By RICHARD CHEEKS
The regular season is complete, 23-8, 13-5 in the SEC with a co-championship of the SEC. The Cats had to share this championship with Texas A&M primarily due to the two vagaries of the game. First, the schedule maker had Texas A&M and the Cats only meeting once, in College Station, and then the SEC referees slapped Isaac Humphries with an unnecessary technical foul that snatched a championship clinching road victory from the Cats and forced the co-championship upon them. Then, the Cats rolled through the SEC Tournament to face these same Aggies in the Championship game, winning this time on the neutral court and demonstrating their overall superiority.
Then, to add insult to these vagaries, the NCAA selection committee appears complete unable to understand the subtleties of these events and circumstances, and pre-determined to give Texas A&M a #3 seed in the West and the Cats a #4 seed in the East. The West Region clearly provides the easiest trip to the Final Four, and the East provides the toughest. However, such is the usual condition for Coach Calipari and the Wildcats when fates are placed in the hands of these esteemed scholars who clearly are more interested in non-basketball stories like a forced matchup between the Cats and the Hoosiers than any semblance of equity based on the quality of a team’s level of play.
Well, it is easy and common to rail against such things as scheduling vagaries, officiating misjudgments, and NCAA seeding stupidity. None of that does anyone any good, and the facts remain that to win the NCAA Basketball Championship requires any team to win six consecutive games against the best the game has to offer that particular season. 2016 will be no different, and the Cats’ quest for #9 starts on Thursday night in Des Moines, Iowa against Stoney Brook. If the Cats survive and advance to the second round, they will meet the winner of the Indiana vs Tennessee Chattanooga first round game. Looking ahead UNC and probably Xavier stand in the Cats’ path to another Final Four.
Stony Brook brings a 26-6 record that includes the American East Conference Tournament championship. The Seawolves have played four games against three opponents common to the Cats. Stony Brook lost at Vanderbilt in the second game of the season by 7 in OT. Stony Brook won at NJIT by 22 points, and they split a pair of games, home and away, against Albany, winning by 6 at home and losing by 12 on the road.
Stony Brook has played its 32 games at an average tempo of about 68 to 69 possessions per game, scoring 76.8 ppg (1.122 ppp) and allowing an average 63.4 ppg (0.929 ppp). Stony Brook has turned the ball over on 16.7% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 18.7% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, Stony Brook has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 35.7%, and a defensive rebounding rate of 74.7%. The Stony Brook schedule has a strength of schedule of 0.3755 (#290).
In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 69 to 70 possessions per game, producing 79.7 ppg (1.152 ppp) and allowing 68.3 ppg (0.979 ppp). The Cats have committed turnovers on 16.0% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 17.7% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 37.8% and 68.3% on the offensive and defensive ends. The Cats have a strength of schedule of 0.6892 (#31).
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of the Cats with a theoretical margin of 18 points, 81-73 in a game played at a pace of 69 possessions for the Cats and 69 possessions for TEXAS A&M. Pomeroy has this as a10 point Kentucky favorite, 77-67, at a pace of 66 possessions. Vegas opens with UK a 13 point favorite, and within a few hours, the line has slipped to 14 points.
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