By RICHARD CHEEKS
As difficult as it seems to believe, the 2015-16 basketball regular season is drawing to its close. The schedule makers try to place games between teams they believe will be contenders for this time of year, and the Kentucky schedule is certainly consistent with that philosophy.
The top six teams in the SEC after the first 11 games are Kentucky, South Carolina, LSU, Texas A&M, Florida, and Vanderbilt. The Cats will play each of the other 5 teams, and will travel to South Carolina, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, and Florida over these last seven games.
This important stretch run begins on Saturday afternoon at South Carolina. The current records and Pomeroy Rankings for these top teams are:
Team Overall Conf Pomeroy Games Against Top 6
Kentucky 18-6 8-3 13 5
South Carolina 21-3 8-3 43 2
LSU 15-9 8-3 58 3
Texas A&M 18-6 7-4 19 3
Florida 16-8 7-4 29 4
Vanderbilt 14-10 6-5 35 3
It should be clear that UK has the toughest row to hoe as it works its way to the finish line. If there is ever a time that the “one game at a time” mantra should apply, it is now. The Cats need to completely focus on “the next opponent” and nothing else for the next 3 ½ weeks. The Cats are currently tied with South Carolina (and LSU) for the top of the SEC with 8-3 records. Saturday’s encounter in Columbia, South Carolina will be for first place in the league, and for the tie breaker between these two team. However, the importance of this game to the Cats is heightened by the fact that after Saturday, South Carolina will only have one more “test” on its remaining schedule. A USC win on Saturday will give the Gamecocks the inside track to the SEC Championship.
South Carolina brings a 21-3; 8-3 record into this SEC showdown with the Cats, who sport a record of 18-6, 8-3 in the SEC. South Carolina completed their non-conference schedule 13-0. One of USC’s non-conference opponents is not a D1 program, reducing their D1 record to 20-3; 8-3. South Carolina’s most impressive non-conference wins came at the expense of #50 Tulsa on a neutral court and at #56 Clemson by 6. Halfway through the SEC season, the Gamecocks and Cats have each played a very similar schedule as the Cats, including two games against Alabama. The Gamecocks have already played at Texas A&M while the Cats have already encountered Florida at Rupp.
SOUTH CAROLINA has played its first 23 D1 games at an average tempo of about 73 to 74 possessions per game, scoring 78.0 ppg (1.057 ppp) and allowing an average 69.4 ppg (0.947 ppp). SOUTH CAROLINA has turned the ball over on 19.1% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 20.6% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, SOUTH CAROLINA has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 38.7%, and a defensive rebounding rate of 72.5%. The South Carolina schedule has a strength of schedule of 0.5704 (#91).
In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 70 possessions per game, producing 78.4 ppg (1.122 ppp) and allowing 67.1 ppg (0.957 ppp). The Cats have committed turnovers on 17.2% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 18.9% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 38.6% and 69.2% on the offensive and defensive ends. The Cats have a strength of schedule of 0.6535 (#38).
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of Kentucky by 4 points, 75-71 in a game played at a pace of 72 possessions for the Cats and 72 possessions for South Carolina. Pomeroy figures the Game in Kentucky’s favor by 1 point, 75-74 at a pace of 71 possessions.
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