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By RICHARD CHEEKS
On Tuesday night, the Cats seemed to respond well to the adversity of a two game losing streak, and the first home loss in nearly four seasons. The Cats responded with a suffocating defense that provided a 31 point cushion at halftime over a clearly outmatched Samford team. The 45-14 halftime score was impressive, even given the opponent’s obvious weakness, and no one expected the Cats to win that game 90-28. However, Coach Calipari was not pleased by a second half that saw Samford outplay the Cats for large stretches of the final 20 minutes, including Samford’s 9-0 start to the half. The game ended with a 32 point Kentucky win, 88-56, but the second half 33-32 score was simply inexplicable, at least to Coach Calipari.
Following the game, Coach Calipari declared that poor conditioning is the only conclusion he could reach, given a team unwilling or incapable of sustaining effort for a full 40 minutes. He also declared that poor conditioning can be fixed, indeed will be fixed over the next 3 weeks. Three weeks? Yes, it is three weeks until the Cats must travel to Louisville for the annual grudge match against a powerful bunch of Cardinals.
Whether it is truly a case of poor conditioning, or something more serious that is ailing this team, Coach Calipari’s declarations remove any doubt that he sees major problems with the state of the team at present, and he intends to use the next 3 weeks to shape this team as he wants them, or fail trying. On Saturday, the Cats get an opportunity to get a break for the new conditioning regimen, and have a game day instead of a 7 am run-run-run morning followed by an afternoon practice session. That will be the next opportunity for fans to see whether this new emphasis is having the effect that Coach Calipari intends.
Portland has opened the season with three wins in eight starts, and one of the three wins came at the expense of non-D1 opponent Lewis & Clark by 5 points. Portland’s D1 wins have both been at home over #323 Idaho State by 3 points and over #284 Portland State by 21 points. Among Portland’s early season losses are by 19 at #296 Montana State. Portland has also lost at #35 New Mexico by 15 and at home to #20 UNLV by 8. In the latter loss, Portland led the Running Rebels for the majority of the game before UNLV took control of the game in the final few minutes.
Portland has averaged about 68 to 69 possessions per game, producing 60.3ppg (0.88 ppp) and allowing 68.7 ppg (0.99 ppp) against an early schedule that Pomeroy rates as the 118th toughest (0.5800). Portland has turned the ball over on 23.8% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 19.2% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, Portland has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 28.4%, about 5% below the the NCAA average, and a defensive rebounding rate of 68.4%, which is about 2% better than the national average.
In contrast, the Cats have started the season averaging 69 to 70 possessions per game, producing 77.4 ppg (1.11 ppp) and allowing 65.3 ppg (0.94 ppp) against a schedule strength of 0..5893 (111th). The Cats have committed turnovers on 17.5% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 19.8% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 32.8% and 69.3% on the offensive and defensive ends.
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of the Cats by 26 points, 81-55, in a game played at a pace of 70 possessions for the Cats and 69 possessions for Portland. Pomeroy figures the Game in Kentucky’s favor by 23 points, 81-58 at a pace of 69 possessions.
Portland’s strong showing on Tuesday night against UNLV should be enough to give the Kentucky squad pause given that UNLV is #20, Notre Dame is #21, and Baylor is #28 at present, and Portland played UNLV to a closer margin than UK could manage against Notre Dame. An effort on Saturday similar to the effort the Cats gave in the second half on Tuesday, or at Notre Dame the previous Tuesday will allow Portland to remain in this game. For these reasons, a margin on Saturday of 15 or less would suggest that the first four days of the new conditioning program has not taken hold yet, and a win by 35 or more would suggest that these players may be getting the message that Coach Calipari is sending them.