By LARRY VAUGHT
On Sunday night, the Cats had no trouble posting a 34-point win, 93-59, over a very young and clearly weaker opponent, Duquesne. The Cats are also a very young basketball team featuring six freshmen and two sophomores among its top 11 players. However, there is a clear difference between being “Duquesne Young” and “Wildcat Young.” Prior to the Duquesne game, I noted that this group of young Wildcats needed to take the opportunity of three consecutive tune up games in the five days of Thanksgiving week to shore up a couple of issues, shooting and rebounding.
Overall field goal shooting appears reasonable for the vast majority of players, with a couple of notable exceptions. Dominique Hawkins has only made 3 of 11 shots this season, including 0-5 from long range, and De’Aaron Fox has only made 17 of his 45 attempts, including 1-9 from long range. As a team, their long range shooting problems extend beyond De’Aaron Fox and Dominique Hawkins. Isaiah Briscoe (1-7), De’Aaron Fox (1-9), Wenyen Gabriel (1-6), Derek Willis (2-8), and Dominique Hawkins (0-5) account for 35 of the team’s 81 attempted 3-point shots, and only 5 of the team’s 23 makes from the arc. That is a collective shooting percentage for these five players of 14.2%. Malik Monk (12-31) and Mychal Mulder (6-14) are the only Wildcats who have demonstrated a shooting ability from long range on this team through the first 4 games. This group requires more work in the gym on these shooting issues and better in game shot selection from long range to reach its potential at the offensive end.
The team improved its rebounding against a much smaller and weaker Duquesne team. The Cats outrebounded the Dukes by 17 (49-32) and by nine (16-7) on the offensive end. In addition, the Cats dominated the second chance points against Duquesne, 19-7. The dominance in this game goes beyond the raw numbers. The Cats grabbed 39% of its own misses and 82.5% of Duquesne’s missed shots. However, one game does not establish a real correction, but this is a move in the right direction for this team on the glass. For the first time this season, the Cats grabbed more total and offensive rebounds its collective opponents on the strength of the Duquesne rebounding dominance.
Following the Michigan State game, CBS Sports’ analytics immediately reacted, moving the Cats into its #1 position. Following the Duquesne dominance, the two wire service polls each responded on Monday by moving Kentucky to their top spots. However, the Cats are still languishing (if that is appropriate) at the #3 spot in the Pomeroy efficiency based analytics. To be sure, at this early stage of the season, whether they are #1, #2, #3, or some other place within the top 5 is much less important than the fact that the Cats are again in this conversation, and it is clear that Kentucky has grabbed the attention of the basketball chattering class yet again.
Calipari now has two more games at Rupp, sandwiched around Thanksgiving on Wednesday afternoon and Friday evening before this team boards a plane for the Bahamas to face Arizona State on November 28. The next tune up game will be against Cleveland State.
Cleveland State has already played three games, with a 1-2 record. Cleveland State has beaten #225 Canisius by 3 points. However, the Vikings lost to #202 Kent State by 5 in OT on a neutral court and lost at #239 Tennessee Martin by 11. They enter this game as the #224 team in the Pomeroy ratings with an ANE of -0.049 ppp with strength of schedule of -0.0465 ppp. The Cats enter this game at #3 with an ANE of 0.271 ppp with strength of schedule of -0.0173 ppp. The Adjusted Net Efficiency (ANE) analysis for this match up indicates a game played at a pace of 74 possessions for the Cats and 72 possessions for the Vikings, with the Cats winning by 35 points, 90-55 with game efficiencies of 1.216 ppp and 0.764 ppp. Pomeroy sees this game with UK having a 27-point advantage, 85-58 played at a pace of 70 possessions.
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