BIG BLUE FANS FOR
2013-14 Season Analytical Writings
Seven long months ago, the 2012-13 Kentucky Wildcats ended their season and left the bitterest residual taste in the mouth of the Big Blue Nation since John Calipari arrived in the Blue Grass. The hopes for a strong finish that the fan base maintained through most of that disappointing season ended when Nerlens Noel's collegiate career ended on the floor of the O'Connell Center near the end of the Florida game. The embarrassments the followed piled up. Who will forget the ensuing Tennessee slaughter, the early exit from the SEC Tournament, or the first Round NIT loss to Robert Morris.
The collective bitterness of last season's finish has tainted the sweet taste that the Big Blue Nation expected to relish during this off-season. The Nation had expected a much sweeter taste this offseason because the consensus had been that Coach Calipari had just closed the recruiting book on the greatest incoming class of freshmen he has ever enticed to join him anywhere, even at UK. Furthermore, Coach Pitino recently observed that UK's 2013 freshman class is Kentucky's strongest in 20 years, a span that includes Pitino's own UK classes of 1994, 1995 and 1996. Some of the boldest observers dared to anoint the 2013 UK freshman class as the greatest in the history of college basketball.
Whether the class is Calipari's personal best, UK's best in 20 years or longer, or college basketball's best ever, there has been little doubt in the minds of the UK faithful that the 2013-14 basketball season would become one for the ages, and that anticipation was planted within their collective Big Blue minds since before the 2012-13 season began. That is why most UK fans were content to endure last season's decline in performance. However, I do not think any true Big Blue fan could be content with the manner in which last season closed, even with the understanding that Nerlens Noel was the heart and soul of that team. For these reasons, the Big Blue Nation had to cope with a bittersweet 2013 off-season.
Coach Calipari has known for a long time that this season has the potential for greatness. He has spoken openly multiple times of a quest for greatness. He has teased the basketball world with his continual references to a magical 40-0 season. He has not shied away from public pronouncements about this group that would be heresy if thought, much less spoken, by any other coach in the game today. Coach Calipari has also demonstrated a willingness to put his team on the court against the best in college basketball rather than shy away from the most challenging schedule in his quest for the perfect season.
USA Today's pre-season top 25 has UK at the top. However, Calipari has scheduled #2 Michigan State in the third game of the year, a return to Chapel Hill North Carolina on December 14, and the annual grudge match against the defending National Champions, and #3 Louisville at Rupp Arena on December 28. The remaining 10 non-conference games include a game against Baylor in Dallas, Providence in New York City (Brooklyn), and Boise State at Rupp. Oh yes, Coach Calipari displays his sense of humor when he added Robert Morris to the schedule in THE REMATCH on November 17.
The SEC is not exactly loaded top to bottom, but the conference does claim Florida at #8, and the Cats will play the Gators twice again this season. Of course, each of the Florida games will be challenging. Beyond them, the Cats' trips to Missouri, Mississippi, Vanderbilt, LSU, and Arkansas could pose stumbling blocks for a quest for an undefeated season.
All in all, the Cats will play 31 games prior to the post season. I expect eight (8) of those games will determine whether Coach Calipari's quest will be successful in 2013-14. In sequence, these seven are:
The story for the other 23 games should be about the final margins.
It is difficult to predict how exhibition games such as this one against Transylvania University will be played. However, this will be the third season in a row for UK and Transy to play in Exhibition. On November 2, 2011, UK defeated them 97-53 in the first exhibition game of that season (which ended with a national championship), and on November 5, 2012, UK beat Transy 74-28.
What will occur next Friday night, and what will it mean?
Who can really know!
However, I offer a wild guess, 78-58 in a game played at slow pace that Transy will establish from the outset. If these young Cats can control the pace (a good sign for the season) and score over 90 points, then any fears about this team's offensive potential will be eliminated from my mind. If the Cats can add to that type of offensive showing, a defense that holds the Pioneers to less than the 53 points they scored in 2011, then questions about this team's defensive presence will also be addressed.
It's basketball time in the Bluegrass, and this is the first step on a journey that I believe will end with UK's ninth hung in the rafters at Rupp.
Coach Calipari starts Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, James Young, and Aaron Harrison, three freshmen to go with the two sophomores. Andrew Harrison, who is slated to start at point guard this season will not play in this exhibition due to a bruised knee.
Kentucky controls the tip, and the Cats waste no time hitting a three pointer, which Tansy matches on their first offensive possession. The Cats then make two more consecutive three pointers, to race to an early 9-3 lead. However, the Cats fail to score on the remain 4 possessions of the opening segment to take an early 4 point lead to the first media timeout, with 15:51 to play. The Cats will be in possession after the media timeout.
Aaron Harrison hit his second three pointer of the game out of the timeout, but Transy made a basket from inside the lane, and following the Cats' second turnover, drains their second three pointer to trim the lead to 2 points, 12-10, prompting a UK timeout with 14:31 to play in the first half. Out of the timeout, a two point basket, followed by a three pointer by Willis, lifted the Cats lead to a game high 7 points, 17-10. Transy stopped the mini-run with a three pointer, but the Cats answered with back to back baskets to lead 21-13 at the under 12 media timeout. Transy will be shooting a pair of free throws when play resumes.
