BIG BLUE FANS FOR
2013-14 Season Analytical Writings
For all the family members (Big Blue Nation Members) who openly doubted Coach Calipari's and these players during the 2013-14 season, and I include myself in that group, and possibly among the most vocal, the proof is in the pudding! In February, many, and truth be told, the vast majority of fans, sports press, and college basketball observers had left these Cats for dead. Regardless of how a person felt about UK, Calipari, “one and done” or any of the other stimuli of negativity toward the program, this coach, or these players, these Cats were dead in the water.
However, Coach Calipari knew this team was not dead yet! These players came to understand that the level of play, the quality of their on-court decision making, and the results of the season, primarily the last half of February was not compatible with their ability, or the expectations for this program. Coach Calipari was the stimulus for change that brought this team from a state of “given up for dead” to a level of vitality that only one other team can claim on this Sunday following the NCAA Final Four games.
The Resurrection Cats!
Coach Calipari delivered that message to his team at the first organized practice after their humiliating loss in Gainesville on March 8. Coach Calipari placed himself in a closed casket that his staff wheeled into the practice facility. At the critical moment, Coach Calipari open the lid from within, rose up and proclaimed to his team, “Boys, we aren't dead yet.” and the tweak was on. Or so the story goes! Aaron Harrison declared to the world that his team had not written its final chapters, and before that task is completed, they would shock the world. There was a collective and not so silent snicker heard throughout the basketball world and Big Blue Nation.
I live in the “show me” state of belief. One game, two games, and even 3 games do not provide clear and convincing evidence that a change has occurred. For this fan, that threshold occurs at five consecutive games. That is why I officially begged for a spot back on the bandwagon after these Resurrection Cats beat undefeated Wichita State (best played overall game of the entire tournament) to satisfy my rigid requirement of five in a row. However, while the improvement was clear and convincing, it did not seem sufficient to get by archrival Louisville. However, their post-season revival continued through Louisville, then Michigan, and last night against a very strong Wisconsin team.
This resurgence of the Resurrection Cats now stands at 8 consecutive games. Consider some of the following tidbits of trivia:
UK has now won 11 straight NCAA games, and this program's last loss was to UConn in 2011.
This is the first NCAA tournament team to win 5 in a row by 5 points or less.
Monday night's Championship game will be the first one since UK met Texas Western in 1966 that the two teams still standing at the end did not even play in the NCAA Tournament the previous year.
There have been #8 seeds and #7 seeds reach the final four in the past, but never have two such teams survived to play each other for the Championship, UNTIL THIS YEAR!
Ironically, the 2011 UConn team had also been given up for dead prior to the post season. For all intents and purposes, this UConn team was also left for dead following its season finale on March 8 when it lost to Louisville by 33 points, 81-48. For this reason, it is difficult for either team to lay claim to being The Team of Destiny for 2014.
Connecticut is 31-8 against a schedule strength of 0.7019 (15 th ) and Kentucky is 29-10 against a schedule strength of 0.7356 (3 rd ). Connecticut currently holds the #10 position on Pomeroy, and the Cats hold to #9 at present. Both teams are on the rise in the Pomeroy ratings. Connecticut began the tournament at #25, and have risen 15 spots to #10. Kentucky began the tournament in the #17 spot, and have risen 8 spots to #9. As the #7 seed in East Region, Connecticut got past its first opponent, #46 Saint Joseph's by 8 points. In the Round of 32, Connecticut turned by #14 Villanova away by 12 and in the Sweet 16, the Huskies slipped past #21 Iowa State by 5. The Huskies controlled the game against #8 Michigan State in the Elite 8 before allowing the Spartans to close the gap to 6 points at the end. Last night, the Huskies dominated #3 Florida in their 10 point win to advance to Monday's final against the Cats.
The Cats, with the #8 seed in the Midwest Region, beat #43 Kansas State by 7 and # 5 Wichita State by 2 to reach the Sweet 16. The Cats had to fight from behind to get past #3 Louisville by 5, and the Aaron Harrison's 3 pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining provided the 3 point win over #10 Michigan in the Elite 8. Last night, the Cats again played from behind in the second half to get a hard earned win over #6 Wisconsin by 1 points on the strength of Aaron Harrison's third game winning 3 pointer in the last 3 games.
Among Connecticut 's the 31 wins, 16 have come at the expense of teams with Pomeroy ratings of 100 or higher, and 12 of those opponents were rated at #150 or lower. That leaves 22 games against teams rated in the top 100, but of those, 20 have been against top 50 opponents with a record of 13-7 in those 19 games. Connecticut 's can claim wins over #3 Florida twice, #8 Michigan State, and #14 Villanova, with losses to #2 Louisville three times, #24 Cincinnati, #30 SMU twice, #36 Stanford, and #125 Houston. As strong as the Connecticut's schedule has been, it still will have trouble explaining its loss to #125 Houston on December 31, 2013, just as the Cats have trouble explaining their loss to #111 South Carolina.
