Monday, January 17, 2022

Cats Move to Number 12 in the AP Poll

Last week was a very big deal for UK basketball fans.  On Tuesday, the Cats went to Memorial Gym and crushed Vandy -- they were up 78-50 before taking the foot off the gas, and ended with a 78-66 win.  Then on Saturday morning we learned that Joe B. Hall had died at the age of 93.  On a very emotional day, in front of a packed house at Rupp Arena (and with Jay Bilas and the whole ESPN crew in the house), the Cats played an almost perfect game, pounding Tennessee 107-79.  It was the most points UK has ever scored in 111 years of basketball against Tennessee, and the most points they'd scored in an SEC game since February 21, 2015, when they beat Auburn 110-75.  Sahvir Wheeler was back from the neck injury he had suffered in the LSU game, and the UK offense -- which had looked pretty good with TyTy Washington at the point -- went to a whole other level.  I've complained a lot about bad shooting nights from Kentucky, so look at these numbers:

2-point shooting:  27-38 (71.1 percent)
3-point shooting:  11-18 (61.1 percent)
free throws:  20-21 (95.2 percent)

It was a very happy result for John Calipari, who took a lot of grief for continuing to run his usual offense while schools like Alabama are shooting dozens of three-point shots per game.  On Saturday the Cats took only 18 three-point shots, but put up 107 points, as they buried UT under a barrage of little jump shots from all over the floor.  Tennessee has a great defense, but no one defends 15-foot jump shots any more, and the Cats took advantage of that fact.

Still, I think UK is benefiting greatly from improved long distance shooting.  The Cats as a team are now shooting 36.1 percent from three-point range, their best mark from the outside since 2016.  For now they seem to have three real outside threats:

Kellan Grady:  48-104 (46.2 percent)
TyTy Washington:  23-56 (41.1 percent)
Davion Mintz:  23-60 (38.3 percent)

If this keeps up, the Cats will be very tough to beat in March.

But it's not March yet, and the Cats have a bunch of tough games left.  There are two teams that haven't yet lost a game in the SEC -- Texas A & M (4-0) and Auburn (5-0).  This week, UK will play both of those teams on the road.

Ken Pom is convinced -- he has UK up to Number 4 on his rankings, the highest they've been this late in the year since 2017.  But the AP voters are more skeptical, and they are probably assuming that UK will take at least one loss this week at either College Station or Auburn.  So they have UK at number 12 -- eight spots below its Ken Pom ranking.  The Cats are 34-9 as the number-12 team.  Their greatest victory as number 12 came on March 24, 1983, when UK upset number-5 Indiana 64-59 in the Mideast Regional Semifinals in Knoxville, Tennessee.  That set up a Mideast Regional Final against the University of Louisville, and I think we all remember what happened then.  Louisville was number 2, and UK was number 12, which underscores the good job that Joe Hall did by taking that game to overtime.  That 1983 Tournament was unbelievable.

30 comments:

  1. For the first time all year -- and the first time really since the last game of the 2020 season -- UK wins an important close game. Down 35-30 at the half in College Station, in front of an absolute madhouse, the Cats claw their way back to beat the Texas A & M Aggies 64 to 58. It's the first game this year where UK won by less than double digits.

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    1. We had stuff going on in my house last night, and I didn't get to watch much of this game. I stayed mostly in the big family room, and here were the shows (most of which I had never seen) that appeared on the TV in there while this game was playing:

      -- The Good Place Season 1, Episode 1 (clever)
      -- The Middle (not my cup of tea)
      -- Modern Family (had its moments)
      -- Everybody Loves Raymond (I like it)
      -- Golden Girls (interesting to see what all the fuss was about)

      Anyway, at two different points, I left to go to the back and check out this game on our bedroom TV. I caught a late 45 seconds of the first half, and UK was trailing anywhere from seven to 11 points in this spurt. The gym felt like it was lighted by whoever does the lighting for Mississippi State's games, and I thought it looked impossible to hit a basketball shot in that place. Indeed, the only shot that UK hit while I was watching was a dunk.

      Then I came back to catch Oscar Tshiebwe getting his free-throw attempt to bounce high off the rim and back through the net. Kentucky was now up four with just a few seconds to believe, and then I saw Coach Cal fist-pumping all of the Texas A&M coaches on their way off the court.

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    2. Couldn't believe they had won.

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    3. That's actually a really good summary of what it was like.

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  2. It's UK's third straight win in a game that Ken Pom has designated as an "A" game. UK is now 4-3 in A games, 11-0 in all other games, and 5-1 in the SEC.

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  3. This was the biggest crowd ever to see a basketball game at Texas A & M.

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  4. With 6:32 left in the game, UK and TAMU were tied at 54, and the Cats outscored the Aggies 10-4 down the stretch. It's a long time since that happened.

