By RICHARD CHEEKS
Malik Monk must have decided that there is no better time or place for a coming out party for a player from Arkansas playing his college basketball at Kentucky than the Champions’ Classic at Madison Square Garden on national TV. After teasing the Big Blue Nation through the pre-season, and then struggling in the tune up games against Stephen F. Austin and Canisius, Malik Monk erupted in New York City with 23 points primarily due to 7-11 shooting from outside the arc. When Isaiah Briscoe’s 21 point game is added to the mix, the Cats were able to dispense of a strong Michigan State team by 21 points, 69-48 on one of the biggest stages in college basketball.
Certainly, Coach Calipari is right that this team is very young, with a long way to go before it really hits its stride. However, a 3-0 start that includes this impressive handling of any Michigan State Spartan group is noteworthy. CBS has moved the Cats into their #1 position on the strength of this game, and the Cats have eased up to the #3 position in the Pomeroy ratings. 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.
Calipari now has 3 games at Rupp and about 10 days to “grow” this team before he must again board a plane for the Bahamas to face Arizona State on November 28. The next tune up game will be on Sunday evening against Duquesne. The areas requiring attention for this team include field goal shooting, currently at 46.4% overall and only 29.1% from the arc, and rebounding. Through three games, the Cats have been outworked on the Boards, 116-107 and 41-35 on the offensive glass which has reduced the second chance point production for this team. This is very uncharacteristic of a Coach Calipari team. Because of these issues, this team’s early adjusted offensive efficiency (AOE) is 1.085 ppp is uncharacteristically low for a Coach Calipari team at UK. Only the 2012-13 team finished with an AOE below 1.10 ppp, at 1.093 ppp.
Defensively, this team has posted impressive numbers for the start of a season with an adjusted defensive efficiency (Edrice (BAM) Adebayo) of 0.829 ppp. As a basis of comparison, the 2015-16 team finished with an ADE of 0.938 ppp, and the only Calipari team to finish a season with a lower ADE was the phenomenal defensive performance in 2014-15 at 0.810 ppp which rewrote the defensive record books.
Duquesne has already played four games, with a 2-2 record. The Dukes have beaten #302 Loyola MD and #325 St. Francis PA by 5 and 14, respectively. The loses came at the hands at #106 Penn St. by 8, and against #219 Canisius by 10. They enter this game as the #187 team in the Pomeroy ratings with an ANE of -0.108 ppp against an early schedule strength of -0.0942 ppp. The Cats enter this game at #3 with an ANE of 0.260 ppp against an early schedule strength of 0.0109 ppp. The Adjusted Net Efficiency (ANE) analysis for this match up indicates a game played at a pace of 74 possessions, with the Cats winning by 32 points, 89-57 with game efficiencies of 1.203 ppp and 0.770 ppp. Pomeroy sees this game with UK having a 36-point advantage, 92-66 played at a pace of 77 possessions.
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