By RICHARD CHEEKS
When your team consists of inexperience players, the number one objective from the start must be to teach, and all great teachers develop a syllabus with a sequence of lesson plans as a road map to follow. For each session in the season, the teacher establishes learning objectives, and I have no doubt that Coach Calipari is approaching the 2013-14 basketball season in precisely this manner. The next scheduled session on Coach Calipari’s 2013-14 Syllabus is Lesson Plan 6, Cleveland State.
The first five sessions revealed Coach Calipari’s plan for the season: Start by learning to crawl, then walk, and finally show you can run with the big dogs. With the exception of the Champions’ Classic excursion to Chicago to face #1 Michigan State in the third session of the year, the tests provided by the opponents have been the easiest that this team will see all season, albeit progressively more difficult from start to present. These young Cats have passed these early tests, demonstrating that they started this class already able to crawl, have developed the ability to walk, and have showed signs of their ability to run.
Yes, Michigan State was something of a curveball for a group still trying to understand how to run because they were not quite ready to run with the big dogs that early. But, Big Blue Fans have little doubt that in due course this group of Cats will be able to outrun the Big Dogs, and if given another chance to take on the Spartans, will show them a new speed that will give the Spartans the “deer in the headlights” effect that seems to hit the young Cats in Chicago.
There are two more games to work on those emerging running skills. Cleveland State is up next in game 6. As it should be, Cleveland State is the next most difficult non-conference opponent in line. Eastern Michigan is waiting in the wings, for game 7, as the next opponent moving up the difficulty scale. The Adjusted NGE of each of these opponents tells the major part of this early season story:
Robert Morris, -0.027
Cleveland State, 0.004
Eastern Michigan, 0.013
Thereafter, Coach Calipari has lined up a series of December opponents to teach this team to run full speed with the Biggest Dogs that the NCAA has to offer in 2013-14. Providence, Baylor, Boise State, North Carolina, Belmont, and Louisville in that order have an average Adjusted NGE of 0.196 ppp, with a low of 0.121 ppp belonging to Baylor, and a high of 0.310 ppp belonging to Louisville. With each new test in this December portion of the class, the opponent’s adjusted NGE goes up a notch. By the end of December, we will know how well this group can run with the Big Dogs. The combined won-loss record of the remaining 8 teams on the non-conference schedule is 31-4. Cleveland State has 2 of the 4 losses, and 1 loss (taken by UNC from Belmont) was delivered by one future opponent to another.
As noted previously, these early games are not about the opponent that shows up, which for Monday night, will be Cleveland State. Cleveland State has also played five games, and has a 3-2 record. They have played at an average pace of 74 to 75 possessions, which this UK team will like very much, scoring 89.6 ppg (1.236 ppp) while giving up 64.6 ppg (0.862 ppp) against an early schedule strength of 0.5404 (#165). Saturday, Cleveland State defeated Robert Morris by 13, and on November 15, CSU defeated UT Arlington by 10 on the road. CSU’s two losses came at the hands of San Franscisco by 9 on the road, and future UK opponent Eastern Michigan by 12, also on the road. The Vikings claim a 4 point home win over #82 Iona in their season opener.
Through their first four games, the Cats also bring a 4-1 record into Tuesday’s encountered with themselves when Cleveland State makes an appearance in Rupp Arena. The Cats’ early season schedule strength is 0.3952 (#251). A side-by-side statistical comparison shows:
Based on these team profiles, the NGE analysis projects a Kentucky win by 31 points, 93-62. Pomeroy has this game with a 21 point margin, 91-70.