in KenPom, is 3-5 in a somewhat tougher one.

The reason UK is not better regarded is because of these metrics, and because of how they are winning games. But from my standpoint, when I see all these tough games reckoned originally as losses go down in the win column, I immediately begin to wonder why.

The why, of course, is that ratings systems and even records never tell the whole story of a team. For good or ill, a lot of conventional thinking is now revolving around possession-based metrics, a radical (and welcome) departure from only a decade ago. However, that thinking can have a tendency to reduce teams to numbers in the minds of analysts, and the usefulness and accuracy of these metrics often blinds them to the intangibles that don’t show up there.

Which brings us back around to Kentucky. UK is winning because, all season, it has gradually evolved. They are literally getting a little better as a team every game, and that small amount of improvement simply does not show up in the possession-by-possession statistics. But is has been enough to allow Kentucky to become progressively more successful in tough, competitive games.

So my eyes tell my brain that it is mistaken, and that Kentucky rightfully belongs on that three line, and has for some time. It’s hard to seed based on heart and guts these days, but when you look at UK this season, you see both in abundant measure. It may not be enough to get the Wildcats to the top of the mountain, but for me, this team is the kind of team that reminds me a great deal of 2011 with several overtime and close-game results reversed.

That season turned out pretty well...

Tweet of the Morning

The last three games SEC-wide have been huge for Kentucky, and not so sweet for their rivals.

And:

Haha! Awesome.

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In support of my point above:

Best of all, they keep winning. The current streak stands at seven. Eleven of the last 12. In mostly possession-by-possession games, they find ways to pull things out, or put things away.

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