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Kentucky Wildcats Morning Quickies: Movin’ On Up The Rankings Edition

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What’s in a ranking? Why is Kentucky ranked 6th by the AP, yet so poorly thought of by Ken Pomeroy’s stats and the ESPN BPI? All questions have answers, and this one is no different.

Auburn v Kentucky Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

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

The latest AP poll shows the Kentucky Wildcats threatening the top five, checking in at #6 this week. The disparity between this ranking and the rankings provided by possession-based statistics is one of the largest I’ve ever seen for a Kentucky team. KenPom has UK at #26 and BPI at #23.

What’s the cause of this? Well generally, possession-based models effectively spit out numbers based on the difference between points scored and points allowed per possession in their bottom-line rankings. In other words, teams that win a lot of close games will always wind up looking worse than teams that have a fair number of blowouts.

Some may question the efficacy of that, but possession-based systems don’t care about your heart, determination, teamwork and effort. They reduce basketball to numbers, because that is necessary in order to reach what these systems are designed to produce — win probabilities.

It’s easy to dismiss these types of results in favor of resume and eye-test ranking, but you do so at your peril. Teams that win a lot of close games also lose close games, as evidenced by Kentucky. In SEC play, UK has won exactly three games by as many as ten points, and their average losing margin in league is 6 points and over the whole season is under five points (4.6). Mitigating this point is the fact that UK has only lost five games so far all season.

So you can see that discounting early-season blowouts, which were unusually few in number and limited in magnitude for Kentucky this season, the difference between points scored and allowed all season has been pretty small. That’s always going to be reflected in possession-based systems, because in their essence, they are measurements of scoring margin.

What our eyes also tell us, and this also cannot be picked up by possession-based stats, is that Kentucky has let a fair number of large-margin victories turn into narrow ones due to late-game execution problems combined with coach John Calipari’s somewhat infamous tendency to protect leads by extending possessions late in games, often to the detriment of offensive efficiency. This leads to a lot of closer-than-it-should’ve-been games, and has a negative impact on efficiency margin.

The good news is that the Auburn game showed Kentucky’s much-improved late-game performance, resulting in low turnovers and a more comfortable final five minutes than we usually see. That improved late-game execution will be vital in the NCAA Tournament, where a lot of games wind up in contests over who executes best a crunch time and makes their free throws.

Is Kentucky #6 in the land? I think a fair case can be made for UK in the top ten, and that’s where they are. I can also make the case for them to be just outside the top ten, but in reality, it’s not that important. Suffice it to say that they are good enough to compete for all the marbles this year, and that’s enough.

Finally, some stupid for you courtesy of Pat Forde:

John Calipari got twitchy when a reporter mentioned the E-word—Evansville—Saturday, making excuses for a November loss to a team that went winless in the Missouri Valley Conference. If you want to know why the Wildcats are still lingering in the mid-20s in the Pomeroy Ratings and 14th in the NET, four spots behind 10-loss Arizona, what goes down as the worst loss by any ranked team has something to do with it.

Idjit. The Evansville loss has an insignificant impact on Pomeroy’s rankings of Kentucky, even though it was well-weighted against them as it should’ve been, although it does have a much bigger impact on the NET rankings. This is the kind of nonsense you write when you don’t know anything about your subject.

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”The inconsistency with what’s a foul and what’s not a foul in this Kentucky/Auburn game is maddening,” SEC basketball reporter Blake Lovell tweeted during Saturday’s game. “Makes SEC basketball a hard sell to the casual fan wanting to find an enjoyable game between some of the best talent in the sport.”

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