BIG BLUE FANS FOR
2011-12 Season Analytical Writings
The 2010-11 Kentucky basketball season ended with mixed emotions. On the positive side, Coach Calipari and his boys fought through an SEC season full of disappointing losses in 1 and 2 possession games on the road to mold the team into the championship contender the BBN had hoped to see for well over a decade. In fact, the 2011 Wildcats are THE TEAM that ended Kentucky's longest Final Four drought in school history, stretching back all the way to Tubby Smith's first year, 1998. In reaching the Final Four, the Cats took out consensus #1 Ohio State, and avenged an early December road loss to North Carolina. However, the Cats ended their season with yet another 1 point loss in the Final Four to Connecticut, in a rematch of their embarrassing 17 point loss in Maui way back in November 2010. That loss left the coaches, players and fans to contend with a sour taste for the last 7 months.
Well, Big Blue Fans, it is that time of year again, and we are all ready to replace that sour taste of disappointment with the sweet taste of anticipation. And, I have not felt this level of pre-season anticipation very often in my 45 years as a proud member of the Big Blue Nation. I felt it from April to July of 1969 about the 1970 team, but Mike Casey's program altering summer accident took the wind out of those sails. I felt it from April to November of 1977 about the Macy, Givens, Robey, Phillips, and Lee group that dedicated themselves to ending a 20 year championship drought, and removing the bad taste of a 4 corners loss to North Carolina in the 1977 tournament. I felt it from April through November of 1995 as Coach Pitino's machine prepared to eliminate the final vestages of Kentucky Shame and establish UK basketball once again at the pinnacle of the college basketball scene.
I fell it again as Coach Calipari has appeared to be working toward this moment, this season, since his arrival in Lexington about 30 months ago. Will the magic remain through the first Monday in April? Stay tuned, but for this fan, I believe.
As always, my view ahead for the 2011-12 basketball season is tinted in beautiful shades of blue and I make no apologies for my unabashed optimism for Coach John Calipari's third team. Two years ago, prior to Coach Calipari's first season at UK, 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.
Last October, I projected a 31-7 record, with the season ending with an Elite 8 loss. As Calipari's second season turned out, the final record was 29-9 with the season ending with a disappointing Final Four loss.
Coach Calipari 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 and #1 2010 recruiting classes with his third consecutive #1 recruiting class at UK. Most observers concede that the 2010 class was not as strong as the 2009 class, but no one denies that this 2011 class is not only the best in the nation for 2011 but possible the best ever assembled at Kentucky, and perhaps at any school. UK suffered deep roster loses from last year's team. Josh Harrellson, UK's only senior not only graduated, but parlayed his strong senior season into a second round NBA draft selection. In addition, Junior DeAndre Liggins played his way in 2011 into a second round draft selection, and Freshman Brandon Knight continued the tradition of Calipari point guards being drafted early in the first round, and left after his only season to wear the Blue and White. But, unlike the previous year that saw the loss of 9 of the 13 scholarship players, the transition from the 2011 roster to the 2012 roster will correspond to the return of 7 of the 10 scholarship players.
This year's roster will have two seniors, Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas, one junior, a transfer Twany Beckham [to be Junior Jon Hood will miss this season due to an off season injury], three sophomores, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, and Stacey Poole. Added to this group of veteran players, Coach Calipari will blend in his star studded freshmen, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Anthony Davis, and Kyle Wiltjer. As noted above, Jon Hood will be practicing, but not playing this season, as will transfer Ryan Harrow, who will become eligible next season for his sophomore season. Finally, Coach Calipari has added two more walk on players to the roster to join Jarrod Polson in that capacity; Brian Long and Sam Malone.
Coach Calipari has again transformed the roster over the course of the last 7 months since that Connecticut loss, and this transformation has placed the Wildcats at the head of the class with respect to discussions about another national championship, with pre-season polls ranking the Cats either #1 or #2. The predictions and projections that follow in this initial writing about the 2011-12 season reflect the excitement and anticipation that continues to swirl through the Big Blue Nation. Many critics will undoubtedly comment that these predictions are overly exuberant, and 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 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 take on National Powerhouse Kansas in Madison Square Garden in the second game of the season and participate in a pre-season tournament where they will play Penn State and either Old Dominion or South Florida. The Cats will meet St. Johns in the SEC-Big East Challenge at Rupp. The remaining 8 non-conference schedule includes Marist, Radford, Portland, Tennessee Chattanooga, Samford, Loyola of Maryland, and Lamar, all at Rupp, and Arkansas Little Rock in the annual Freedom Hall game. That is 10 games at Rupp, 1 game on the opponent's home court, and four games at neutral locations.
The SEC schedule begins at home against South Carolina, followed by back to back road games at Auburn and Tennessee. The Cats will then play the middle of the schedule, three at home and three on the road as they prepare for the final push of the regular season. That final push of 7 games will include home-home encounters with Vanderbilt and Florida, and a road game at Mississippi State, always a dangerous venue for the Cats. The Cats will end the regular season in Gainesville on March 4 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, and Starkville. 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. If the Cats hold serve at Rupp and win the “winnable” SEC road games, the Cats will own the SEC regular season championship before it must travel to Gainesville to close the regular season.
The Cats have owned the SEC Tournament since Calipari's arrival, and 2012 should be no different. In the NCAA Tournament, the Cats should secure a #1 seed, and advance to the Championship game. I like the Cats' chances on that Championship Monday.
Our starting point for this analysis must be the efficiencies that the Cats posted during the 1010-11 season. Last season's team ended the year with an Adjusted Net Game Efficiency [NGE] of 0.275 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 0.275 ppp last year was close to the levels necessary to compete for all the marbles in April.
In each of the last 2 seasons, the Kentucky adjusted defensive efficiencies have not quite measured up to the levels that Coach Calipari's last 2 Memphis teams achieved. I believe that Coach Calipari will make defense a point of emphasis for the 2011-12 Cats, just as he has the first 2 years at UK, but this season, I fully expect the results to be closer to the levels of defensive efficiency that Coach Calipari would prefer based on his Memphis record. Last year's defensive efficiency ended at 0.897 ppp, and this season, I anticipate a defense that will be better, perhaps 0.85 ppp or lower.
Last year's UK team finished the season with an adjusted offensive efficiency of 1.17 points per possession. As with the 2010-11 defense, the 2010-11 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 1.20 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 0.330 ppp, the first key performance threshold that merits serious Final Four competitiveness.
OFF EFF DEF EFF
1.16 ppp 0.83 ppp
1.18 ppp 0.85 ppp
1.20 ppp 0.87 ppp
PREDICTED 2011-12 RECORD:
Non-Conference: 14-1 [Only Realistic Loss is to Kansas in game 2, but I don't believe it]
SEC: 14-2 [Losses at Florida and Vandy] SEC Regular Season SEC East Champions
SEC Tournament: 3-0 [SEC Tournament Champions]
NCAA Tournament: 6-0 [NCAA Championship #8]
Final Record: 37-3
Submitted by Richard Cheeks
Submitted by Richard Cheeks