2014-15 Season Analytical Writings

How Does This Team Approach Its Opponents?
As A Big Bully? Like A Light Switch? With A Steady Work Ethic?

Prior to Saturday's game, I wrote Larry Vaught that I believed the Cats will beat Florida simply because when the brightest lights come on, this team turns on.  Many others have observed that this team has played its best when the opponent is the toughest. I have seen many teams over the years that make a habit of beating up on their lesser opponents, but seem to wilt when an opponent is the aggressor and tests their will. In fact, I have seen more UK teams display this tendency than I care to admit.

The other side of that coin is a team that “plays down” to their opponent. Teams with this character, seem to find themselves in an endless string of close games whether the opponent is a top 50 opponent, or a team in the murky middle of the pack. Many teams with that character discover at the most inopportune times that their ability to turn it on and off, resulting in inexplicable regular season losses and even worse, season ending tournament losses “prior to its time.”

The mark of a champion for me has always been a team that plays its game regardless of venue or opponent. I have always thought about the 1978, 1996 and 2012 champions in this light, and each of them met the criteria. I believe the best route to another championship for this team will unfold when the Cats retain control of their own destiny by adopting a steady, focused work ethic that focuses on their own game rather than the name of the opponent. If the Cats can do this, their destiny will be a great one.

Through 23 games this season, the Kentucky Wildcats have played 13 times against teams ranked in the top 50 by Pomeroy on February 7. That leaves 10 games against opponents that fall outside the top 50. For the last eight regular season games, five will be against Top 50 opponents and three against the rest of the field. In the SEC Tournament, assuming a three game run, at least two, and possibly all 3 games will be against a Top 50 opponent. In the NCAA Tournament, every opponent except their first round opponent should be a Top 50 team.

How have the Cats performed against Top 50 teams as compared to teams not in the Top 50 thus far this season? Is this team a big bully that beats up on lesser opponents, but wilts in the face of aggression? Is this team a “play down” team that relies upon finding that proverbial light switch when it needs to step up its game? Does this team approach each game with a steady work ethic that allows the team to focus on the quality of their own game? The answer to this question may give us glimpse of how this team will finish this season. This is a question on the minds of the Big Blue Nation, who is relishing in this team's success.

Overall, the schedule strength for all 23 opponents is 0.662, and the raw Net Game Efficiency has been 0.340 points per possession. As we all know, the raw NGE must be corrected to account for the strength of the opposition and the mix of venues at which these games occurred. The SOS adjustment increases the NGE from 0.340 ppp to 0.405 ppp. The Cats have played 6 games on opponent floors, 2 games on neutral courts, and the remaining 15 games at Rupp. The NET Venue adjustment is +9 spread over the 23 completed games. That adjustment reduces the NGE value to an Adjusted NGE of 0.368 ppp.

In games against the top 50 opponents, the Raw NGE is 0.255 ppp. The schedule strength for the 13 top 50 opponents is 0.823, and the SOS adjustment increases the Raw NGE to an intermediate value of 0.384 ppp. The 13 Top 50 games have occurred 6 times at Rupp, 5 times on the opponents' floor, and twice on neutral courts, for a NET Venue Adjustment of +1 spread over the 13 Top 50 games. That adjustment reduces the NGE value to an Adjusted NGE of 0.378 ppp.

In games against the teams that are outside the top 50, the Raw NGE is 0.445 ppp. The schedule strength for these 10 opponents is 0.4527, and the SOS adjustment decreases the Raw NGE to an intermediate value of 0.426 ppp. These 10 games have occurred 9 times at Rupp, and 1time on the opponents' floor, for a NET Venue Adjustment of +8 spread over the 10 Over 50 games. That adjustment reduces the NGE value to an Adjusted NGE of 0.352 ppp.

Based on this analysis, this UK team has played about 10% better against top opposition this season than it has against the lower level opponents on its schedule. This indicates that this team has been slightly better against the top opponents than it has been against its 10 schedule fillers and bottom 1/3 of the SEC. However, this difference is small enough that the concern about playing down to the opponents and not being able to find the light switch is much diminished in my mind.

In my opinion, this team has approached each opponent with that steady work ethic, but they have enough of the “light switch” tendency to prompt them to at least find the light switches before they enter the arena for the game.

Submitted by Richard Cheeks

Submitted by Richard Cheeks


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