By RICHARD CHEEKS
Prior to this season, most forecasts prefaced their remarks noting that there are no dominant teams in 2015-16. Of all the statements that have been or could have been made about this season, this one has proven more accurate than most.
To put it in terms I understand and work with daily, the 0.3 point per possession Adjusted Net Efficiency (ANE) has been a reliable threshold for teams to be legitimate national contenders. This criteria has been demonstrated valid for the last 15 years for which such data exists. Not so much this year because not a single team satisfies this criteria, and it is not even close. My analysis shows the highest ANE value is 0.27 ppp. Last year, this level of efficiency would not qualify for an Elite 8 position, a Sweet 16 type of team when my top teams included 4 teams in excess of 0.3 ppp threshold for competitiveness. That is the best this season can offer.
Using Pomeroy’s numbers, the disparity is even starker. This year’s highest Net Game Efficiency per Pomeroy’s Adjusted Offensive and Defensive Efficiencies is 0.259 ppp. Last year, this level of efficiency (per Pomeroy) would have ranked #14, and arguably barely a Sweet 16 type of team when 6 teams exceeded the 0.3 ppp threshold.
This season, UK started as it usually does ranked very high by the pundits, but as losses to clearly weak teams began to mount, the Cats fell in Pomeroy (and my ranking) out of the top 20. Pomeroy demoted them to #30 at the low point, and as I recall, my system had them at about #32 at the low point. However, given the general weakness at the top this season, there is a compression of talent, and the compression of talent results in road losses in greater proportions.
Now that conference play is intense, losses are mounting for the entire top tier of teams.
This morning I thought of this as a falling tide, dropping all ships. But that is not exactly what is happening, because as the tide goes out and water levels decline, UK’s stock has been on the rise. UK has been a rising ship in a falling tide. Pomeroy now has UK at #14, up from #30, and steadily climbing the chart as its play has clearly improved.
On my system, after last week, UK had risen to #23, up from a low point of #32, and I believe after the Georgia game, my numbers would show continued climb for the Cats, probably into my top 20 (I only update that every Sunday)
Two weeks ago, I had the game at South Carolina as a loss. Today, I have UK a 4 point favorite for Saturday. As recently as Monday, Pomeroy had this game as a loss, and today he has UK as a 1 point favorite.
At this late stage of a season, it is very unusual, and very difficult for any team to make such dramatic climb in this particular rating system because after 20+ games, one additional game does not affect the overall numbers. However, when the overall numbers for the majority of the top teams are falling, any team with rising numbers will appear to shoot up the chart.
This basketball season is very unusual.
If I were a betting man, which I am not, I would give this UK team the benefit of my betting money this March. I believe Coach Calipari knows where the problems have been and are today, and I am confident that he is taking care of business with his team. When this team is playing well it is stronger than the rest of the field.
When this team does not play well, it has played very poorly. However, the record when split between opponents in the top 50 vs opponents ranking outside the top 50, this UK team is 4-1, the loss at Kansas being the only loss, and against the weaker teams, this UK team is 14-5, with losses to #65 UCLA, #73 Ohio State, #58 LSU, #185 Auburn, and #90 Tennessee.
In my opinion, each of those losses are embarrassing losses, but this record indicates the level of play is more a matter of the perception the UK players have of its opponent than anything else. When this team is convinced they have a worthy opponent, this team comes to play.
It is truly a very perplexing season, but I am hopeful that Coach Calipari has this situation under control, and his team will respond well down the stretch.
I know, I am grasping for straws, and the playing field for these last seven games has many land mines hidden from our view.