By RICHARD CHEEKS
After the first media timeout, the Cats missed two shots and committed a turnover, and Kansas struck with a run out basket and a 3 pointer to move on top of the Cats by 11, 18-7 just barely 6 minutes into the game. These young Cats had every opportunity to fold their tents and mail in the final 34 minutes, and call it a bad night and hopefully a good learning experience. Honestly, when Coach Calipari took a timeout at that time, I believed that was the likely outcome, and wondered privately if the 24 deficit point margin I had computed would be large enough given how the game had started.
Fortunately, I was never more wrong, and I have never been more pleased to have been so.
These young Cats did not quit. These young Cats responded in a most appropriate way to the gauntlet Kansas tossed before them. Yes, this game was a learning experience, the very best kind of learning experience often called on the job training. This team went to work, and over the next 8+ minutes, the Cats methodically cut the 11 point lead to 5 (20-15) and then 3 (23-20) before catching up completely at 28-28 with 6:17 remaining in the first half. The Cats actually took a 1 point lead (33-32) but Kansas only allowed that lead to stand for 14 seconds.
Over the final two minutes of the first half, the Cats held Kansas scoreless, but could not take advantage of the Jayhawks inability to score, failing to score as well for the halftime lead on three possessions. The second half was competitive from start to finish, and the Cats held their last lead of the game, 2 points, with 3:38 remaining. However, Kansas finished the game with a 10-4 run to the final, 65-61 win over the Cats.
These young Cats grew up some Tuesday night against Kansas on one of the biggest stages for college basketball there is in November. The Cats now enter a period of their schedule designed for their maturing over the next six games spanning the next 3 weeks. The Cats’ opponents during this segment of the schedule are much less important than the opportunity settle into a 2 game per week routine and dedicate their practice regime to learning how to win at the major college basketball level of competition.
The Cats’ have posted game Adjusted Net Efficiencies in the first three games of 0.14 ppp, 0.20 ppp, and 0.28 ppp respectively. While the ANE values of the first two games were lower than we have customarily seen from Coach Calipari’s teams in their first two games, the trend, game to game, is clearly on an upward trajectory. Over the next 6 games, that upward trend should continue and eventually stabilize at a level above the 0.30 ppp level if this team has serious plans for March.
On Friday night, the Cats will return to Rupp Arena for the fourth game of the season against East Tennessee State Univeristy (ETSU). Last season, ETSU finished with a 27-8 record that included a Southern Conference regular season and post season tournament championships that earned the Buccaneers a berth in the NCAA tournament. ETSU lost in the first round to Florida by 15. The Buccaneers have opened this season with two games on the road, and Friday’s appearance at Rupp with be their third road game without a home date. ETSU lost its opener to #115 Northern Kentucky by 18 and got their first win of the season at #327 Savannah State by 15 on Monday night.
The Adjusted Net Efficiency (ANE) analysis for this match up, based on early season experience for each team, indicates a 17 point Kentucky win over ETSU in a game played at 74 possessions, 77-60. Pomeroy sees this game with Kentucky having a 20-point advantage, 84-64 played at a pace of 74 possessions.
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