UK Basketball: What’s Left To Say

“Failure is good. It’s fertilizer. Everything I’ve learned about coaching, I’ve learned from making mistakes.” ~ Rick Pitino

I will start off a post with a good Pitino fertilizing quote if I feel like it.  Its my post and you can’t stop me.  However, I have my boundaries.  I’m not going to come on here and take the cheap way out and tell you that Pitino “failed” all over that waitress or how good “failure” feels.  I will not make references like “it can take a lifetime to succeed; but a man only needs a few seconds to fail.”  I just won’t do it. You will have to go to TMZ for stuff like that.

While there are a million UK basketball or Big Blue Nation blogs and websites for your review that have already handed the trophy to the 2014/2015 Wildcats, I wanted to, instead, consider the alternative.

Let’s start with the remaining schedule: Through January 2nd, the Wildcats remaining opponents had a record of 100-50. That is good enough for the 72nd best winning  percentage out of the possible 351 possible teams. To give you a little perspective on that number, the opponents for each ACC team range from 145 wins to 124 wins.

Kentucky’s past opposition have won a combined 100 games for a .685 winning percentage (6th best).  If you are buying-in to early season victories, then clearly, the Wildcats have already completed the most difficult part of their schedule.  The smell test confirms that is in fact the case.  Only the opponents of VCU, McNeese St., Kansas, Grambling, and Long Beach St. have better winning percentages thus far in the season.

Kentucky leads the country in blocked shots with 107, Texas is second with 104.  Which is a big reason Kentucky also leads in team field goal percentage defense (29%), scoring margin (27.5) (Duke is 2nd, 24.7), and team scoring defense (47.8 per game).  Outside of those statistics, the Wildcats are not near the top in very many other categories.  They are 40th in points per game (75.3), 46th in field goal percentage (47.2%), 15th in assist turnover ratio, 227th in 3-point percentage, 238th in free throw percentage (66.2%), and tied for 83rd in fewest fouls.

In the 2013-2014 season, Louisville was 1st in scoring margin and Wichita State was 2nd. Uconn was 40th in scoring margin (they also finished 40th in scoring margin in 2010-2011), 31st in scoring defense and 13th in team field goal percentage defense.  On offense, Uconn averaged 71.8 points per game, 136th in field goal percentage (44.9%), and in free throw percentage (77.7).  I am not sure what any of that tells us other than that there hasn’t been any one method to beat UK teams of late.

This year’s Wildcat team is similar in many ways to the 2011-12 team that finished 38-2.  That 2011-12 team was actually slightly better at blocking shots and also led the country in scoring margin.  Those Cats from three years ago lost to Indiana in December and then were beaten again by Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament.  That Vanderbilt team led the country in 3-point shooting.  But a big note from that Vandy-UK game, the Wildcats were an abysmal 6 for 28 from the 3-point line.  They shot 10 more threes than Vanderbilt on that day.

Here is where you, as a UK basketball fan, are being cheated and your experience cheapened by Calipari’s refusal to reasonably reopen discussion about continuing the series with Indiana.  Anything that cheapens the experience and the history cannot be in UK’s best interests.   Despite being unranked, Indiana has a pretty good scoring offense and they knock down three pointers at a  pretty good rate.  They lead all big conference schools in 3-pt percentage.

Two of Indiana’s three losses came at Madison Square Garden against Louisville and more recently Georgetown.  It is very likely Kentucky would roll over Indiana; but we will never know unless they meet in the tournament.  If the Wildcats run the table on the remaining schedule, it will not include a regular season victory over Indiana as it would have any season from 1969 to 2012.  What a shame.

The Wildcats look pretty unbeatable because they have pretty much handled everyone on their schedule so far and the schedule moving forward looks to be pretty manageable.  The last time Kentucky played, they won 58-50 over Louisville.  The Cardinals attempted 8 more field goals than the Wildcats but went 3-14 from three point range while Kentucky went a season best, 6 for 14 from three.

Somewhere in the UofL matchup is the recipe to beat Kentucky.  It might be to limit their number of shots, force them to shoot and miss 3s, while knocking down your own 3s.  Doing all of those simultaneously may be impossible.  Prior to the Louisville game, Columbia had a similar plan, they shot 25 threes and made 8; but Kentucky had 12 more field goal attempts and escaped with a 10 point win. Likely no one on Kentucky’s remaining regular season schedule is going to be able to do all of the things necessary to beat them.

However, South Carolina poses some problems for Kentucky on defense and will likely be able to keep the Cats from running away with the game; but I just don’t see any way SC will be able to score enough to win and the game is set to be played at Rupp.

Florida probably has the best shot to hang a loss on Kentucky, out of their remaining scheduled opponents.  The Cats travel to Gainsville on February 7th.  While Florida currently sits at only  7-6, they were ranked pre-season #7 in the AP poll.  They have played the second toughest schedule of any SEC team outside of Kentucky (losses to Kansas, UNC, UConn, Georgetown, Miami, and Florida State).  A resume of losses is nothing to write home about; but the Gators are second in the SEC in 3-point attempts and 1st in the conference in 3-pointers made.  The tough non-conference schedule the Gators have played gives them the most experience to be able to pull an unlikely upset down in Gainesville.

Florida has played Kentucky (79 games) more than any other school in their 94 year basketball history.  The Gators beat Kentucky three times last season, including in the SEC tournament in Atlanta.  Since 2005, the Gators hold a 13-10 advantage over the Wildcats.  During that same stretch, Kentucky is 2-8 in Gainesville.  Florida’s longest winning streak against Kentucky was 7, from 2005 to 2008.  This time the fourth win in a row will be a little tougher to come by.

Kentucky’s remaining schedule:

01/06/15 vs. Ole Miss Lexington, Ky. 7:00 pm ET
01/10/15 at Texas A&M College Station, Texas 1:00 pm ET
01/13/15 vs. Missouri Lexington, Ky. 9:00 pm ET
01/17/15 at Alabama Tuscaloosa, Ala. 4:00 pm ET
01/20/15 vs. Vanderbilt Lexington, Ky. 9:00 pm ET
01/24/15 at South Carolina Columbia, S.C. 12:00 pm ET
01/29/15 at Missouri Columbia, Mo. 9:00 pm ET
01/31/15 vs. Alabama Lexington, Ky. 7:00 pm ET
02/03/15 vs. Georgia Lexington, Ky. 7:00 pm ET
02/07/15 at Florida Gainesville, Fla. 9:00 pm ET
02/10/15 at LSU Baton Rouge, La. 7:00 pm ET
02/14/15 vs. South Carolina Lexington, Ky. 2:00 pm ET
02/17/15 at Tennessee Knoxville, Tenn. 7:00 pm ET
02/21/15 vs. Auburn Lexington, Ky. 6:00 pm ET
02/25/15 at Mississippi State Starkville, Miss. 7:00 pm ET
02/28/15 vs. Arkansas Lexington, Ky. 4:00 pm ET
03/03/15 at Georgia Athens, Ga. 9:00 pm ET
03/07/15 vs. Florida Lexington, Ky. 2:00 pm ET
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