Sunday, March 19, 2023

Final Thoughts on Kentucky

I really don't think this team underperformed.  If anything, given the talent on the team, I think they slightly overperformed.  They were able to stop the bleeding after the loss to South Carolina, and scrape their way to an NCAA Tournament victory.  They won a lot of games I didn't think they could win.  But they were never beating a real team like Kansas State that knows how to execute down the stretch.  They just aren't good enough.  Antonio Reeves went 1-10 from three-point range, and 0-5 from two-point range.  Jacob Toppin went 0-2 from three-point range, and 1-5 from two-point range.  As a whole, the team went 4-20 from 3-point range.  That's not good enough.

The problem at Kentucky isn't in-game coaching.  Calipari took a team of transfers from places like West Virginia and Illinois State and and won 22 games, including an NCAA Tournament game.  The problem isn't effort -- they outrebounded K-State by 20 rebounds, and fought all the way to the end.  The problem is that we need better players.  And we need those players to stay healthy.

If you saw Alabama last night, or at any time this year, you've seen the level of talent you need if you're serious about reaching the Final Four.  Until we get players like that, we won't be a serious threat.

Since 2017, Kentucky has been eliminated by the following teams:

2018:  Kansas St. (round of 16)
2019:  Auburn (round of 8)
2020:  No tournament
2021:  Missed the tournament
2022:  St. Peter's (round of 64)
2023:  Kansas St. (round of 32)

It's not exactly Murderer's Row.  But that's the type of program we are now.  Here are our rankings on Ken Pom:

2018:  17
2019:  8
2020:  29
2021:  49
2022:  6
2023:  26

That works out to an average of 22.5.  Ken Pom tells us that from 1997 to 2022, the 22d-ranked program in the country is Indiana.  The 23d-ranked program is Maryland.  And those two programs represent almost exactly what UK has become.  We have a lot of history, we have passionate fans, we play hard and smart, and we just don't have the talent to play on the Big Stage.


  1. In addition to its poor outside shooting, Kentucky was sunk by its poor defense, as it was all year. K-State scored 1.1 points per possession, and went 21-33 (63.6 percent) from two-point range.

  2. Also, and I cannot reiterate this enough: Calipari has got to find a way to help his players avoid so many injuries.

  3. Also, and I cannot reiterate this enough, either: This is the first year since 2019 where it feels like a real college basketball season, and I am so, so happy to have it all back.

  4. Also, today's result means that Tennessee wins the Eighth Region.

  5. Fans want to blame everything on coaches. And coaches are very important. But look at Andy Reid:

    1. Andy Reid without Patrick Mahomes: 19 seasons, 1 Super Bowl loss, 0 Super Bowl wins
    2. Andy Reid with Patrick Mahomes: 5 seasons, 3 Super Bowl appearances, 2 Super Bowl wins, 2 other trips to the AFC title game

    See the difference?

  6. And now eight months of mowing. If I'm fortunate.

  7. Most years, Kentucky does pretty much what its K-Pom ranking would lead you to expect. Sometimes (like in 2022) we do worse than expected. Sometimes (like in 2014) we do better than expected. But since 2002, UK has had seven teams that reached the NCAA Tournament with a K-Pom ranking higher than 10. Of those seven teams, only two (2014 and 2018) reached the Sweet 16. Only one (2014) reached the Elite Eight. One (2008) went out in the first round. And the other four (2000, 2006, 2007, and 2023) all went out in the second round.

    1. I should have said "since 1997," not "since 2002."

  8. On the other hand, since 1997 UK has had 16 teams that finished in K-Pom's top ten. One of those teams (2022) went out in the first round. Two others (2004 and 2016) went out in the second round. Two more (2001 and 2002) lost in the Sweet 16. The other 11 went to the Elite Eight. And that's the reality. Most years, you are what you are. Fans are right to get so unhappy when the team struggles in December and January. If you aren't in K-Pom's top 10 when the Tournament begins, you probably won't make the second weekend. If you are, you probably will.

  9. So don't worry so much about grinding out upsets. Worry about how to build a real top-10 team. For months now, Alabama, Tennessee, and Arkansas have all been ranked ahead of UK. And now they're moving on, and we're out.

  10. Out of all the teams that have won the National Championship since Michigan State did so in 2000, only UConn is still playing.

  11. Amazingly, neither Tennessee nor Alabama has ever made the Final Four. If they don't make it this year, they ought to give up.

  12. There are 22 teams on K-Pom with an adjusted efficiency greater than 18. 13 of these teams are in the Sweet 16.

    There are 13 teams on K-Pom with an adjusted efficiency between 16.00 and 17.99, including UK (17.74). Only two of these teams are in the Sweet 16 (Michigan St. and Miami (Fla)).

    There are 328 teams on K-Pom with an adjusted efficiency below 16. Only one of these teams (Princeton) is in the Sweet 16.

    So yes, you can make a run in the tournament. But most years, unless you've been really strong all year, you will be finished after the first weekend.

  13. Miami (Fla.) and Princeton are the only teams in the Sweet 16 ranked below UK on Ken Pom. Michigan State is ranked exactly one spot ahead of UK, and I think we all remember what happened when the Cats tried to play them.

  14. So, yeah, is there a world where UK upsets K-State and moves on? Yes. But it's not a very big world.