BIG BLUE FANS FOR
2010-11 Season Analytical Writings
Prior to the three game Canadian swing in August, I promised to take a look back at the Cat's performances in Canada and address expectations for the 2010-11 basketball season. As we all know, the Cats played those three games without the services of Terrence Jones, Eloy Vargas, or Enes Kanter for a variety of reasons. We also know that the Cats will have Vargas and Jones in uniform and on the floor for the upcoming season. Unfortunately, it is now October 26, 2010, the Blue-White game will occur tonight, and the Cats' first exhibition game against Pikeville College will occur this coming Monday evening, and we do not know whether Enes Kanter will ever be allowed to play for UK Basketball.
I have delayed this analysis until now hoping that the Kanter status could be resolved before I address the upcoming season. However, it seems clear that the NCAA is not prepared to render its Kanter decision yet, and the games as approaching. Therefore, I am proceeding on the basis that Kanter will not be available to this team. Should that assumption prove wrong, I will revisit this assessment in a subsequent writing.
Without a doubt, my view ahead for the 2010-11 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. A year ago, I made the same disclaimer as I projected a 33-5 season with a Final Four appearance. As it turned out, the Cats finished 35-3, and fell short of the Final Four when the team could not make West Virginia pay for its packed zone by missing the first 20 shots from the perimeter. Coach Calipair will again demonstrate that he is among the best in the game at molding his teams into national contenders and final four participants.
Coach Calipari has followed up his #1 2009 recruiting class with his second consecutive #1 recruiting class at UK. Most observers concede that the 2010 class is not as strong as the 2009 class, but no one denies that this 2010 class is the best in the nation for 2010. UK suffered deep roster loses from last year's team. Gone are Perry Stevenson, Ramon Harris, and Mark Krebs, all seniors that graduated. Gone is Darnell Dodson by mutual agreement with Coach Calipari. However, UK also has said good bye to Patrick Patterson, Daniel Orton, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, and John Wall, all moved to the next level as first round NBA draft selections this past June. That is 9 of last year's 13 scholarship players gone, and only 4 returning.
This year's roster will have one senior, Josh Harrellson, three juniors DeAndre Liggins, Darius Miller, and JUCO transfer Eloy Vargas. Only one sophomore appears on this roster, John Hood, and there are five incoming freshmen, that together with Vargas, comprise this #1 recruiting class. The freshmen are Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Stacey Poole and preferred walk-on Jarrod Polson. The biggest concern about this roster going forward is not the level of talent, and with Juniors Liggins and Miller around to anchor the team with experience, not experience. The biggest concern is depth, especially in the event of injury or game to game foul troubles.
Coach Calipari has again completely transformed the roster over the course of the last 7 months since that West Virginia loss, but this transformation has at the very least kept the Wildcats in the discussion for national championships, with a pre-season coaches' poll ranking at #10. The predictions and projections that follow in this initial writing about the 2010-11 season reflect the excitement that continues to swirl through the Big Blue Nation. Just like a year ago, many critics 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 2010-11 season includes 14 non-conference and 16 SEC games for the regular season. The schedule includes the usual traditional games with Indiana [At Rupp], North Carolina [At Chapel Hill], and Louisville [At the new Coop]. In addition, the Cats will participate in a pre-season tournament in Maui where they will play Oklahoma, probably Washington, and if they reach the championship round, probably Michigan State. and the Cats will meet Notre Dame in the SEC-Big East Challenge at the refurbished Freedom Hall in Louisville. The remaining 7 non-conference schedule includes ETSA, Boston, Mississippi Valley, Winthrop, Coppin State, and Penn all at Rupp, and Portland in Oregon on the way to Hawaii. That is 7 games at Rupp, 3 games on the opponents home court, and four games at neutral locations.
The SEC schedule begins on the road at Georgia followed by home games against Auburn and LSU. The Cats will then play four of their next five SEC games on the road at Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi and Florida, with a home date with Georgia sandwiched in between the road trips. The second half of the SEC season has the Cats playing five of the next seven games at home against Tennessee, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Florida, and Vandy with single game road excursions to Vandy and Arkansas in that stretch. The Cats will end the regular season in Knoxville on March 6 in a preparation for the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.
The real test for this team will not occur until February when road trips will take the Cats into Gainesville, Nashville, Fayetteville, and Knoxville. The first half of the SEC season will provide the Cats with an opportunity to post early road wins and separate themselves from the rest of the pack. The Cats need to hold serve at Rupp and win at least half of their SEC road games to win the conference, this year and indeed in any year.
Our starting point for this analysis must be the efficiencies that the Cats posted during the 2009-10 season. Last season's team ended the year with a Net Game Efficiency [NGE] of 0.259 points per possession. As a point of reference, my data and analysis over recent years indicates that teams that post a NGE of 0.280 ppp or higher are legitimate NCAA Final Four quality and 0.310 ppp or higher to compete for the national championship. UK's 0.259 ppp last year was close to the levels necessary to compete for all the marbles in April.
As the 2010-11 season approached, Coach Calipari said that he wants this team to be the best defensive team in the nation. Coach Calipari knows what that means as well as any active coach in the game today because his last two Memphis teams were both the best defensive teams in the land for their seasons. Last year's UK defense did not measure up to that lofty Calipari standard, and Coach Calipari is as aware of that as anyone. Last Year's defensive efficiency ended the season at 0.89 points per possession. To be sure, that is a very good defensive efficiency, and the best of any Kentucky team since Pitino's 1996 and 1997 teams. However, to compete for the best defense of the year honors, a team will need a defensive efficiency of 0.85 ppp or lower. I concur with Coach Calipari's goal.
Last year's UK team finished the season with an offensive efficiency of 1.14 points per possession. As with the 2009-10 defense, the 2009-10 offensive efficiency is very good, but it falls a little short of the best of the best offenses in the land. To rise to that level of offensive competitiveness, the offensive efficiency must rise slightly to at least 1.16 ppp or higher.
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 0.310 ppp, the first key performance threshold that merits serious Final Four competitiveness.
OFF EFF DEF EFF
1.14 ppp 0.83 ppp
1.16 ppp 0.85 ppp
1.18 ppp 0.87 ppp
PREDICTED 2010-11 RECORD:
Submitted by Richard Cheeks
Submitted by Richard Cheeks