In the third segment, the Cats extended their lead to 10 points, 29-19, and at the under 4 media timeout, the Cats lead stands at 12 points, 36-24 with 3:46 to play in the first half. Through 16 minutes, the pace stands at about 70 possessions for the game, and the Cats have posted 1.29 ppp while allowing Transy 0.89 ppp. The Cats close the half with an 11 point lead, 41-30.
UK scored its 41 points in a total of 34 possessions for the half, and Transylvania scored its 30 points on a total of 34 possessions. Kentucky dominated the boards, with a rebounding edge 24-15. On the offensive glass, the Cats built a 9-2 advantage at the half of the game. The Cats used their 9 second chance possessions to only score 9 second chance points while Transylvania used its 2 second chances to score 2 second chance points. Transylvania had an offensive efficiency of 0.848 ppp on its 33 first chance possessions and 1.000 ppp for its 2 second chance possessions. UK had 0.941 ppp on its 34 first chance possessions and 1.000 ppp on its 9 second chance possessions. With respect to the offensive rebounding, UK grabbed a respectable 40.9% of its misses as offensive rebounds while Transylvania was able to convert 11.8% of its misses into bonus possessions with offensive rebounds.
UK hit poorly from the free throw line in this half, making 7-14 [50.0%]. Transylvania was perfect from the line, 4-4 [100.0%] for the half. Field goal shooting for UK was 14-32 overall [43.8%] and 6-14 from long range [42.9%]. For Transylvania, their field goal shooting from inside the arc was a strong, 4-9 [44.4%] and from long range, Transylvania hit 6-18 [33.3%].
Turnovers were in rare supply in this first half. The Cats committed a whopping 5 turnovers, one for every 6.8 possessions. The Cats forced only 7 Transylvania turnovers, one for every 5.5 possessions.
Coach Calipari starts the second half with the five who started the game. Transy opens the second half but fail to score. After the Cats score on its first three possessions while holding Transy to one missed shot and a pair of turnovers, Transy calls timeout with 18:18 to play, down by 17 points, 47-30. Over the balance of the opening segment, the Cats add another 5 points while continuing to hold Transy without a point, to extend the lead to 22 points, 52-30 at the under 16 media timeout. In the second segment, Coach Calipari goes deeper into his bench, bringing Jon Hood and Marcus Lee into the game for their first action of the night. The Cats continue to expand their lead, not to 27 points, 59-32 at the under 12 media timeout.
At the end of the third segment of the second half, the Cats lead has expanded to 30 points, 64-34 at the under 12 media timeout. When play stopped, Coach Calipari had a fresh five sitting at the scorer's table to enter the game after the break. Out of the timeout, neither team scores on its first possession, but a Transy 3 pointer prompts a quick Kentucky timeout by Coach Calipari. Out of the timeout, the Cats turn the ball over, failing to make the inbounds pass, and Transy makes them pay with another 3 pointer. Coach Calipari calls another timeout to bring in another 5 players. The new five respond with a fast break basket by Jon Hood, his first points of the game to stop the Transy mini-run. Transy called a timeout after the fast break. The fourth segment ends with the Cats up by 26 points, 68-42 with 3:37 to play in the game, and the Cats in possession of the ball.
The Cats close out the game with four walkon players to win 76-42.
UK scored its 76 points in a total of 65 possessions for the game, and Transylvania scored its 42 points on a total of 65 possessions.
Kentucky won the battle of the boards, with a rebounding edge 44-29, and the Cats won the battle of the offensive glass 13-8. Kentucky used its 13 second chance possessions to score 15 second chance points, winning the second chance points battle 15-2. Transylvania had an offensive efficiency of 0.615 ppp on its 65 first chance possessions and 0.250 ppp for its 8 second chance possessions. UK had 0.934 ppp on its 65 first chance possessions and 1.153 ppp on its 13 second chance possessions. With respect to the offensive rebounding, UK grabbed a decent 38.2% of its misses as offensive rebounds while Transylvania was able to convert a weak 20.5% of its misses into bonus possessions with offensive rebounds.
UK hit poorly from the free throw line in this game, making 11-22 [50.0%]. Transylvania made 6-9 [66.7%] for the game. Field goal shooting for UK was 29-58 overall [50.0%] and 7-20 from long range [35.0%]. For Transylvania, their field goal shooting from inside the arc was a low 6-24 [25.0%] and from long range, Transylvania hit 8-28 [28.6%].
The Cats committed 10 turnovers, one for every 6.5 possessions. The Cats forced 16 Transylvania turnovers, one for every 4.1 possessions.
Next Game On Schedule: Monday night, again at Rupp Arena, the Cats will take on Montavallo in the second, and last exhibition game of the 2013-14 season
Submitted by Richard Cheeks
Submitted by Richard Cheeks