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When a teammate falls, his brothers rally around him, each doing a little more, to show support of their fallen brother in the interest of the team. The emotional boost that sustains that greater effort cannot be sustained for the long term. However, as the extra energy provided by the initial response to the lost teammate subsides, the coaches and the remaining players adjust their game tactics to account for the reduced resources. Usually, the team’s overall performance parameters (efficiency) are not substantially changed by the absence of the fallen comrade. This process plays out every season, and in nearly all instances, the ability of the team to be more than anyone ever imagined possible screams to the world the significance of the team. These events also teach the team itself that working together, they can be more than the sum of their individual parts, e.g. synergism.
That is clearly not going to the case with this UK group. Saturday, in Knoxville, this group was like a rudderless ship in a storm. If the wind blew from the west, the group scattered as it moved to the east. If the winds swirls, the group gets spinning sickness and can’t maintain balance. If Tennessee pushed to the baseline, the UK players moved into the cheerleaders. And so it went for the entire game, and make no mistake, the Tennessee Volunteers, their coaches, and their fans reveled in their ability to have their own way for the entire game against the mighty Wildcats. Moreover, they did just that, without any mercy, for 40 full minutes. Paybacks are HECK!
This event, not really a game in the classic sense, exposed the flaws of this group of players. They have tried to go through the motions of being a team, but they have never really grasped the meaning of the word. A collection of individuals for whom the sum of the parts cannot ever be multiplied by the synergism of a team. So, let it be written about Kentucky basketball during the 2012-13 season. This trait was exposed in game 1, and despite Coach Calipari’s personal commitment to teaching them how to be a team, this group simply never understood the importance, the essential nature, of the message.
This group has 6 games remaining, 4 at Rupp and 2 on the road. The “numbers” for this season, based on the pre-Nerlens Noel injury, are so substantial, that they cannot possibly account for the complete dissolution of this group upon his injury, and these analyses in all likelihood will overstate the group’s Noel-less ability, just as it did on Saturday for the Tennessee game. Nevertheless, I will remain true to my methods (and my madness) for these conclusion of this season.
Vanderbilt enters this game with a 10-14 record, 4-8 in the SEC. These teams opened the SEC season in Nashville on January 10, and the Cats were fortunate to escape with a 2 point win despite this being one of the weakest Vanderbilt teams in memory. Since that game, Vanderbilt has 4 wins and has lost 7. Three of their 4 wins came at home, and the Commodores did manage a rare road win at South Carolina by 7. The Commodores have lost on the road to Arkansas by 23, to Missouri by 22, to Tennessee by only 1, and to LSU by only 1. The Vanderbilt trend line of road performance would have to be regarded as rising. The Commodores come into Rupp following a sequence of games that saw them at home for 4 of the last 5 games. Vanderbilt’s schedule has been more than respectable, 64th most difficult in D1 basketball (0.6224 per Pomeroy).
At 4-8 with 6 games remaining, the Commodores appear to have little to play for beyond their pride, and while the stakes for this Kentucky group remain very high (NCAA at large bid hanging in the balance), one must wonder if the Commodores won’t enter Rupp Wednesday night thinking they have more to play for than these Cats. If that is true, they the Cats may as well mail it in for the remaining 6 games.
VANDERBILT has averaged about 63 possessions per game, producing 59.1 ppg (0.94 ppp) and allowing 60.3 ppg (0.96 ppp). VANDERBILT has turned the ball over on 21.3% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 19.8% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, VANDERBILT has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 27.9% about 5% below the 33% NCAA average, and a defensive rebounding rate of 69.5%, about 3% above the NCAA average.
In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 69 possessions per game, producing 74.4 ppg (1.07 ppp) and allowing 63.8 ppg (0.93 ppp) against a schedule strength of 0…6346 (59th). The Cats have committed turnovers on 19.4% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 18.4% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 34.7% and 68.6% on the offensive and defensive ends.
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of Kentucky by 17 points, 73-56 in a game played at a pace of 66 possessions for the Cats and 66 possessions for VANDERBILT. Pomeroy figures the Game in Kentucky’s favor by 13 points, 68-55 at a pace of 63 possessions. The likely margin range for this matchup is Kentucky by 8 to Kentucky by 26 points.