Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Louisville 80 - 77 Kentucky

I didn't see this game, because I was driving back to Northern Virginia from a visit to Kentucky.  However, like Obi-Wan, I felt a great disturbance in the force around 6 o'clock on Saturday, as UK's four-game winning streak over U of L came to an end.

There were a lot of reports that UK looked really good in this game, particularly in their efforts to fight back from a 51-34 deficit to pull within two points (61-59), before U of L eventually put them away.  But their performance was only slightly better than Ken Pomeroy's system predicted.  Ken Pom had the Cats losing by 71-61; they trailed the whole second half and got a meaningless three-point shot at the end of the game to cut the margin from six to three.  Basically, the Cats' defense was not as good as Ken Pom's system predicted, but they more than made up for that by shooting so well (10-21) from three-point range.  The Cats were terrible (11-23) from the line, but even that figure is not wildly off of their usual performance.  They have made only 63.3 percent of their free throws this year, causing them to rank 302d in the country in that category.

So far, this has been a pretty disappointing season for UK fans.  The Cats are 1-4 in games against BCS opponents -- they were terrible against Notre Dame and Baylor, and they faded in the last few minutes of their games with Duke and Louisville.  They are still unranked by the AP, and they are ranked 29th in the RPI.  Right now they have a lot of work to do just to get a decent seed.  But their situation is far from dire.  Pomeroy has them ranked 12th in the country -- and his analysis looked pretty good in the Louisville game.  They have been somewhat unlucky -- they were hot from the outside against Duke and Louisville (who were good enough to beat them anyway) but ice cold against Baylor or Notre Dame (where good outside shooting might have made a difference).  And I can't believe they aren't going to do somewhat better at the free throw stripe.  Over the course of the season, these things may start to even out -- and if they do, the Cats could really start to roll.  I am confident that they will be dangerous in March -- although three-point losses aren't nearly as easy to deal with in March as in December.

As for Louisville, I'm still not seeing it.  I think Rick Pitino is a genius coach, and I think he is getting everything possible out of this team.  I expect the Cardinals to win a lot of games, and get a good seed, and get to the Sweet 16.  But I don't see them going all the way.  Here is the three-point shooting percentage of the last 10 teams to win the national title:

2003:  Syracuse -- 34.4 percent (175th in the country)
2004:  UConn -- 40.7 percent (9th)
2005:  N. Carolina -- 40.3 percent (7th)
2006:  Florida -- 39.2 percent (14th)
2007:  Florida -- 40.9 percent (8th)
2008:  Kansas -- 39.7 percent (14th)
2009:  N. Carolina -- 38.5 percent (24th)
2010:  Duke -- 38.5 percent (25th)
2011:  UConn -- 32.9 percent (237th)
2012:  Kentucky -- 37.8 percent (37th)

As you can see, you normally have to be very good at three-point shooting to go all the way. The Cardinals are currently making only 33.3 percent of their three-point shots -- good enough for 173d in the country.  I don't think that's going to cut it.

Of course, the Cardinals have a chance -- as shown by Syracuse in 2003 and UConn in 2011.  But those teams were really lucky.  In 2003, Syracuse got amazingly hot in the tournament -- they made 11 of 18 three-pointers in the final against Kansas.  In 2011, UConn's last three games in the tournament were against a 5-seed (Arizona), a 4-seed (Kentucky) and an 8-seed (Butler).  U of L is not likely to be that fortunate.  Meanwhile, two of their main competitors for the crown -- Duke and Indiana -- are 4th and 5th, respectively, in the country in three-point shooting percentage.

(For the record, the Cats are shooting 36.9 percent from three-point range, good enough for 57th in the nation.  In 2011, when they made their run to the final four, they were 9th.  So I think this stat is a big problem for the Cats as well -- although we're in better shape here than Louisville.)


  1. The most encouraging part of this game for me was the first five minutes or so. In Harrow-Goodwin-Mays-CauleyStein-Noel, it was the first time all season that I had seen UK put a set of guys on the floor that seemed like it could really work. This five with a little Wiltjer here and a little Poythress there and some Polson in spots ... now we're talking.

    And I hear what you're saying about the three-point shooting, but I thought U of L looked fantastic.

    1. I have to say that I find UK very difficult to watch right now. Other than Noel -- and sometimes Wiltjer -- I just don't trust our guys. If KenPom weren't so high on them, I would be much more pessimistic.

    2. It turned out that my instincts here, on the other hand, were quite good.

  2. Eventually, bad three-point shooting usually catches up with you, as John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins found out.

  3. Well, as it turned out bad three-point shooting did not catch up with Louisville, as they shot the lights out tonight against Michigan -- 8-16 from three-point range.

    For the record, UK made 39.4 percent of its three-point shots in 1992-93 -- a very good percentage. But against Michigan in the Final Four, we went only 7-21 from behind the arc (Travis Ford was 2-6), and we lost in overtime.