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By RICHARD CHEEKS
This year, the Eagles earned the bragging rights with a victory over the Cats at the Yum Center. It is the first Cards triumph since Billy Gillispie occupied The Chair for Kentucky. Make no mistake, this edition of Cards is the real deal, one of the top four teams in the country, and a legitimate contender for the national championship. Furthermore, no one is likely to mistake this Kentucky team as in that exclusive club this year, at least not yet. However, as has become the custom in these annual battles of the Bluegrass, the underdog again extended the favorite and made the game closer than the pre-game talk would make the game.
The Cats managed to nearly erase a 17 point second half Louisville lead, but the Cats could get no closure than 2 points, at 63-61, and the final margin of 3 points resulted from near heroic shooting by Mays and Goodwin as the clock was winding down and the Cards were feeling comfortable in their impending win. Nevertheless, the Cats did show a grittiness to keep it close at the end that we have not seen from this team since its opening neutral court games against Maryland and Duke almost 2 months ago. Camp Calipari appears to be yielded dividends.
Now the Cats will turn their attention to the task that is now at hand, the SEC regular season, and they will use their last non-conference game of this season to consolidate their recent team gains, and have one last tune up for the rigors of SEC travels that begin next Saturday.
Eastern Michigan has opened the season with seven wins in twelve starts. However, three of the Eagles’ wins have come at the hands of non-D1 opponents, Rochester Michigan, Madonna, and Siena Heights which reduces the D1 record to 4-5. The Eagles have not shied away from top competition, losing at #8 Syracuse by 36 points and at #9 Michigan by 39 points. While Eastern Michigan has lost at #291 Jacksonville State by 7, the Eagles have also sent the #72 Purdue Boilermakers home with a 3 point loss.
Eastern Michigan has averaged about 64 possessions per game, producing 53.9 ppg (0.85 ppp) and allowing 62.3 ppg (0.98 ppp) against an early schedule that Pomeroy rates as the 139th toughest (0..5486). Eastern Michigan has turned the ball over on 22.9% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 22.2% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, Eastern Michigan has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 33.0% equal to the 33% NCAA average, and a defensive rebounding rate of 60.1%, also about 7% below the NCAA average.
In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 71 possessions per game, producing 78.3 ppg (1.10 ppp) and allowing 62.7 ppg (0.89 ppp) against a schedule strength of 0..5722 (104th). The Cats have committed turnovers on 17.6% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 20.9% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 34.1% and 69.5% on the offensive and defensive ends.
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of the Cats by 31 points, 80-49 in a game played at a pace of 68 possessions for the Cats and 67 possessions for Eastern Michigan. Pomeroy figures the Game in Kentucky’s favor by 25 points, 73-48 at a pace of 65 possessions. From my perspective, if the Cats beat Eastern Michigan by 40 points on Wednesday evening, the team will have demonstrated that the gains we saw over the last two weeks are continuing for this team. However, the Cats allow the Eagles to stay within 20 points of the Cats on the night, then the team’s determination will remain a question as the team moves into its SEC schedule.