By RICHARD CHEEKS
The Cats got off to a very slow start against Canisius on Sunday night, trailing by 7 points at the first media timeout, and trailing most of the first half before a late surge in the last 2 minutes put the Cats on top by 9 points at the half. In the second half, the Cats expanded their lead to 29 points before the team seemed to sputter to the finish line, winning by 24 at the end.
Rebounding was a major issue for the Cats for their second consecutive game of this young season. Through two games, the Cats have been outrebounded 72-67 overall, and 28-26 on the offensive boards. Prior Calipari teams have been beasts on the boards, earning a living on offensive rebounds that produce a bevy of second chance points. Of course, the rebounding woes are both on the offensive and defensive ends of the court.
Three point shooting has also been problematic in the early going. Mychal Mulder has made three of his five attempts from beyond the arc in his 10 minutes of floor time. The rest of this team has been 6-29 (20.7%). While the Cats’ 3 point shooting has been off, the Cats’ defense against shooting by its opponents has been less effective than prior Calipari teams too. In these first two games, the opponents have made 55% of their shots inside the arc. The Cats’ interior defense has been lacking as compared to previous teams.
Now it is time to take on Michigan State in the Champions Classic, this year played at Madison Square Garden in New York City. This is the sixth game in this series involving Duke, Kansas, and Michigan State, and concludes the second three game cycle. In the first cycle, the Cats beat Kansas and lost to Duke and Michigan State. In the second cycle, the Cats have beaten Kansas and Duke, and could get the sweep on Tuesday with a win over Michigan State.
Tom Izzo teams battle on the boards as strongly as any team in D1 basketball, and he knows how to exploit the Cats’ soft interior defense. In order to beat Michigan State on Tuesday, these Cats will have to shore up these areas of weakness.
Michigan State opened the season on Friday against #10 Arizona, losing a close one by 2 points, 65-63. The Spartans also played two exhibitions games prior to their Arizona loss. They took care of business against Northwood University by 24, 93-69, and they beat Saginaw Valley State by 10, 87-77. They enter this game as the #15 team in the Pomeroy ratings with an ANE of 0.192 ppp. The Cats enter this game at #4 with an ANE of 0.256 ppp. The Adjusted Net Efficiency (ANE) analysis for this match up indicates a game played at a pace of 70 possessions, with the Cats winning by 2 points, 72-70. Pomeroy sees this game with UK having a 4-point advantage, 75-71 played at a pace of 70 possessions.
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