BIG BLUE FANS FOR
2014-15 Season Analytical Writings
Generally, 5 to 8 games are sufficient to establish a profile of the team, and these 6 games in the Bahamas provide a rare and special opportunity to measure this team even before the official start of the next season. We all recognize that these games have occurred a full 2 months prior to Big Blue Madness, and almost 3 months prior to the first real game when the Cats face the Jayhawks in game 3 of the regular season. We also realize that the coaches used the platoon substitution pattern to allow the 10 players an “equal” opportunity to shine during this 6 game audition. That is why Coach Calipari will be further along molding this squad into an 8 to 10 player rotation by Big Blue Madness than he was able to do any other season since he arrived in Lexington.
The biggest unknown about this past week is the relative strength of the opposition. How good are these three opponents. Yes, the Puerto Rican's brought their “B Team”, but the French team consists of former D1 college players who are good enough to play for pay, just not in the NBA. In addition, the Dominican Republic team consists of former D1 players, including one former UK and two former UL players. Their coach is a former Calipari assistant who clearly knows the UK bench and coaching tactics. Prior to the trip, coach Calipari warned the Big Blue faithful that the opposition would be stiff.
I have no way of knowing how these opponents rate as compared to standards I can measure and evaluate, but I would be shocked if these opponents, in the aggregate over these 6 games are below the average NCAA D1 quality which would yield a strength of schedule below 0.500. The NCAA D1 average team in 2014 would be represented by teams like Temple, Robert Morris, William & Mary, and Rutgers. If the last 6 opponents are in that range of difficulty, this team's adjusted NGE is 0.255 ppp, which on par with the 2010 team that finished their season with an adjusted NGE of 0.259 ppp. If these opponents are equivalent to an average UK schedule strength over the last 5 years, 0.69, which is equivalent to 6 games against the likes of Mississippi, Boise State, and Missouri, the Cats finished their 6 games with an adjusted NGE of 0.333 ppp. This is slightly better than the 2012 team's 0.320 ppp finish that was sufficient to capture a national championship. If these opponents are equivalent to NCAA D1 top 25 team (Average strength of schedule about 0.85, which is equivalent to 6 games against the likes of Saint Louis, New Mexico, and Oklahoma State, the Cats finished their 6 games with an adjusted NGE of 0.395 ppp, which is off the charts and higher than all but one of the previous 11 NCAA Championship efficiencies.
SUMMARY OF BAHAMIAN TOUR RESULTS
Calipari's first 5 teams have posted year ending adjusted NGE values ranging from 0.165 ppp in 2013 to 0.320 ppp in 2012. The other teams were in the middle range at 0.213 ppp in 2014, 0.218 ppp in 2011, and 0.259 ppp in 2010. I believe that these opponents are better than the average D1 NCAA basketball team, but I am resisting any tendency to elevate this opposition to a level equivalent with the typical #30 team in the Pomeroy ratings. However, if the average strength of the opponents in these 6 games are equal or better than a top 75 team, this UK team is in position to breathe some rare air, with an adjusted NGE within the range of 0.33 to 0.40 ppp, the range that typifies the past 11 NCAA champions, with rare exception.
Unlike the preseason hype of one year ago which was merely anticipation driven by wild speculation, the preseason hype for 2014-15 now has a factual basis. These 6 games have shown the Big Blue Nation, and the entire basketball world, that this team can be special. The only real question is whether they can survive the trials that always come to any team, and lift the trophy for the 9 th time on the first Monday of April 2015.
The team strength should only increase from the levels we have observed this week. First, Willie Cauley-Stein will clearly be a part of the regular rotation. His shot blocking ability is one component that this team did not strut in the Bahamas. Willie will add that dimension to the squad. Second, Trey Lyles will be available, and by all reports, Trey is either the most talented of the incoming freshmen. However, even if one prefers to rank Karl Towns ahead of Lyles, Trey only drops to #2 in the class despite the way Tyler Ulis captured the hearts of all Big Blue Fans this week. Finally, when Coach Calipari breaks out of the equal opportunity for all platoon strategy of the past week, and moves to his more traditional 8 to 9 player rotation, the overall team efficiency should increase.
Upon conclusion of this six game sequence, the most efficient performer has been Alex Poythress with an individual efficiency of 0.75 ppp. The next grouping includes Marcus Lee, Karl Towns, and Dakari Johnson. They posted individual efficiencies 0.51 to 0.30 ppp. Unfortunately, these four high performers are frontcourt players where Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles will be competing for that valuable playing time. Tyler Ulis, and Andrew Harrison posted individual efficiencies in the range of 0.28 to 0.24 ppp. This leaves Aaron Harrison, and Dominque Hawkins bringing up the rear but still in a positive efficiency range with efficiencies of 0.04 ppp and 0.12 ppp, respectively. The only members of the two platoons who did not manage a positive individual efficiency are Derrick Willis (-0.02 ppp) and Devin Booker (-0.164 ppp).
My starters would be Tyler Ulis-PG, Andrew Harrison-2G, Alex Poythress-SF, Marcus Lee-PF, and Willie Cauley-Stein-C. My rotation would include Karl Towns, Dakari Johnson, Trey Lyles, Dominique Hawkins and Aaron Harrison. Derrick Willis and Devin Booker are odd men out. Devin Booker needs a lot of maturing and development. Right now, he is seems lost on the floor in the midst of all of this talent. I would also consider a redshirt for Devin Booker, and given the powerful frontcourt lineup, I wonder if a redshirt would not benefit Derrick Willis.
The Season-A Gaze Into The Crystal Ball:
The 2014-15 schedule has been published which makes it time for the annual season forecast. The methodology must begin with starting point assumptions to begin a new season. The starting point that I have used in the past for Kentucky is defined by a weighted average of the Calipari years, giving the more recent seasons slightly more weight than the early years. On this basis, the starting team adjusted NGE is 0.235 ppp. Furthermore, the starting point assumption for the opponents is that an opponent will begin the new season where they left off the prior season. This assumption is necessary for opponents because I do not possess the annualized database for those teams like I have for the UK team.
Based on these starting assumptions, the projections indicate a 28-3 regular season record with losses at Louisville, at Florida, and at Tennessee. If I modify the starting point for the Cats this year based on the Bahamian experience, the record does not change, but the average margins shift in UK's favor by about 7 to 12 ppg. That is sufficient to move one projected loss into the W column and bring the other two within reach of wins. As a reminder, by the time that the Cats and each opponent play 5 to 8 games, the new season profiles will be established, and the modified projections after that early point of the season will become more reliable than these preseason projections.
In addition to the three games currently projected as losses in the pre-season, the 2014-15 UK season will really be defined by the results of the games against Kansas, UCLA, and SEC road games at LSU, Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia.
Nine games in all will define how we look back on the 2014-15 team and season. I believe we will look back on this season and team with great fondness.
Submitted by Richard Cheeks
Submitted by Richard Cheeks