Sunday, December 15, 2013

N. Carolina 82 - 77 Kentucky

I don't think there is any Kentucky fan who dislikes the University of North Carolina basketball program more than I do.  Since 1977, I have rooted for them to lose every single game that they've played.  So I can't say that I'm happy with the results of this game.  If it were up to me, UK would never play another game in Chapel Hill, and I didn't have the heart to watch this one because I didn't want to ruin my day.  But because I was so certain UK would lose, I'm not as upset as a lot of folks in the Commonwealth.  Let's keep calm and look at a few points:

1.  Score by quarters:

1st:  Kentucky 19, N. Carolina 12
2d:  N. Carolina 21, Kentucky 11 (UNC led 33-30 at the half)
3d:  N. Carolina 24, Kentucky 22 (UNC led 57-52 with 10 minutes to go)
4th:  N. Carolina 25, Kentucky 25 (UNC wins 82-77)

This game was lost mainly because UK couldn't score at the end of the first half.  Here's what happened to the UK lineup in the first half:

Julius Randle:  got 2 fouls, played 11 minutes
James Young:  got 2 fouls, played 12 minutes
Aaron Harrison:  got 2 fouls, played 5 minutes
Willie Cauley-Stein:  got 3 fouls, played 17 minutes
Andrew Harrison:  got 0 fouls, played 19 minutes

As you can see, Randle, Young, and Aaron Harrison were all in foul trouble at the end of the first half, so they were on the bench for most of the last 10 minutes.  Cauley-Stein got his second foul with 4:41 to go before halftime, but Calipari had to leave him in -- and he picked up another foul.  Oh, and Calipari got a technical foul at the end of the first half.

So basically, UK was up 19-12, got into foul trouble, had to put folks on the bench, and this allowed UNC to come back into the game.  That's life in Chapel Hill, but it doesn't necessarily mean there's anything wrong with UK.

2.  UK was 4-12 from 3-point range, and 29-43 from the line.

Kentucky continues to shoot badly.  Their 3-point shooting percentage (32.6 percent) is number 205 in the country.  Their free-throw percentage (67.0 percent) is number 248 in the country.  They are not good shooters, and this will likely continue to be a problem for the rest of the year.  As fans, we just have to deal with it.

3.  Rebounds:  Kentucky 44, UNC 32.

This is encouraging after UK was out-rebounded badly by Baylor.

4.  Turnovers:  Kentucky 17, UNC 9.

This is another problem.  Calipari does not want UK taking any chances on defense, so the Cats will not be generating very many turnovers all year.  That's not necessarily a huge problem, so long as UK can get the rebounds.  But UK can't afford to make a lot of turnovers either.  They have to do better there.

5.  Overall ranking (according to Ken Pomeroy):  11

The Cats were ranked 8th when the game began, so their ranking barely moved.  Pomeroy had picked UNC by 77-73, and the game played out almost exactly as he had predicted.

To me, this is the main takeaway from yesterday's game:  it didn't give us any more bad news; it simply confirmed what we already knew.  This is a pretty good team that is somewhat below the level of performance we saw from 2010 to 2012.  Here is where Calpari's UK teams were ranked by Ken Pomeroy on other December 15ths:

12/15/09 (Wall/Cousins):  Ranking not available, but finished number 3 and was undefeated on 12/15, so probably in top 5 at least

12/15/10 (Brandon Knight's team):  6 (7-2, losses to UConn and UNC)
12/15/11 (Anthony Davis's team):  2 (8-1, loss to Indiana)
12/15/12 (Nerlens Noel's team):  13 (7-3 losses to Duke, Notre Dame, and Baylor)
12/15/13:  11 (8-3, losses to Michigan St., Baylor, and UNC)

So this team is slightly better than last year's team, but not at the level of the other three teams.

Now when I say that this team is slightly better than last year's team, that doesn't mean we're headed for the NIT.  I'm talking about last year's team when it had Nerlens Noel.  And that team wasn't as bad as most folks remember.  On the morning of February 12, 2013, UK was 17-6 overall and 8-2 in the SEC; Pomeroy had them ranked  16th in the country, and they were riding a five-game winning streak.  At the time, I thought they had a good chance to reach the Sweet 16.  Then Noel got hurt, and the team fell apart, going 4-6 the rest of the way.  If Noel had stayed healthy, that team would have gone to the NCAA's -- and might have done some real damage there.  On the other hand, if Julius Randle gets hurt, this team could also struggle.  But if they stay healthy, and they manage to stay in Ken Pom's top 12, they could do some damage before the season is over.  Nothing that happened in Chapel Hill changed any of that -- if anything, that game simply confirmed what we already knew.

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