2011-12 Season Analytical Writings

Cats Are Transforming Into A Championship Team Before Our Eyes

In the 18 th game of the season, the Cats escaped from Knoxville with a fragile and closer than desired win over a struggling Tennessee team. In the aftermath of that game, Coach Calipari challenged his team to toughen up, or they will continue to be “punked” by opponents who view them as soft, and unwilling to play a tough brand of basketball. Coach Calipari even spoke about how his team faced a choice, either respond to the challenge and grow as a team, or submit to the intimidation tactics of opponents and probably start losing games solely because they could not, or would not play tough enough.

I believe his team responded to his challenge, and we have witnessed the transformation and growth of this bunch of kids into men of college basketball. I am not sure that the transformation is complete, but if not complete, it is clearly well on its way. Consider the objective measurements that demonstrate the degree of this change, starting with the back-to-back home games against Arkansas and Alabama, and really manifesting in the sequence of games at Georgia and LSU, Tennessee at Rupp, at South Carolina, and last night against #7 Florida in Rupp.

When the dust settled on the Tennessee game in Knoxville about a month ago, the Cats' body of work was admirable. It was sufficient to support a high national ranking, and to produce a 17-1 overall record, and a 3-0 start in the SEC that included two road wins in the first 3 conference games.

Impressive? Certainly!

The Cats played at a faster pace than average through those 18 games, averaging 70 possessions per game, and their efficiencies were a fine 1.132 points per possession on offense, 0.841 ppp on defense for a Net Game Efficiency of 0.291 ppp. Those numbers are better than anything UK has put on a basketball floor for a season since Pitino had a chair at the Kentucky table. The strength of schedule after 18 games was not world beating, but a respectable 0.5478 per Pomeroy.

Then came the transformation from a very good team into a team playing dominating basketball, and now clearly the front runner to win all the marbles in 2012. We have seen the change in posture, the change in the aggressiveness, and the change in swagger. The significant numbers reflect those changes.

First, the team has slowed the pace considerably. While the team had averaged 70 possessions per game through that Tennessee game, the average pace over the 7 transformative games has only been 61 possessions per game. Furthermore, is we examine pace on a game-by-game basis, we can see Coach Calipari applying the brakes: 71, 66, 56, 58, 59, 60, and 60. This news tends to NOT make big blue fans happy because as a rule, Kentucky fans want UK teams playing a faster than average brand of basketball. Coach Calipari knows this too. That is why he recites following every game during this sequence how “fast” the team is playing, but in reality, it has not been.

As the pace has slowed, the efficiency on the offensive end has increased. Through the first 18 games, the average offensive efficiency has risen from 1.132 ppp to an average 1.232 ppp over the last 7 games. However, those raw efficiency numbers only tell part of the story of this transformation because during those 7 games, Kentucky's composite strength of schedule has climbed from 0.5478 to 0.5974. That means that the average schedule strength value for the last 7 opponents alone has averaged 0.7249 to effect the magnitude of change realized in the composite SOS value. If the quality of play remained constant while the strength of opponent increased from .5478 to .7249, the average offensive efficiency would have fallen, not risen, and the significance of the rise we have observed in the raw values must be magnified to appreciate the contribution of the stronger set of opponents. In reality, the improved offensive production has been substantial, and greater than indicated by the 0.100 ppp increase in the raw efficiency value.

A similar situation has occurred with the defense. The defensive efficiency through the first 18 games was a fine 0.841 ppp. During the first 2 ½ months of this season, commentators consistently praised Kentucky for its great defensive prowess, and rightfully so. Over the last 7 games, the average raw defensive efficiency rose to 0.893 ppp, an increase of 0.052 ppp. While an increase in defensive efficiency tends to indicate poorer defense. However, the increased strength of opponents during that 7 game sequence must be considered to make proper comparisons, just as with the offensive numbers.

When the raw efficiencies are adjusted to account for the strength of opponents, the following results:

First 18 Games: Adj. Off Eff = 1.143 ppp
Adj Def Eff = 0.830 ppp
Adj NGE = 0.313 ppp

Next 7 Games: Adj Off Eff = 1.286 ppp
Adj Def Eff = 0.841 ppp
Adj NGE = 0.443 ppp

This team is playing exceedingly better basketball over the last 7 games, since the close call at Tennessee. My eyes tell me so. My gut tells me so. And, the numbers confirm it in spades.

Before I close this dissertation, I want to be clear. The body of work turned in by this team through the first 18 games was outstanding, and stands on its own merits when compared to all past Kentucky teams back to and including the 1996 national championship team. I wrote praising that record repeatedly. The level of performance over the last 7 games is so superior to that record that it represents truly uncharted territory for my study of such information, spanning back to the mid 1990s.

Submitted by Richard Cheeks


Submitted by Richard Cheeks


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