BIG BLUE FANS FOR
2000-10 Season Analytical Writings
As summer wears through the dog days of August, my thoughts invariably turn to what might be this coming winter with the UK Basketball team. Without a doubt, my view ahead for the 2009-10 basketball season is tinted in beautiful shades of blue and I make no apologies for my unabashed optimism for Coach John Calipari's first team. Coach Calipair has a record of accomplishment that includes building programs at Umass and Memphis into national contenders and final four participants.
Unlike his predecessor, Coach Calipari immediately started his tenure as UK basketball coach by completely gutting the 2009 roster and bringing in what most people regard as the number 1 recruiting class for 2009-10, and perhaps the strongest recruiting class that UK Basketball has ever seen. Gone from the 2008-09 team are graduating senior Jared Carter, and underclassmen Porter, Stewart, Galloway, Williams, and Meeks [to the NBA]. In addition, transfer player Pilgrim decided to transfer yet again, probably at Coach Calipari's urging, and formerly committed 2009 recruit Vilarino withdrew his commitment from UK. In their places for 2009-10, Calipari has brought in Gillispie recruits Orton and Hood, and added his own recruits Wall, Bledsoe, Cousins, and JUCO transfer Dodson.
The 2009-10 team will have former players Stevenson – Sr., Harris – Sr., Patterson – Jr., Harrellson.- Jr., Liggins – So., and Miller – So., for a total of 12 scholarship recruited players. Coach Calipari also asked all the walk on players from the last season to move on except rising senior Krebs who has been retained and awarded the final available scholarship for the 2009-10 season.
Coach Calipari has completely transformed the roster over the course of his first 5 months on the job, and has propelled the Wildcats back into the discussion for national championships. Some pundits has already declared that Kentucky will begin the 2009-10 season with the #1 ranking, and others place the Cats in the Top 5 nationally. It has been many years since I have felt this level of anticipation for the upcoming basketball season. I guess I would return to the mid to late 90s to find the pre-season excitement I am feeling this August. Therefore, the predictions and projections that follow in this initial writing about the 2009-10 season reflect that excitement, and many will undoubtedly comment that these predictions are overly ambitious, and not justified by the facts on the ground. I plead guilty to this exuberance!!! If this team fails to "measure up" to these expectations, the world will not end, and I will acknowledge that errors of my way, but until then, this is my story, and I am sticking to it.
The University of Kentucky Basketball Schedule for the 2009-10 season includes 15 non-conference and 16 SEC games for the regular season. The schedule includes the usual traditional games with Indiana [At Bloomington], North Carolina [At Rupp], and Louisville [At Rupp]. In addition, the Cats will participate in a pre-season tournament ini Cancun where they will play Cleveland State and either Stanford or Virginia, and the Cats will meet Uconn in the SEC-Big East Challenge, in Madison Square Gardens. The remaining 9 non-conference schedule includes Morehead State, Miami of Ohio, Sam Houston State, Rider, UNC-Ashville, Austin Peay, Drexel, Long Beach State, and Hartford. That is 10 games at Rupp, 1 game on the opponents home court, and four games at neutral locations.
The SEC schedule begins with Georgia at Rupp Arena followed by three of the next four games on the road game in Gainesville, Auburn, and Columbia. These early SEC road games will provide a very early test for this young group of Cats, but also a very early opportunity to separate themselves from the rest of the SEC pack with several important SEC road victories. The Cats need to hold serve at Rupp and win 2 of these first 3 road games to start 4-1 or better in the Conference. The next 5 game sequence includes 4 at Rupp, with a difficult road games at LSU. The Cats close their SEC schedule with 6 games that include road games to Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and Georgia with home games against a tough South Carolina, and the season ending game at Rupp against Florida. This will be the toughest sequence for the Cats for the 2010 SEC season, but the young Cats should be hitting their stride by mid-February when it is time for this final push.
Our starting point for this analysis must be the efficiencies that the Cats posted during the 2008-09 season. Last season's team ended the year with a Net Game Efficiency [NGE] of 0.109 points per possession. As a point of reference, my data and analysis over recent years indicates that teams that post a NGE of 0.140 ppp or higher are legitimate NCAA elite 8 quality and 0.180 ppp or higher to compete for final four berths. Teams with a NGE of 0.200 ppp or high are legitimate contenders for the national championship. UK's 0.109 ppp last year was not even close to the levels necessary for deep NCAA Tournament runs, and due to a season ending collapse by the 2008-09 UK team that saw them finish 6-14 after a 16-4, 5-0 start was not sufficient to even play in the Big Dance.
The 2008-09 Cats fought two very serious deficiencies throughout the season: Turnovers and Rebounding. The 2009-10 success will depend in large measure upon returning performance levels in both of these areas to levels that represent the average for UK teams over the last 37 years OR BETTER!!!!
Last year's team turned the ball over at the second highest frequency of any team at UK since TO records have been maintained and reported. Last year, the Cats committed one turnover for each 4.87 possessions. The lowest [highest frequency] before last year occurred in 2008, 4.85 possessions per TO. Rupp's last team committed one TO for every 6.46 possessions. The best turnover ratio since 1972 was 6.71 by Pitino's first team. Regardless of how many TO/game they averaged, their pace was so fast that their TO ratio was the best since 1972.
