Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Louisiana St. 87 - 82 Kentucky

I don't think any basketball program suffered more from the shift to SEC divisional play from 1992 to 2012 than LSU.  In the 1970's and 1980's, hatred of Kentucky gave energy and purpose to an LSU fan base otherwise focused on football.  Our annual trips to Baton Rouge were often nightmares of loud noise, weird officiating, and sudden hot streaks from previously unknown players.  With the annual grudge matches against UK to fuel their enthusiasm, the Tigers built a program that went to two Final Fours in the 1980's, and consistently finished near the top of the SEC.

But with the shift to divisional play, UK only came to Baton Rouge every other year, and that just wasn't enough to keep the ball rolling -- especially since LSU was enjoying so much success on the football field.  So most of the younger UK fans don't realize just how bitter and angry this rivalry used to be.

Under the new system, however, UK has to visit LSU two out of every three years, and that may be enough to re-start the LSU program.  Certainly the Tigers delivered an old-school beat-down tonight -- jumping out to a 22-6 lead and cruising home without too much trouble the rest of the way.  Here are a few observations on a very unpleasant night for Cat fans.

1.  After the Arkansas game, in which 60 fouls were called, our freshman appeared to be expecting a lot of touch fouls for this road game.  Instead, the officials opened the game by calling very few fouls -- they called only 10 fouls total in the first half.  UK never adjusted to this, while LSU slapped at balls, drove to the basket with enthusiasm, blocked shots without fear, and were generally far more aggressive all over the floor.

2.  As I feared, the low scores posted by UK's recent opponents were more a sign of poor shooting than good defense.  LSU was hot from the outside tonight -- they went 7-18 from three-point range and made a ton of jump shots inside the arc.  Faced with a good-shooting team, UK's defense fell apart -- LSU scored 1.17 points per possession, a very high number.  Team defense is UK's biggest problem, and one that still hasn't been fixed.

3.  Lots of folks will complain that UK was out-hustled in this game.  And there is some truth to that -- especially in terms of how the game began.  But it should be noted that the Cats out-rebounded LSU 42-37, and that they had to spend almost the entire game trying to crawl out of a huge deficit.  If LSU had missed a few more jump shots, things may have been different.

4.  Every team will have nights like this, and UK teams often have them in Baton Rouge.  The results of the LSU fixture are pretty random, and don't tell you that much about UK as a team.  The Unforgettables were absolutely humiliated in Baton Rouge, losing to Shaq 74-53 in a game that wasn't that close.  Then they played great the rest of the year.  The 1978 team lost at LSU in overtime -- and then won the national championship.  On the other hand, the 1994 team pulled out a legendary come-from-behind victory down in Baton Rouge -- but were beaten in the second round of the NCAA's by Marquette.  The 1986 team beat LSU three times -- and then lost to the Tigers in the Elite Eight.  The 1980 team won the SEC championship with an end-of-the season victory at LSU -- and then were eliminated in the Sweet 16 in Rupp.

5.  On the other hand, this loss may have very practical consequences.  UK will now almost certainly lose at Missouri, which means that they will probably be three games behind Florida in the SEC race by Sunday.  If so, they probably can't win the SEC, and their chances of getting a good seed at the NCAA's will be very poor.  It's unfortunate that they couldn't win any close games earlier in the season, but that's really going to haunt them now.

6.  In his tenure as UK coach, Calipari is now 7-13 in SEC road games with teams that didn't feature John Wall (who went 6-2 in SEC road games) or Anthony Davis (who, naturally, went 8-0).  Unless you are literally the best player in the country, it is almost impossible for any freshman to withstand life on the road in the SEC.  I think this UK team has a lot of good players, and I think that if they came back next year -- which they will not -- they would be a solid contender for the national title.  They may even make a run this year in the SEC or NCAA Tournaments -- especially since tournament games are not played on the road.  But they do not feature anyone good enough to impose his will on an SEC road game.

Oh, well.  On to Missouri.


  1. I agree with every line of this--most of all, it being an unpleasant night.

  2. UK is still ranked 16 on Ken Pomeroy's site. I very much think that's where they are.

  3. Oh, one more thing: Can we please just give scholarships to any Kentucky high-schooler good enough to get a scholarship from another SEC school? There's always at least one Kentuckian knocking around the SEC, and they always give us trouble. These days its Anthony Hickey, who led Christian County to the state tournament and is now LSU's point guard. Couldn't we have used this guy?

    1. I totally agree.

      Actually, I bet that's roughly what Coach Calipari decided, and that's why Dominique Hawkins is a scholarship player on this year's team.

  4. Here's how Calipari's UK teams have done in their first seven SEC games:

    2010: 6 and 1; 570 points scored; 497 points allowed; difference of 73

    2011: 4 and 3; 498 points scored; 432 points allowed; difference of 66

    2012: 7 and 0; 506 points scored; 407 points allowed; difference of 99

    2013: 5 and 2; 498 points scored; 462 points allowed; difference of 36

    2014: 5 and 2; 544 points scored; 470 points allowed; difference of 74

  5. Here's where Calipari's teams since 2011 were ranked on KenPom at this point in the season (data for 2010 is not available):

    2011: 6
    2012: 3
    2013: 17
    2014: 16