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Richard Cheeks

By RICHARD CHEEKS

Some say the team is “not playing hard” and others “the players are not committed to the program, only to their NBA futures” and yet others “that they are playing better ball” but all of those kind of statements lack any objective measure to support the assertion.  How does one measure “how hard” a player is playing?  How can one know what a player is or is not committed to?  These subjective assertions can’t be objectified, if that is a word.

However, the quality of performance can be measured.  Here are a couple of ways of thinking about it.

This shows the adjusted offensive, defensive and Net Game Efficiencies of the 5 Calipari teams at UK.  For 2013, I have two measures, a snapshot after 22 games, prior to Nerlen’s injury, and the season ending conditions.  For 2014, all we can show is what has occurred, through 24 games.

People want to justify this team because it has such a strong offense, and it has, but its defense has been very bad.  Last year’s team, through 22 games, was playing outstanding defense, but struggled offensively, thus the general perception of how bad it was again was driven by the offensive side of the equation.  However, the Net Game Efficiency of both teams were the same.  NGE is the most reliable measurement of quality of play I have found.  Nerlens’ going down did impact the offense on the margin (1.106 to 1.088) but his loss was devastating to the team defensively.  I think most observers have commented on his importance to that team defensively, but here is the measure of that importance.  This of the defensive efficiency from game 22 to game 33 that is needed to raise the average from 0.890 to 0.991.

These two teams are weaker than the 2011 team, 2010 team, and the 2012 championship team of course.

COMPARISON_of_CALIPARI_UK_TEAMS_2010-2014

This graph shows the Pomeroy Ranking of three UK teams after each game in the season for 2011, 2013 and 2014.  Again, the similarities between 2013 and 2014 through this point of the season are so similar, and both are weaker than the 2011 team through this point, and of course the way the 2011 team finished their season.    Fans were up in arms last year over the team, before Nerlens went down.  The same fans want to somehow argue to protect this team from criticism.  I believe the difference is found in the offensive side of things because fans can see the better offense, but they can’t discern the quality of defensive play nearly as easily.

POMEROY_RANK_BY_GAME_2013-2014-VV

One last point about the graph for all years.  Pomeroy, and others, start a season with guesses.  So the first 5 to 10 games of this graph are influenced by those pre-season guesses, but after about 8 games, in my experience, these graphs reflect the current team’s quality of play, free from the influence of the pre-season guesses.  Since game 8, this team has moved from a #6 ranking to a #14 ranking.  That shows a decline in the quality of play, not an improvement.

By RICHARD CHEEKS

To my Big Blue brothers and sisters, smile, relax, and enjoy the ride that the Cats are going to deliver to you for the 2013-14 season. This ride has only just begun, and yes I realize that the young Cats did not beat Michigan State in their third college game, and third game in four days, but that was predictable, and was simply part of Maestro Calipari’s grand plan to bring this group along, and show them the learning curve that they must climb. And they are climbing it.

November 18, 10 days into this new season, the Cats have the second highest adjusted NGE in the land. The projections for the rest of the season indicate that the Cats are not likely to be an underdog in a single game left on the regular schedule (Pomeroy has the Cats underdogs to Florida by 2 points in the last game, but that will change). The Cats’ focus for the next 3 weeks is to continue to climb that slope ahead of them, focusing only on their mission, without regard to the circumstances at Chapel Hill, Louisville, East Lansing, Durham, or Lawrence. Each of those situations will take care of themselves in due course. The Cats’ only focus now must be climbing that learning curve.

One last time, these Cats are doing exactly as they should, and are probably further up that slope today than anyone should have reasonably expected. One day, the rest of the basketball world will wake up to this reality, and when it happens, the Big Blue Nation will hear the whispered, collective “Oh S&#!, Calipari has his team playing”

image001These games are not about the opponent that shows up, which for Tuesday, will be Texas Arlington. Texas Arlington has also played four games, and one of those games was against a non-D1 opponent. In their 3 games against D1 opposition, Arlington is 1-2. They have played at an average pace of 77 possessions, which this UK team will like very much, scoring 82.7 ppg (1.071 ppp) while giving up 91.3 ppg (1.176 ppp) against an early schedule strength of 0.5322 (#168). On Friday night, Arlington fell to future UK opponent Cleveland State by 10 at home, and in their opener, the previous Friday, Arlington fell to another future UK opponent, Boise State by 29 on the road. Arlington’s only win came at the expense of Samford by 13 at home.

