By RICHARD CHEEKS
On Friday night, the Cats made their first appearance in the 2017 NCAA Tournament and bounced a scrappy and determined Northern Kentucky team from the tournament 79-70. The final score can be deceiving because the Cats led by 14 at the half, and extended their lead to 18 points, 63-45 with 8:17 remaining in the game. The lead remained at 15, 67-52, with 6:10 left. However, over the next 5 ½ minutes, the Norse outscored the Cats 8-16 to trim the lead to a mere 6 points, before the clock finally ticked to 0:00 with the Cats leading by 9. Since about midnight, Friday, almost all of the focus has been on those final 6 minutes.
Following the game, Coach Calipari was clearly not pleased with the overall effort in this game, but there were bright spots as well as blemishes. Edrice (BAM) Adebayo had another double double, and his 18 rebounds are the most ever by a Cat in NCAA Tournament play. Despite only making 3 of 17 from long range, the team found offense from other sources in addition to Edrice (BAM) Adebayo. De’Aaron Fox put up 19 points on 8-15 shooting, Isaiah Briscoe scored 17 on 7-11 shooting, and Malik Monk managed to score 12, primarily from the free throw line (6-7) despite 3-11 shooting and 0-6 from long range.
The Cats now advance to the tournament’s round of 32 where the Cats will once again face the Shockers of Wichita State. All Cat fans remember the 2014 NCAA Tournament Round of 32 when the Cats, having been slighted with an 8 seed, faced #1 seed Wichita State. WSU entered that game undefeated, 35-0. The Cats shocked the Shockers, 78-76, with their only loss of the season, and sent them back to Wichita while the Cats eventually advanced to the championship game.
This year, the NCAA slighted a very strong Wichita State team with a 10 seed, opposite Kentucky’s 2 seed, and placed these two programs onto a collision course. The Big Blue Nation should not be deceived, or lulled into complacency about the 10 seed. In 2014, the Shockers had an ANE of 0.254 ppp against a schedule strength of 0.0168 ppp.
This year’s version of the Shockers enters the game against the Cats with an ANE of 0.265 ppp against a schedule strength of 0.0113 ppp. As noted earlier, that team was 35-0 but this team is 31-4. The 2014 team was 3-0 against Pomeroy top 50 teams, beating #48 BYU, #10 Tennessee, and # 35 Saint Louis.
The 2017 Shockers also have beaten 3 top 50 teams this season, but also have lost to top 50 teams 4 times. In 2014, the Shockers were the 4th most efficient team (Pomeroy), and as of this morning, the 2017 Shockers are the 5th most efficient team (Pomeroy).
Do not be deceived or overly confident Big Blue Fans. These Shockers are everything that their 2014 brethren were, except they have tasted defeat 4 times. They have lost to Louisville, Michigan State, Oklahoma State, and Illinois State. The Shockers have not tasted defeat since January 14, and enter the game against the Cats with a 16 game winning streak.
WICHITA STATE enters this game with an ANE of 0.281 points per possession against strength of schedule of 0.112 ppp (#119). The Cats enter this game with an ANE of 0.281ppp against strength of schedule of 0.0926 ppp (#32). The ANE analysis indicates a Kentucky win by 1 point, 74-73 at apace of 73 possessions. This would produce game efficiencies of 1.010 ppp and 0.997 ppp. Pomeroy sees this game in Kentucky’s favor by 1 point 79-78 at a pace of 73 possessions. Vegas opened favoring the Cats by 4 points.
Use the following link to see how other UK fans handicap this game at 247Sports, The Cats Pause message board:
You can participate in the score prediction contest at 247Sports at the following link: