Monday, March 17, 2014

Florida 61 - 60 Kentucky (SEC Tournament) (Atlanta)

A lot to write about here.  Let's start with the score by quarters:

1st:  Florida 18, Kentucky 14
2d:  Florida 22, Kentucky 16 (Florida led 40-30 at the half)
3d:  Florida 14, Kentucky 13 (Florida led 54-43 with 10 minutes to go)
4th:  Kentucky 17, Florida 7 (Florida wins 61-60)

It was a slow-paced game -- only 62 possessions -- and a game dominated by defense:  neither team scored more than a point per possession.

Kentucky got two huge breaks in the game.  First, the Cats went 21-26 from the line, which is not something they normally do.  Second, the Gators went only 7-17 from the line -- and missed the front end of two huge one-and-ones at the end.  So the Cats had a 14-point advantage at the line, which is not what you would normally expect in a game where we shot only 9 more free throws than Florida.

On the other hand, Florida was somewhat fortunate from behind the arc.  The Gators normally make 36.8 percent of their three-pointers -- they went 8-19 (42.1 percent) yesterday.  The Cats normally make 32.5 percent of their three-pointers -- they went 3-11 (27.3 percent) yesterday.  So Florida outscored UK by 15 points from three-point range, and that made up for the 14-point difference at the line.

I am encouraged by the fact that UK was able to keep the game so close even though Florida made so many more three-pointers than we did.  When the game started, I assumed that UK's only chance of winning was for Florida to go ice cold from the outside -- and that certainly did not happen.

I'm also encouraged by the fact that UK didn't really do anything gimmicky yesterday.  They didn't try to slow the game down (Florida did that), or put on a full-court press (Florida did that, too), or shoot a bunch of three's.  As far as I could tell, the Cats pretty much laced it up and played the way they usually do.  It's a good sign that Calipari basically thinks his team can play its normal style and be competitive against a team as good as Florida.

On the other hand, we shouldn't place too much emphasis on this one game.  The SEC title game is often a nightmare for highly rated teams.  We just barely beat Auburn in 1984 and Mississippi State in 2010, and we lost to Vandy in 2012 and to Mississippi State in 1996.  On the other hand, we beat Arkansas in 1994 and 1995 -- and they played for the national title both years.  So we should reject the notion that the Cats are now basically as good as Florida.

In conclusion, I'd like to make two points about this much-analyzed team.  First, James Young's slip at the end of yesterday's game was just another example of UK's terrible luck in close games this year.  According to Ken Pomeroy, UK is 310th in the country in "luck" -- in other words, when you consider the difference between their predicted record (based on statistics) and their actual record, almost every team in the country has done better than UK.  Look at these scores:

11/12/13:  Michigan St. 78, UK 74
12/6/13:  Baylor 67, UK 62
12/14/13:  N. Carolina 82, UK 77
1/14/14:  Arkansas 87, UK 85 (OT)
2/27/14:  Arkansas 71, UK 67 (OT)
3/16/14:  Florida 61, UK 60

If UK had won any of those games, they were be perceived very differently today.  If they'd won all of them, they'd be a hot pick to go all the way.  On the other side, the only close game UK won was its last-second win at home over LSU.  The experts tell us that these things even out, but they certainly didn't even out yesterday.  (Florida ranks 53d in "luck.")  On the other hand, the season's not over yet.

Second, this weekend was a great time for the UK fan base.  Since winning the national title in 2012, we haven't really had much fun.  The Cats have gone 45-22 in the last two years, and don't have very many impressive victories in that span.  But this weekend in Catlanta, our kids finally got to see the fun side of being in the UK program -- playing huge games against good teams with thousands of passionate fans supporting you.  In exchange, they gave us the fun we haven't had for much of the next two years.  I don't know how much longer the season will last. But I'm glad these young players (and us old fans) got to have that experience.

Now, on to St. Louis!