2013-14 Season Analytical Writings


Kentucky is currently #9 in Pomeroy and aspires to move up that important rating ladder between now and March 1. What must they do? The common answers are the nebulous, such as “play as a team” or “play harder.” I have no doubt that Coach Calipari would answer this question in much the same manner. However, as a technician of this game, I prefer an answer that is objective and measurable.

Pomeroy features “Four Factors” that contribute to the fundamental parameters of adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. The Four Factors are Rebounding, Shooting, Turnovers, and Free Throw Shooting Rates. I refer you to Pomeroy for a more complete definition of each of these factors. However, please note that Pomeroy's free throw rate is not equivalent to free throw shooting percentage. It measures of how frequently the team gets to the line for free throw opportunities.

For each factor, Pomeroy presents offensive and defensive equivalents, each expressed as a percentage. I prefer to combine each pair of values to consider a team's overall team effectiveness for that factor. The sum of the offensive value and 100%-the defensive value provides a measure of the NET job done by a team in each of the four statistical categories. For example, if Team A rebounds 35% of its own misses, and its opponents rebound 35% of their misses, the NET Rebounding rate is 35% + (100%-35%) = 100% A NET Rebounding rate greater than 100% is better than average, and a NET Rebounding rate below 100% is below average. As a check, you can verify that the mean and median value of the combined four factors are 100%.

I determined the combined rates for these four factors for each of the 351 teams that Pomeroy tracks, and I determined the ranking in each category for the top 12 teams, as of December 18, 2013. See the Table below, the first 4 columns show the ranking for each of the twelve teams in each of the four factor categories. The last 3 columns are the ranking, using the average of all 4 rankings, and the current rating by Pomeroy in the last column.

The number one team in each of these statistical categories is among these 12 teams: Arizona-Rebounding, Ohio State-Shooting, Louisville-Turnovers, and Kentucky-Free Throw Rates. Among these twelve teams, three are in the top 10 for Rebounding, two in the top 10 for shooting, four in the top 10 for Turnovers, and 1 in the top 10 for Free Throws chances. Four teams are in the top 10 of two of the four categories: Kentucky, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, and Arizona. Three of the twelve teams are in the top 10 of one category: Louisville, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh. That leaves five teams that do not appear in the top 10 of any of these categories: Wisconsin, Florida, Villanova, Kansas, and North Carolina. (North Carolina lost again last night in the Dean Dome to Texas)

Kentucky ranks 11 th , and Kansas pulls up the rear. The analysis of this data does not produce any earth shattering news for Big Blue Fans. This data simply serves to reinforce what most Big Blue observers already recognize. However, perhaps this data does provide an objective measure that can supplement a fan's subjective observations.

The bottom line is that Kentucky is falling behind the leaders because it commits too many turnovers and does not force opponents into nearly enough. On a secondary level, while Kentucky does manage to get to the foul line more frequently than anyone else, the team's low free throw shooting percentage dilutes the value of this team attribute. Simply put, Kentucky must correct the turnover issue and ideally, Kentucky should improve its free throw shooting percentage, to move into position to contend for another championship in 2014.

The average turnover rate for all NCAA D1 teams this season is 18.5%, but Kentucky commits turnovers on 19.6% of its possessions, and forces turnovers on only 15.7% of opponent possessions. Kentucky is currently the 304 th best team at turnovers out of 351 total teams. This is not where a national championship contender should be in any of these categories. The average turnover rate among these top 12 teams is only 16.5%, and the average turnover rate for their opponents is 20.9%, producing a 95.6% average NET turnover rate for these top teams. Kentucky's NET Turnover rate is 103.9%, 8.5% above the top 12 average, and 3.9% above the national average.

If the Cats could move to an average position, relative to the top tier of teams, their ranking would improve to top 30 for the category, and the Cats would be at the top of this ratings list. However, the reality is that the Cats do not have to make that magnitude of improvement in the turnover category to move to the top of this listing. If their turnover rating improved to 98.0%, sufficient to rank 90 th nationally, they would have an overall rating better than the other 11 teams in this analysis.

Of course, this is the eve of the 2013 version of Cats and Cards, and the data speaks for itself.  Pitino's ability to get his teams to turn over his opponents is clearly superior.  It was clearly one of his major strengths during his UK years, and it remains so at Louisville. This Louisville team is one of the best in the nation in this category again this year.  Calipari, Joe B's first 7 years, Rupp in 1972, Sutton, and Tubby Smith hovering at the UK average for all years, slightly above 0 on Marginal Turnover Rate.  Then there are Hall, the last 6 years, and Gillispie's 2 years are the bottom dwellers.

The trend that is alarming today is the slide that started last year, and continues this year with Calipari.  He has always spoken of not being concerned about turnovers, and that was fine the first 3 years when it did not appear to be an issue with his teams, but these last two years, why isn't coach Calipari very upset about this situation with the turnovers? Likewise, how can Coach Calipari continue to have a very public, nonchalant attitude about free throw shooting.

We have seen multiple year plunges in this statistical category twice before in the last 40 years.  1980-83 with Joe B. and 2005-09 with Tubby and Billy G.  The plunges in 1974 and 1989 are single season plunges, and each corrected in the next year, making the early 1980s plunge and the 2005-09 plunge distinguishable, and thus the current slide distinguishable.   

Turnovers are just one part of the game, but it is an important part, and this year it is the single most glaring area of weakness, especially the very low rate of opponent turnovers in 2013-14.

Based on this analysis, turnovers are job 1 for this Kentucky team. I believe a goal of a turnover rate of 98.0% should be entirely possible for this team. For example, this team would reach that goal if it reduces their own turnover rate to 16.5% (the average for the top 12), and increases its opponent turnovers to 18.5% (the national average). In terms of total turnovers per game, the Cats must improve by NET 4 turnovers per game on average.

Submitted by Richard Cheeks

Submitted by Richard Cheeks


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