Pitino's number ranged from 6.71  to 5.76  and averaged 6.15 possessions per TO for 8 years. Tubby's best was 6.21 in 2005 and his worst was 5.46 in 2000. Tubby's 10 teams averaged 1 TO for each 5.80 possessions. Since 1972, UK's 37 teams have averaged one TO for every 5.85 possessions. This season, IMO, the bench mark should be the 37 year average TO rate, and the team should meet or exceed that criteria to show the improvement in that area of the game. At 85 possessions per game, that would produce 17.5 TOs per game, while an 85 possession game at 5.85 possessions per TO would produce an average of 14.5 TOs per game. That 3 TO improvement adds over 3 ppg to the offensive output.
The UK average defensive TO rate has been 5.38 possessions per TO, and Pitino's teams produced results ranging from 4.85  to 3.88  with an 8 year average of 4.45 possessions per TO. Tubby's 10 teams ranged from the aforementioned 6.28  to 4.60  with a 10-year average of 5.32. =
IMO, the UK average, 5.38 possessions per opponent TO should provide the immediate criteria for the 2009 team, and if it improves from last year's 6.06 to 5.38, the forced turnovers will change from 14.0 TO/game last year to 15.8 TO/game this year. That increase of nearly two TO's per game will decrease opponent scoring by about two ppg.
The turnover issue alone will produce a swing in the average margin of about five ppg, or add about 0.059 ppp to the NGE. That change alone can increase the NGE from last season's 0.109 ppp to about 0.168 ppp. Remembering that the target for Elite 8 quality of play is 0.14 ppp, the Turnover issue alone is a critical one for this degree of improvement.
A similar analysis of the team's rebounding results in 2008-09 can demonstrate similar improvements to the NGE by simply reversing the fact that opponents out performed the Cats on the offensive glass in 2008-09, the third consecutive season in which opponents out performed the Cats on the Offensive Glass. The Cats should increase the offensive rebounding efficiency to at least 35% and hold opponents to less than 30%.
Can Coach Calipari do what no UK coach has done since Pitino left following the 1997 season, increase the UK NGE for 2009-10 to 0.170 ppp or higher? If he does, his team will post much better defensive efficiencies and somewhat better offensive efficiencies.
The defensive efficiency for Pitino's last 5 teams averaged 0.761 ppp. Coach Calipari's last two Memphis teams posted better defensive efficiencies than any UK teams since at least 1972. Last season's defensive efficiency was only 0.80 ppp. Therefore, for UK to return to the national stage, they must improve their defensive efficiency by a significant amount. In my opinion, the 2010 defensive efficiency must be below 0.760 ppp to distinguish itself as one of the better UK defensive teams of the last 30 years and to demonstrate a legitimate presence on the National Championship stage in March. As a point of reference, the 96 and 97 teams posted defensive efficiencies of 0.749 ppp and 0.715 ppp respectively, and the 95 team was not too shabby, at 0.758 ppp. These are defensive performances worthy of note, but it may be too much to expect that Coach Calipari because of his teams' defensive performances the last 2 years at Memphis.
The offensive efficiency for Pitino's last 5 teams averaged 0.937 ppp. Tubby and Clyde only had one team that posted an offensive average this good [03-0.935 ppp] and over this 12-year drought at UK, Kentucky's teams only averaged 0.902 ppp on offense Last season's offensive efficiency was 0.91 ppp. Therefore, for UK to return to the national stage, they must improve their offensive efficiency above the levels that have dominated the last 12 years. In my opinion, the 2010 offensive efficiency must be above 0.930 ppp, and if it is above 0.950 ppp, this will be one of the better UK offensive teams of the last 30 years.
NET GAME EFFICIENCY:
As you now understand, the NGE is the arithmetic difference between the offensive and defensive efficiencies. NGE is a normalized measure of average victory [or loss when NGE is negative] margin. Here are some combinations of offensive and defensive efficiencies that could achieve a NGE of 0.170 ppp, the first key performance threshold that merits serious Final Four competitiveness.
OFF EFF DEF EFF
0.950 ppp 0.780 ppp
0.940 ppp 0.770 ppp
0.930 ppp 0.760 ppp
0.920 ppp 0.750 ppp
0.910 ppp 0.740 ppp
Similarly, here are some combinations of offensive and defensive performances that reach the ultimate goal, 0.200 ppp or higher:
OFF EFF DEF EFF
0.970 ppp 0.770 ppp
0.960 ppp 0.760 ppp
0.950 ppp 0.750 ppp
0.940 ppp 0.740 ppp
0.930 ppp 0.730 ppp
Kentucky once performed at these lofty levels on a regular basis. Each season, only a handful of teams post numbers at these levels for an entire season. To be elite means doing just that.
PREDICTED 2009-10 RECORD:
Non-Conference: 13-1 [One Loss to either UNC, Uconn, or Louisville]
SEC: 13-3 [Losses at Tennessee, at either USC or Vandy, and at either Auburn or LSU] SEC Regular Season Champions
SEC Tournament: 3-0 [SEC Tournament Champions]
NCAA Tournament: 4-1 [NCAA Final Four Loss]
Submitted by Richard Cheeks