Through their first four games, the Cats also bring a 3-1 record into Tuesday’s encountered with themselves when Arlington makes an appearance in Rupp Arena. The Cats’ early season schedule strength is 0.4491 (#214). A side-by-side statistical comparison shows:

 

 

 

Based on these team profiles, the NGE analysis projects a Kentucky win by 37 points, 99-62. Pomeroy has this game with a 27 point margin, 97-70.

 

 

Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)

 By RICHARD CHEEKS

 The future’s not ours to see.

We all know the message, and the tune is probably rumbling through your mind as you begin to read this piece. You are probably wondering what is the point, and where is he going with this today. Well, we can all agree that whatever will be, will be; that IS why they play the games, right?

The Calipari Era is preparing for its fifth season. The new players will be arriving on campus. Frankly, the expectations have probably never been wilder, or even higher, e.g. Best Recruiting Class Ever! 40-0 is Definitely In Play! Number 9 Is All But Won! Just ship the Trophy now!

Gee, I think I have heard those things before. The Davis-Gilchrist group was also tagged “The Best Class Ever?” We hear talk of undefeated seasons every summer. The Big Blue Nation believed #8 would come “this year”, and now some are counting on #9 even before the kids ever lace up a UK sneaker and put on their wildcat game colors? I think we can all reflect on the last 4 summers and recall hearing those things, that we can all recall at least one fan who uttered those words. Granted, the utterances were more prevalent during 2011 than 2010 or 2011. But, I am hearing more of this talk this summer that even 2 years ago. How about you?

Nevertheless, the future’s not ours to see, or is it? Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. North Carolina, Michigan State, Kansas, and Louisville believe they each have something to say about who will be left standing next April. I concede this point, but I make no attempt here to assess the chances of any of these teams. My only concern is what I should reasonably expect from the next group of Wildcats.

I believe that most reliable way to peer into the future is to study the past. The events of the Gillipsie Era certainly have no application to what may occur in year 5 of the Calipari Era. What happened in the Smith era is similarly irrelevant to what may occur in 2013-14. Even the highly successful Pitino Era is not relevant to the forecast for next year. How far back into the Calipari Era remains relevant today?

Each of his first four teams have been new teams, assembled for a single season. Yes, the 2010 team included several “seasoned” holdovers from Billy Clyde’s farewell tour. Yes, the 2012 team included Miller, Jones and Lamb from the 2011 Final Four team. Last year’s team, and the 2011 team were both substantially rebuilds after heavy NBA draft losses from the previous teams. Even though this season’s roster will include Wiltjer, Poythress, Polson, and Hood from the 2013 crew, the 2013-14 Wildcats will again be a rebuilding effort for Calipari’s fifth straight season.

In the past, the best indicator for the “next” team was probably the “last” team, because such a high percentage of players from the last team formed a nucleus for the next. The record two years removed was probably not nearly as relevant as the record the last team established, and similarly, the significance drops further looking back three years, and even more with any attempt to look back four year. It is difficult to argue that even with the same coach, a team’s record, five years or more removed, has any current relevancy for a forecast of the next team.

With the Calipari Era, UK is breaking new ground. The fifth consecutive “rebuild.” Yes, this team does have some carryover from last year, but the most significant factor for this new team will be how these new players respond to the environment, to the college game, and to Coach Calipari’s coaching methods and style. Since all four of Calipari’s prior teams had to provide answers to these key questions, and their answers are memorialized by the records they produced, in looking forward, it is at least arguable that the response of the 2010 roster to the challenge is as relevant today as the 2013 roster’s response to the same set of challenges.

The detractors, the naysayers, want to point only to last year’s results and assign so much weight to that result as to render the prior 3 season outcomes irrelevant in their attempt to argue that the Cats’ 2013-14 outlook is full of doubt. They use this same argument to argue that Calipari’s 2011-12 team simply caught lightning in the bottle, and the championship is the aberration within this history. Wildcat fans take the opposite view about aberrations, and argue that last year’s results should be ignored in looking ahead to this next team.

I do not believe that either extreme approach provides the clearest reading of that crystal ball. The use of a weighting system for the four prior seasons (the traditional approach) or give each of these prior seasons equal standing (the Calipari Rebuild Theory approach) produce almost identical statements about what Calipari’s next team would look like IF it achieves an average outcome in 2014. Therefore, it is not necessary to resolve the question of weighted v. arithmetic averages this year. Further, since the Calipari record only has four prior years, it is not necessary to resolve the question of whether future forecasts should only look 4 years back, or whether all of Calipari’s rebuilds at UK have equal value.