Everything surrounding this matchup suggests another game that will not be decided until the last few possessions.
CONNECTICUT has averaged 66 to 67 possessions per game, scoring 72.1 ppg (1.088 ppp) and allowing 63.5 ppg (0.950 ppp). CONNECTICUT has turned the ball over on 17.3% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 19.4% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, CONNECTICUT has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 30.5% about 1.5% above the 29% NCAA average, and a defensive rebounding rate of 67.1%, about 2% below the NCAA average.
In contrast, the Cats have averaged 67 to 68 possessions per game, producing 75.3 ppg (1.116 ppp) and allowing 66.8 ppg (0.994 ppp). The Cats have committed turnovers on 17.8% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 16.0% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats' rebounding rates have been 42.3% and 70.2% on the offensive and defensive ends against a schedule strength of 0.7356 (#3).
Based on this distribution, the NGE analysis is a dead heat, a pick ‘em game. However, since the Cats have an advantage by the smallest of margins, the predicted score favors the Cats by 1 point, 70-69. Kentucky hold a slight advantage with offensive efficiency and schedule strength, and Connecticut has a small edge with their defensive efficiencies. The pace of this game should be about 67 possessions for each team. Pomeroy has this game in Kentucky 's favor by 1 point, 69-68 in a game played at a pace of 63 possessions. Vegas see this game in Kentucky's favor by 2 ½ points, 71-68.
See how other Big Blue Fans see this game's likely outcome by clicking the following link.
You can enter your prediction at any time prior to tip off by visiting the 247 Sports prediction thread for this game at:
Coach Calipari stays with the all freshmen starting lineup with Dakari Johnson, Julius Randle, James Young, Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison, to start the game. Willie Cauley-Stein is not available for this Final Four contest due to an ankle injury sustained after only 4 minutes on the court against Louisville in the Sweet 16. UK also announced that should the Cats advance to play on Monday night, Willie Cauley-Stein will not be available for the Championship game either. Alex Poythress, Hawkins, Lee, and Polson will probably see action off the bench.
UConn controls the tip and draws first blood with a basket by Napier. The Cats answer to tie the score at 2-2. After UConn takes advantage of a pair of UK turnovers to move on top 6-2, James Young gets to the line for a pair and stops in the lane with a floater to tie the score again, 6-6, at the under 16 media timeout. After the timeout, UConn will be shooting a pair of free thows, their first of the game.
Out of the timeout, UConn made both free throws, and then a basket and then their first 3 pointer of the game to go on top by 7, 13-6 before Randle stops the run with a pair a free throws. However, UConn continues their run with back-to-back baskets to move on top by 9 points, 17-8, forcing Coach Calipari to take a timeout to settle down his troops. The Cats only get 4 point in the entire segment for their 7 possessions, and the only basket in the segment was a put back by Alex Poythress. Otherwise the Cats were 1-7 in the segment while the Huskies were 5-8, and 2-2 from the line to get 13 points on their 8 possessions, and lead by 9, 19-10 at the under 12 media timeout. Hawkins will be at the line after the break for a pair of free throws on UConn's fourth foul of the half.
Hawkins missed both free throws, and following a UConn missed shot, the Cats commit their fourth turnover of the game. The Cats continue poor shooting and UConn makes 3-6 in the segment to extend their lead to 11 points, 26-15 at the under 8 media timeout with 7:15 to play. Through the first 13 minutes, the Cats have only produced at 0.75 ppp while UConn has been extremely efficient, at 1.238 ppp. The Cats are in big trouble tonight with those efficiency levels. After back to back Kentucky turnovers, UConn extends the lead to 15, 30-15. James Young hits a 3 pointer from the right wing, and Andrew Harrison gets a steal for a lay up, to trim the lead back to 10, 30-20, prompting a UConn timeout. After the timeout, the teams trade 3 pointers, with Andrew Harrison making another 3 pointer to trim the 15 point lead to 7, 33-26, at the under 4 media timeout with 2:24 remaining in the game. After the timeout, Dakari Johnson will be shooting the bonus at the line with a chance to trim the Huskies' lead to 5 points if he can make them both.
Johnson made the first but missed the second to trim the lead to 6 points. After a UConn miss, the Cats commit their 7 th turnover of the game. On the last possessions of the half, UConn commits their 5 th turnover, and Randle gets a basket with 2.9 seconds remaining, but he missed the free throw. UConn leads at the half by 4, 35-31.
For the fifth consecutive game in this tournament, the Cats trail at the half, but in each of the previous games, as in this one, the Cats closed the half by cutting into the opponents' bigger lead to go to the locker room with a deficit that is not only manageable, but with the momentum of a strong finish in the first half. In the 4 previous games, the Cats managed to get the win with strong second half performances. It will take another very strong second half tonight for the Cats to complete their championship quest.
