Saturday, November 24, 2012

Kentucky 104 - 75 Long Island U. (No. 2,094)

OK, so the Cats have now played five games, and they have a huge game coming up next Thursday on the road at Notre Dame.  So this is a pretty good time to step back and see how we're doing.

Let's start with the team itself.  Here are the minutes-per-game for our major players.  (Please note that I'm not including Ryan Harrow in any of these statistics, as he has only played 10 minutes all year, and hasn't appeared in a game since the Maryland game.  We also haven't included Twany Beckham, who has only played 4 minutes this year due to injury):

Archie Goodwin:  34.2
Julius Mays:  33.0
Nerlens Noel:  31.4
Alex Poythress:  30.0
Kyle Wiltjer:  24.8
Willie Cauley-Stein:  20.8
Jerrod Polson:  18.4
Jon Hood:  6.3

As usual, Coach Calipari is giving most of the playing time to his starters, although Polson is getting quite a bit of action as the third guard.  Cauley-Stein appears to be the primary sub for Wiltjer, as Cal has spent quite a bit of time on a "Twin Towers" lineup featuring Noel and Cauley-Stein.

Here's everyone's shooting percentages:

Goodwin:  52.7 percent on field goals, 71.4 percent on 3-point shots (5-7), 69.6 percent on free throws
Mays:  39.5 percent from field, 35 percent on 3-pointers (7-20), 88.9 percent from line
Noel:  62.5 percent from field, no 3-pointers taken, 52.2 percent from line
Poythress:  67.9 percent from field, 1-2 on 3-pointers, 76 percent from line
Wiltjer:  51.2 percent from field, 50 percent on 3-pointers (14-28), 83.3 percent from line
Cauley-Stein:  60.7 percent from field, no 3-pointers taken, 6-12 from line
Polson:  69.2 percent from field (9-13), 2-4 on 3-pointers, 4-5 from line
Hood:  1-2 from field, 1-1 on 3-pointers, no free throws

And those numbers translate into the following points per game:

Goodwin:  19.0
Mays:  9.0
Noel:  12.4
Poythress:  18.4
Wiltjer:  12.6
Cauley-Stein:  8.0
Polson:  4.8
Hood:  1.0

On the whole, it adds up to a remarkably productive offense.  UK is averaging 85.2 points per game, and according to Ken Pomeroy, the Cats have the second-most efficient offense in the whole country (trailing only Indiana).  The Cats are 4th in the nation in three-point shooting (46.2 percent), and 12th in the nation in two-point shooting (58.7 percent).  So far, their biggest problem on offense has been at the line, where they are shooting only 67.7 percent (making them 202d in the country in that category).  But their positive numbers don't seem flukey to me; Goodwin and Poythress appear to be extraordinarily gifted offensive players, and Noel and Cauley-Stein are both better at catching and scoring than I expected.  In fact, the team could get even better if Harrow returns and is an effective point guard, thus freeing Goodwin to concentrate on scoring.

On the other hand, they have some big problems on defense.  So far, the Cats are holding opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 43.4, which is only 65th in the country.  (Last year's team led the nation in this category).  They are also giving up offensive rebounds 35 percent of the time, which puts them 234th in the country.  They are 11th in the country in block percentage, with 18 percent of the other team's shots being blocked.  But of course last year's team was first in that category as well.  When you add it all up, Pomeroy reports that UK has only the 24th most efficient defense in the country.  That is significantly below Calipari's teams in 2010 (6th in the nation in defense efficiency), 2011 (15th), and 2012 (9th).

Last night's game was symbolic of where the Cats are right now.  Their defense in the first half was absolutely terrible, as a winless Long Island team torched the Cats for 43 points.  Fortunately, UK's offense was excellent -- the team shot 69.7 percent in the first half to take a 55-43 lead into the locker room.  The Cats played somewhat better defense in the second half, as they outscored the Blackbirds 49-32 after the break.  For the game, the Cats shot 67.7 percent (42-62) from the field, and you will not see very many games this year in which team makes 42 field goals.  Poythress had 22 points and 9 rebounds, while Goodwin had 22 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists -- which are great numbers against any opponent.  There were also a number of spectacular highlight plays; Poythress alone is putting together one of the all-time great UK highlight reels.

Unfortunately, not all UK opponents will be as congenial as LIU.  The Blackbirds played an up-and-down style that was well-suited for the young Cats.  But Notre Dame -- and lots of UK's other opponents -- will play a bruising, physical style that will seek to keep Kentucky away from the rim and take advantage of our poor rebounding.  Calipari knows all of this, and he's certainly talking to his guys about it.  But it will take some real effort -- these guys simply don't have the physical presence of some past UK teams.

For now, Pomeroy has the Cats ranked 9th in the country, and he projects them to go 25-6 overall, 14-4 in the SEC.  That would be good for a second-place finish in conference, as he has Florida going 15-3.  Based on what I've seen from the Cats so far, those projections seem reasonable.  On the other hand, I think it's harder to improve your offense (which requires skill) than your defense (which is largely a function of effort). If the Cats start showing more discipline on defense, and continue to play great offense, they can still be a Final Four contender.

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