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By RICHARD CHEEKS
I have been tracking the performance of UK basketball teams since the early 1990, and I have been writing about the games, before and after the actual games, for about 6 years. Never have I struggled to find a theme for a team, a season, or a series of games within a season. When I finally had time to write about the upcoming Texas A&M game on Friday, I was heavily medicated, and I attributed my mental block to the medication. However, as I sit here on a Sunday afternoon, the block is stronger and the medications of Friday and Saturday no longer provide a viable excuse. Yet, excuses are on my mind.
— The team is so young.
— The team does not have any upperclassman to provide leadership or set the proper examples.
— Some players seem content to simply bide their time in a Kentucky uniform until they the day arrives when they can get paid to play.
There has been an uncharacteristic steady flow of excuses swirling around this team and this season. But, excuses are for losers. This team has the size it needs to rebound, and the length it needs to play an intimidating brand of defense. This team has the shooters to take any opponent out of a zone defense. There is a disconnect between what this team can do, and what this team is doing. It is Coach Calipari’s responsibility to eliminate that disconnect. I have no doubt that he has been doing everything within his ability to do just that. However, time is running out. On Tuesday, the Cats play Tennessee, an opponent that the Cats should handle routinely under usual circumstances, but this team should have handled Baylor routinely. This team should have put a pitiful Vanderbilt team away in Nashville earlier this week, and this team should not have been challenged by Texas A&M in Rupp Arena yesterday.
However, we all understand that “should have’s” are not ever the definition of what “is”. After the Tennessee game, these Cats take to the road for 4 of their next 5 games, traveling to Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi, and a rematch at Texas A&M on February 2. If they do not figure out this puzzle now, by the time this team returns home, it may be too late.
Tennessee will enter Rupp Arena on Tuesday with an 8-6 record, winless in their first 2 SEC games of this season. Tennessee has played an ambitious non-conference schedule that includes #22 Oklahoma State, #40 Memphis, #46 Virginia, and #60 Georgetown. Each of those games handed the Vols a loss. However, Tennessee claims a win over #27 Wichita State. The Vols’ SEC schedule started with a home loss to #20 Mississippi by 18 points, and a road loss to #83 Alabama by 3 points.
Tennessee has averaged about 65 possessions per game, producing 65.2 ppg (1.00 ppp) and allowing 61.8 ppg (0.96 ppp) against an early schedule that Pomeroy rates as the 61st toughest (0..5867). Tennessee has turned the ball over on 19.1% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 17.1% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, Tennessee has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 34.3% about 1% above the 33% NCAA average, and a defensive rebounding rate of 72.0%, about 5% above the NCAA average.
In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 71 possessions per game, producing 77.4 ppg (1.10 ppp) and allowing 61.8 ppg (0.89 ppp) against a schedule strength of 0..5260 (139th). The Cats have committed turnovers on 18.1% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 20.9% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 34.7% and 68.7% on the offensive and defensive ends.
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of the Cats by 17 points, 75-58 in a game played at a pace of 68 possessions for the Cats and 68 possessions for Tennessee. Pomeroy figures the Game in Kentucky’s favor by 14 points, 74-60 at a pace of 68 possessions. From my perspective, a margin of 26 points or more would be a very strong performance while a margin in single digits would be a weak one.
The pre-game performance measures for Tennessee are almost identical to those that Texas A&M carried into Saturday’s game against the Cats.