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By RICHARD CHEEKS
Before the Cats embarked on the current five game swing that includes stops at Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas A&M, with a home date against LSU in the middle, I wrote about this team’s split personality. We saw it manifest again in their Waltz across Alabama. Against Auburn they played upbeat, sharp passing, accurate shooting, intimidating defense that resulted in a road win with great ease. Then three days later, the team appeared tense, timid, inaccurate, and their offense and defense abandoned them, especially in the second half. In the second half, the Crimson Tide outscored the Blue Cats 35-22 on just 30 possessions.
The personality disorder is also apparent in a close examination of this team’s pattern of efficiency over the first 18 games. This is the least consistent offense of a Kentucky team since 2000 when I began tracking efficiency variances for offense and defense. However, while this team’s offensive variance is the highest I have observed at 15.2%, the defensive variance is 26.7% when the average variance has been 16.9% prior to this season. This team cannot decide whether they should play like the monsters of the midway or the sisters for the poor.
Make no mistake, Auburn is not near the team that Alabama is, and any objective observer would not have expected a margin of victory and ease of victory that Kentucky enjoyed at Auburn when they took the floor in Tuscaloosa. However, this UK team should have taken care of business against Alabama just the same, and make no mistake, Mississippi will be as much more difficult than Alabama as Alabama was compared to Auburn. Then this formidable sequence concludes at Texas A&M, a team that embarrassed Coach Calipari’s Cats in Rupp Arena 2 weeks ago.
And along came LSU, hot off a 4 point win over those very same Texas A&M Aggies that owned the Cats in Rupp, not the ideal recipe for fixing problems. This Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde act is in jeopardy of playing itself right out of a coveted bye in the SEC Tournament and a bid to the big dance. If it does not get it right soon, it will be too late, if it is not already.
LSU brings a 10-6 record into this game, and the Tigers are coming off a win after losing their first 4 SEC games after posting a 9-2 non-conference record. LSU’s most impressive wins have been by 5 over #98 Seton Hall, and by 4 over #90 Texas A&M, both in Baton Rouge. LSU’s has lost to #35 Marquette, #59 Boise State, #1 Florida, which is no source of embarrassment, but the Tigers may have some difficulty explaining a 5 point loss at #167 Auburn, a 9 point loss at #164 Georgia, and a 9 point loss to #194 South Carolina.
LSU has averaged about 73 possessions per game, producing 72.1 ppg (0.99 ppp) and allowing 68.1 ppg (0.93 ppp) against a schedule that Pomeroy rates as the 241st toughest (0.4431). LSU has turned the ball over on 22.1% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 23.5% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, LSU has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 37.0% about 4% the 33% NCAA average, and a defensive rebounding rate of 66.6%, slightly below the NCAA average.
In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 70 possessions per game, producing 75.9 ppg (1.08 ppp) and allowing 61.6 ppg (0.83 ppp) against a schedule strength of 0..5463 (112th). The Cats have committed turnovers on 18.5% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 19.8% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 34.5% and 70.0% on the offensive and defensive ends.
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of the Cats by 27 points, 83-56 in a game played at a pace of 72 possessions for the Cats and 71 possessions for LSU. Pomeroy figures the Game in Kentucky’s favor by 18 points, 81-63 at a pace of 75 possessions. As discussed previously, this game will depend on which identity shows up in LSU on Tuesday night. If it is the personality that sustained high hopes over the first half of this season, I would expect a Kentucky win by 35 or more. However, if the timid personality shows up for this one, the Cats will not be able to cover the Pomeroy spread.