To see a larger version of the chart, click on it above.

To see a larger version of the chart, click on it above.

The table above provides the results of the last four seasons, and computes an arithmetic average and a weighted average. As you can see, there is very little difference between them, but the arithmetic average does yield a slightly stronger average team. The best analysis available today for the 2014 season is that this team has a 50% probability of performing above this average level of play, and a 50% probability of playing below the average. Take you pick.

At the average level of play, this team will go through the 13 game non-conference schedule next November and December with 9 solid wins by predicted margins of 9 to 29 points. Four games will determine whether this team is above or below average:

At North Carolina -2 Pts
Michigan State in Chicago -1/2 Pts
Louisville ½ Pts
Baylor at Cowboys Stadium 3 1//2 Pts

Strictly by the numbers, 2-2 in these four games, with 3-1 easily within reach, and 4-0 at least still in the discussion.

In the SEC, assuming the schedule maker keeps the same home-away matchups for the coming season, and flips the single game opponent venues, then the Cats will be favored to win 15 and lose 3. However, that forecast is based on the SEC opponents coming back in 2014 with the same quality of play as they ended 2013. In the aggregate, that assumption may provide a useful early glimpse, but the team by team analysis would suggest that Florida is not likely to repeat the quality of play they posted last year, and Florida provides 2 of the 3 underdog games, which I find hard to believe. The team that could rise to threaten the Cats for a third SEC loss might be Texas A&M. Time will tell, of course, but at this point I foresee a high probability that the Cats will move through the SEC at 15-3, and end as regular season champions.

That is 26-5 regular season, with a 50% probability. Of course, my expectations are on the “better than average” outcome than the “below average outcome” If they do get through the season at average or better, I will like the Cats’ chances in the post season, and then it is about putting it all together for that tournament run.

 

Oh, when will Big Blue Madness happen this year?

 

 

uk basketball logoBy RICHARD CHEEKS

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.

 

By RICHARD CHEEKS

The Cats passed their Lipscomb quiz last Saturday, probably earned a grade of C+ or B-, and this Saturday they get their last quiz of the month, the Marshall quiz, before their December, non-conference Final Exam on December 29, at Louisville. The Marshall quiz will be more difficult than the Lipscomb quiz, and more difficult than any of the non-BCS quizzes of this non-conference season. However, make no mistake, the Louisville Final Exam will be the most difficult non-conference test the Cats are likely to face all season, including the big dance because the Cats will have to do it on the Cards’ home instead of Rupp or even a neutral location.

 Marshall has opened the season with seven wins in twelve starts, and one of the seven wins came at the expense of non-D1 opponent District of Columbia by 22 points. All six of Marshall’s D1 wins have been at home, and their most impressive win to date was over #155 Nevada by 7 points. Marshall has not won on the road so far this season, losing at #97 Villanova by 12, and at #309 Hofstra by 3 in 2OT. Marshall has also lost to #16 Cincinnati at a “semi-home” venue by 16.

Marshall has averaged about 71 to 72 possessions per game, producing 74.1 ppg (1.03 ppp) and allowing 71.4 ppg (1.00 ppp) against an early schedule that Pomeroy rates as the 300th toughest (0.3876). Marshall has turned the ball over on 20.8% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 17.5% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, Marshall has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 40.2%, about 7% above the 33% NCAA average, and a defensive rebounding rate of 67.1%, which is the same as the national average.

In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 70 to 71 possessions per game, producing 78.1 ppg (1.10 ppp) and allowing 61.8 ppg (0.88 ppp) against a schedule strength of 0..5225 (164th). The Cats have committed turnovers on 17.8% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 21.7% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 33.7% and 69.8% on the offensive and defensive ends.

Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of the Cats by 23 points, 83-60, in a game played at a pace of 73 possessions for the Cats and 73 possessions for Marshall. Pomeroy figures the Game in Kentucky’s favor by 26 points, 87-61 at a pace of 71 possessions. From my perspective, a margin on Saturday of less than 14 points would not bode well for the Cats final exam preparations, and a win by 35 or more would suggest that the team is benefiting from the first full week of Camp Calipari.

 

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