By RICHARD CHEEKS
In some ways, the start of November seems like an eternity ago, and in other ways, it seems like yesterday that the Cats traveled to Chicago and handled Duke with greater ease than ever anticipated. Between then and now, the Cats have lost 8 times in thirty tries. The most embarrassing loss was in the second SEC game of the season in Baton Rouge when LSU did anything it wanted against a UK team that seemed incapable of playing the game of basketball at any level.
The loss to LSU is not the issue. Many teams have lost in Baton Rouge this season. The problem with that game was the manner of the loss. The Cats have sustained other losses that seemed as inexplicable as the LSU beat down. However, the reality remains that the manner of that loss was so extreme that it will be recorded as the worst game performance by this team.
Saturday, the Cats will entertain LSU at Rupp Arena in the rematch of their earlier meeting. Consider that the Cats can clinch a share of the SEC regular season title with a win over LSU, and can win the SEC outright with a win coupled with a Texas A&M loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday. Consider that the Cats will enter the SEC Tournament as the favorite to win the automatic bid to the NCAA to represent the SEC. Consider that these Cats, at least at one Las Vegas house, have been given 10-1 odds of reaching the NCAA final four, the fourth best odds as we all anticipate this year’s March Madness.
LSU on the other hand is probably not going to receive an at large bid to the NCAA tournament unless they can beat the Cats in Rupp on Saturday AND win at least 2 games in the SEC Tournament next week end. If ever there was one game that so drastically misrepresented the quality of the two teams, it was the UK loss to this LSU team in Baton Rouge, way back in early January.
LSU brings a 18-12, 11-6 SEC record into this encounter with the Cats. The Cats record now stands at 22-8, 12-5 in the SEC. The Tigers raced out to an 8-2 SEC record after they defeated Mississippi State at home on February 6. However, LSU lost 4 of their next 5 games, falling at South Carolina by 11, at Tennessee by 16, and at Arkansas by 20. Ironically, the only Tiger win in that 5 game stretch was over #23 Texas A&M in Baton Rouge by 5 points. The Tigers have won their last two games, over Florida by 5 and over Missouri by 9, both in Baton Rouge.
LSU has played its 30 games at an average tempo of about 69 possessions per game, scoring 69.4 ppg (1.002 ppp) and allowing an average 68.4 ppg (0.985 ppp). LSU has turned the ball over on 19.2% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 15.6% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, LSU has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 31.4%, and a defensive rebounding rate of 70.7%. The LSU schedule has a strength of schedule of 0.6255 (#69).
In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 69 to 70 possessions per game, producing 78.5 ppg (1.131 ppp) and allowing 67.6ppg (0.966 ppp). The Cats have committed turnovers on 16.3% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 17.6% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 37.4% and 68.9% on the offensive and defensive ends. The Cats have a strength of schedule of 0.6926 (#24).
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of the Cats with a theoretical margin of 18 points, 80-62 in a game played at a pace of 69 possessions for the Cats and 70 possessions for LSU. Pomeroy figures the Game in Kentucky’s favor by 14 points, 87-73 at a pace of 71 possessions.
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