UK scored its 31 points on 31 possessions for the half, and CONNECTICUT scored its 35 points on 31 possessions. Kentucky won the battle of the boards 15-14, and UK won the offensive glass, 5-3. Kentucky converted its 5 second chance possessions to score 2 second chance points, and CONNECTICUT used its 3 second chance possession to score 2 second chance points. CONNECTICUT had an efficiency of 1.065 ppp for its 31 first chance possessions, and 0.667 ppp for its 3-second chance possession. UK had 0.935 ppp on its 31 first chance possessions and 0.400 ppp on its 5 second chance possessions. The Cats managed to grab 29.4% of their misses as offensive rebounds while CONNECTICUT managed to get 23.1% of their misses for second chance possessions.
The Cats shot poorly from the free throw line making 5-9 [55.6%] for the half. Connecticut got to the line 4 times in the first half and made them all, 100.0%. Field goal shooting for UK was 11-25 overall [44.0%] and 4-9 from long range [44.0%]. For CONNECTICUT , their field goal shooting from inside the arc was 11-18 [61.1%] and from long range, CONNECTICUT hit 3.9 [33.3%].
The Cats committed 7 turnovers in the first half, one for each 4.4 possessions. CONNECTICUT committed 5 turnovers in this first half, one for each 6.2 possessions.
In the first half, the difference for the Huskies came from the turnovers, and their ability to prevent the Cats from getting to the Boards and score second chance points. In addition, the Cats missed 4 free throws, and the Huskies did not miss from the line.
Cats open the second half with a 3 pointer to cut the lead to a single point, but Boatright drains a 15 foot jump shot to move back on top by 3. The Cats cut the lead to a single point two more times before UConn uses 3 UK turnovers to extend their lead back to 5 points, and UConn will have 2 free throws after the under 12 media timeout, where they have been perfect on the night. The score is 44-39.
Boatright makes them both, UConn is now 8-8, and the lead is 7 points. The Cats commit their 12 th turnover. Napier uses the turnover for another basket and a 9 point lead. At this point, James Young goes to war with a monster dunk that give him a 3 point play, and 1 for 2 from the line on the next trip. Then Andrew Harrison gets the ball in deep to Johnson who cuts lead to 3 points, 48-45. Boarright has to take a time out on the next UConn possession when he cramps up and nearly turns the ball over with 9:00 remaining in the game.
After the timeout, UConn misses a quick 3 pointer and Young gets to the line again. He makes them both to trim the lead back to 1 again. At the under 8 media timeout, the score stands 48-47 with UConn in possession under their basket with 16 second left on the shot clock. They turn it over, but the Cats can't convert from the line, first missing the second of two (Randle) and then missing the front end (Aaron Harrison) to continue to trail the Huskies by 4, 56-52 at the under 4 media timeout with 3:47 remaining. After the timeout, Alex Poythress will have a free throw to complete a 3 point play and a chance to trim the UConn lead to 3 points.
The Cats have never led. There have been 2 ties, at 2 and 6. In the second half, the Cats have pulled to within 1 point several times, but have not been able to get over the final hill to move into a lead. Alex Poythress misses the free throw, that is 13-23 for the game as compared to 8-8 by UConn. The Cats continue to miss shots from the floor and the line, and UConn has continued to play even on the Boards, and UConn takes a timeout with a 6 point lead and only 1:49 to play in the game. UConn misses, and Young gets a basket to pull the Cats within 4. Cats lose 60-54.
UK scored its 54 points in a total of 60 possessions (0.900 ppp) for the game, and CONNECTICUT scored its 60 points on a total of 60 possessions (1.000 ppp). UConn won the battle of the boards with a 33-34 advantage, and Kentucky won the battle of the offensive glass 10-8. Kentucky used its 10 second chance possessions to score 7 second chance points, and CONNECTICUT converted their 8 offensive rebounds into 6 second chance points. CONNECTICUT had an offensive efficiency of 0.900 ppp on its 60 first chance possessions and 0.750 ppp for its 8 second chance possessions. UK had 0.783 ppp on its 60 first chance possessions and 0.700 ppp on its 10 second chance possessions. With respect to the offensive rebounding, UK grabbed 27.8% of its misses as offensive rebounds while CONNECTICUT was able to convert 25.8%, of its misses into bonus possessions with offensive rebounds.
UK hit poorly from the free throw line in this game, making 13-24 [54.2%]. CONNECTICUT made 10-10 [100.0%] for the game. Field goal shooting for UK was 18-46 overall [39.1%] and 5-16 from long range [31.3%]. For CONNECTICUT , their field goal shooting from inside the arc was 16-34 [47.1%] and from long range, CONNECTICUT hit 6-19 [31.6%].
The Cats committed 13 turnovers, one for every 4.6 possessions. The Cats forced 10 CONNECTICUT turnovers, one for every 6.0 possessions.
Next Game On Schedule: This was the final game of the 2013-2014 basketball season. The Cats will not play again until the 2014—15 season begins next November. See you then.
Submitted by Richard Cheeks
Submitted by Richard Cheeks