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By RICHARD CHEEKS
When Patti LaBelle released her disco tune, New Attitude, in 1985, I doubt that she was foretelling the story of the 2012-13 Kentucky Wildcats, but that is exactly what this song must have been about.
Runnin’ hot, runnin’ cold
I was runnin’ into overload,
it was extreme I took it so high, so low
So low, there was nowhere to go
like a bad dream
Somehow the wires uncrossed,
my tables were turned
Never knew I had such a lesson to learn
I’m feelin’ good from my head to my shoes
Know where I’m goin’ and I know what to do
I tidied up my point of view
I got a new attitude!
These Wildcats clearly have found a new attitude, and it gives all the warm, fuzzy feelings to Big Blue Fans about the possibilities for this team that we have not felt in our veins since late October. Of course, the “new attitude” that these Cats are showing, is the “old attitude” that many fans simply presumed would always exist within a John Calipari coached basketball team. It just took this group of new comers 25 games to uncross their wires, and turn their tables.
They have also been blessed with 3 consecutive Rupp Arena appearances to try the new attitude out on opponents, and refine its presentation. Now it is time to take this show on the road to see if it is really Broadway material. The road tests will happen at Arkansas on Saturday, and at Georgia mid week. If the Cats’ “new attitude” show successfully shows it plays on the road, then start selling the tickets for March 9 when the Cats go back on the National Stage once again to show the rest of the world that this is real; this is legitimate.
As I mentioned before the Tennessee game, after the loss of Nerlens Noel, I would remain true to my method of analysis in the face of the loss of the team’s most efficient player, the team’s heart and soul. The old tried and true method of analysis could not account for the complete disorganization that the Volunteers exposed in Knoxville, but this team has steadied itself, and managed a 7 point win (6 point predicted margin) over Missouri, albeit the victory required an overtime to achieve. Then the team stabilized with a 30 point win (28 point predicted margin) against Mississippi State. However, most Cats fans seem to believe this morning that this team is playing its best basketball of the season, and the majority may be exactly right. That is an intangible factor that hopefully will lift these Cats to a victory in Fayetteville on Saturday afternoon. However, it is also generally agreed that Arkansas is playing for superior basketball at Bud Walton Arena than their average performance measures for the season will suggest for this match up. For these reasons, I will assume temporary Missouri residency, and tell these Cats to “Show” me.
Arkansas enters this game with a 17-11 record, 8-7 in the SEC. The seven Razorback losses in SEC play have all occurred on the road, and the Razorbacks have not lost at home to any SEC opponent, and only once this season, to #9 Syracuse by 9 on November 30. Among the Hogs’ home victims this season are #50 Oklahoma, #27 Missouri by 2, and #1 Florida by 11. The Hogs are a dangerous basketball opponent when they are in Bud Walton Arena. When they leave their own beds, they have a combined record of 1-10 as compared to 16-1 when they can sleep in their own beds the night before they play. Arkansas’s schedule has been than respectable because of its SEC portion, lifting the Razorbacks to 86th most difficult in D1 basketball (0.6062 per Pomeroy).
At 8-7 with three games remaining, the Razorbacks are jockeying for SEC Tournament seeding position, but a double bye into the quarter-finals is out of reach now, and they have too many wins to fall into that dreadful bottom 4 group that must play on Wednesday.
ARKANSAS has averaged about 72 possessions per game, producing 74.2 ppg (1.03 ppp) and allowing 68.3 ppg (0.95 ppp). ARKANSAS has turned the ball over on 16.5% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 24.4% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, ARKANSAS has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 31.5% about 2% below the 33% NCAA average, and a defensive rebounding rate of 66.2%, about the same as the NCAA average.
In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 69 possessions per game, producing 75.3 ppg (1.09 ppp) and allowing 64.4 ppg (0.94 ppp) against a schedule strength of 0.6274 (71st). The Cats have committed turnovers on 19.1% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 18.0% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 34.9% and 68.8% on the offensive and defensive ends.
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of Arkansas by the slimmest of margins, 1 point, 70-71 in a game played at a pace of 71 possessions for the Cats and 70 possessions for ARKANSAS. Pomeroy figures the Game in Kentucky’s favor by 1 point, 75-74 at a pace of 73 possessions. The likely margin range for this matchup is Arkansas by 10 to Kentucky by 8 points.