Sunday, December 9, 2012

Kentucky 74 - 46 Portland (No. 2,096)

The main story coming out of this game is that Ryan Harrow, who missed several games at the beginning of the season due to some type of mysterious illness, played 25 minutes and looked more comfortable at the point than he has at any point this year.  The other big story was the Coach Cal said after the game that he's still not happy with where the Cats are, and that he intends to make them work very hard as soon as they are done with finals.

Personally, I find it very difficult to draw any conclusions from a game like this, but we can get some help by looking at Ken Pomeroy's analysis.  Pomeroy thought the Cats would win this game 80-57 -- the Cats actually won 74-46 in a game with 74 possessions (which is a relatively large number).  In other words, the Cats were less efficient on offense than Pomeroy expected and more efficient on defense.  Sure enough, when you look at KenPom's new rankings, he now shows that the Cats have the 18th most efficient offense in the country, and the 16th most efficient defense.  That's the first time all year that he's ranked UK's defense ahead of its offense.  Overall he has the Cats as the 13th-best team in the country, which is pretty much where he's had them since the Baylor game.

Based on these figures, it seems clear that much of Cal's effort in the last few weeks has been devoted to improving the defense.  And it is getting better.  Opposing teams are now shooting only 41.2 percent against us from 2-point range, which is 36th in the country in that category.  (Portland went 12-46 inside the arc, which is only 26.1 percent.)  The Cats are also blocking shots at a ferocious pace -- Noel alone had seven blocks yesterday and the team is now 5th in the country in percentage of shots blocked.  If these trends continue, UK could have a top-10 defense in the near future.

But the offense is going the other way.  UK was hitting everything at the beginning of the year, and it's offense looked very good.  Since they started facing so many zones, however, their numbers have deteriorated.  Yesterday the Cats were only 4-13 from 3-point range (30.4 percent).  They are also 172d in the country in getting offensive rebounds, which is quite mediocre.  And their free throw percentage is still terrible -- 63.3 percent, 293d in the nation.  (Yesterday they went only 12-22 from the line).

Still, it would be silly to panic at this point.  I certainly think it makes sense for UK to prioritize defense over offense at this point in the season, and I am hopeful that as Harrow gets back into the groove, the Cats will do a better job of attacking the zone.  (I don't know what they will do about the free throw shooting, but that just may be our cross to bear.)

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