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  5. Cats go 17-40 from 2-point range, 4-18 from 3-point range, and 18-26 from the line. It was that kind of game. Tshiebwe had 8 points and 14 rebounds. Wheeler had 12 points, 4 assists, and 12 turnovers. Washington had 8 points and 4 rebounds. Mintz had 10 points and 8 boards, and made the free throw that took the score from 61-58 to 62-58 with 10 seconds left. Jacob Toppin had 9 points and 6 huge rebounds.

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  6. Calipari said that he made a big mistake in what he had Wheeler doing against TAMU's defense and that's what led to so many turnovers. I think he's telling the truth -- they were doing something that was really wrong, and then they stopped doing it with about 10 minutes left.

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    1. I am convinced that John Calipari is the most honest successful coach I've ever heard.

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  7. It's the fewest points for UK in a win since March 29, 2019, when the Cats beat Houston 62-58 to advance to the Elite Eight. That was a great game. Someday we need to do a lot more on the 2019 NCAA Tournament, which is one of the best NCAA Tournaments ever played.

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  8. Best tournaments of my lifetime, in order:

    1983
    1979
    1975
    1993
    2019

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    1. The tournaments in 2014 and 2015 were also really good.

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    2. As was the 1998 Tournament. Also the Tournaments for 2006 and 2008 were entertaining.

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  9. The Cats used a bit of luck tonight -- they moved up to 302 in luck on Ken Pom. We will hope that means that they have a lot of luck left.

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  10. Ken Pom had UK winning by 7 (74-67), and the Cats won by 6 (64-58). As of right now, they are number 3 on Ken Pom, trailing only Gonzaga and Baylor.

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  11. The top of the SEC now looks like this, using Ken Pom rankings:

    6. Auburn: 6-0
    3. Kentucky: 5-1
    59. Texas A & M: 4-1
    43. Mississippi St: 3-2
    10. LSU: 3-3
    15. Tennessee: 3-3
    16. Alabama: 3-3
    38. Arkansas: 3-3

    Cats go to Auburn on Saturday.

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  12. So Ken Pom has UK and Auburn at 3 and 6 respectively, and they are scheduled to play on Saturday. I could only find one other season since 2002 in which two SEC teams were ranked in Ken Pom's top 10. In 2017, the Cats finished at number 4, and Florida was number 5. UK got hammered 88-66 at Florida on February 4, 2017 as De'Aaron Fox was recovering from an injury. And then the Cats beat Florida 76-66 at Rupp on February 25 behind 33 points from Malik Monk. (Fox didn't play in that game, but I don't remember why.) Florida ended up losing to South Carolina in the Elite Eight. UK lost to North Carolina in the Elite Eight.

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    1. I'm sorry I didn't blog in 2017, because I had a lot to say about that team, which is one of my favorite UK teams ever.

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  13. When UK played Auburn in the 2019 Elite Eight, we were ranked 7th and they were ranked 11th.

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  14. Anyway, from a Ken Pom perspective, the Auburn/UK game on Saturday is probably the biggest regular season game in the SEC since the old UK/Arkansas rivalry of the mid-1990's.

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  15. So here's what happened in the most high-profile regular season SEC game in many years.

    1. UK's best player, TyTy Washington, got hurt after 9 minutes and had to leave the game.
    2. UK's point guard, Sahvir Wheeler, was knocked out of the game twice due to injury.
    3. Jacob Toppin, UK's best bench player, fouled out in only 18 minutes of play.
    4. UK went 24-46 on 2-point shooting, 5-12 on 3-point shooting, and 8-10 from the line.
    5. Auburn went 19-28 on 2-point shooting, 6-16 on 3-point shooting, and 24-29 from the line.
    6. Auburn's 16-point advantage at the line, and the absences of Washington and Wheeler, led Auburn to an 80-71 lead.

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  16. The last time UK played a meaningful game at Auburn, on February 1, 2020, the Cats went 20-24 from the line -- and Auburn went 33-44. Auburn won 75-66, but at least no one got hurt.

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  17. The Cats fall to number-5 on Ken Pom, while Auburn moves up to number 4. UK falls to number 312 on luck. UK is now 1-4 in games decided by less than 10 points, and 14-0 in all other games.

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  18. UK now 4-4 in games designated by Ken Pom as "A" games, and 11-0 in all other games.

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  19. I think UK had a very good chance to win this game if Washington had not gotten hurt. But I also think Auburn is really good, and Pearl is a great coach. Auburn went to the Final Four in 2019, and this team has more talent than that one.

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    1. I thought that Jabari Smith was the most talented player we've faced -- I liked him better than the Duke guys who beat us. I thought Walker Kessler gave Tshiebwe more trouble than anyone else we've seen this year.

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    2. Nevertheless, I was feeling good about our chances until Washington went down.

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  20. Somewhere there's a young fan who was nine years old in 2014, and who got all excited when UK reached the final against UConn -- just as I was thrilled when they went to the final in 1975. Since then that fan (who is now 17) has gone through some real ups and downs, and they have really earned their stripes.

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