BIG BLUE FANS FOR
2014-15 Season Analytical Writings
On Friday night, the Kentucky Wildcats opened their 2015-16 season with a 13 point win over a pesky pack of Great Danes from Albany, 78-65. The Cats controlled the game from the start, never trailed, and lead by as many as 23 points in the second half. A win is a win, and it is time to move on to the next opponent, NJIT, and the Cats will have to move fast because this game will tip off less than 24 hours after the Cats left the Rupp Arena floor on Friday with their victory in tow.
Last season, the NJIT Highlanders forged a place in the national college basketball conversation when they travelled to Ann Arbor, Michigan on December 6 and they left with a 2 point upset victory, 72-70. The chatter that ensues to this day focuses on how NJIT had somehow become a player on the national stage of college basketball, a force to be reckoned with by the true powers of the game. However, I suggest that the real story of last December 6 was about the condition of the Michigan program rather than the Highlanders.
Everyone will recall that the Wolverines ended their 2014 season in defeat to the Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite 8 with a final Pomeroy ranking of #9. While all the pundits agreed that Michigan would drop slightly due to its roster losses, Pomeroy placed Michigan as the #16 team to open the 2015 season, and following a 5 point loss to #6 Villanova on a neutral court, Michigan entered their encounter with NJIT still in the #20 position. Following their loss at the hands of NJIT, the Wolves lost to #144 Eastern Michigan by 3 at home 3 nights later, at #2 Arizona by 27 4 nights later, and to #23 SMU by 11 at home a week after that. At the end of Michigan's four game slide in December, they dropped to #75 going into their next game, and they finished the season with a Pomeroy rating of #78.
NJIT, on the other hand, finished the 2015 season with a Pomeroy rating of #166 with a record of 21-12 as one of those rare college basketball independents. The 21 wins include four wins over non-NCAA D1 opponents, reducing their real 2015 record to 17-12. Yes, NJIT defeating the then-ranked #20 team on the road was big news on December 6, 2015, but by December 20, 2015, a reflection on the accomplishment would recast the reaction to that outcome to reflect upon the fall of the Michigan program, not the fear that the NJIT Highlanders should command.
Over their last 4 seasons, the Highlanders have only defeated 11, 12, 9, and 17 last year NCAA D1 opponents, and while their 2015 record is their best performance of the four years, and while they do claim wins at #78 Michigan by 2 and by 6 over #70 Yale, they also have to account for losses to #311 UMass Lowell by 2 at home, at #311 UMass Lowell by 4, at #282 LIU Brooklyn by 16, and at #240 Holy Cross by 10. Unlike
Albany's consistent track record of solid, better than average D1 basketball accomplishments over the past four seasons, NJIT is a bit of an anomaly with 2015 their only season in this span with a NET winning record against D1 opposition.
NJIT will open their 2015-16 season tonight in Rupp in the #151 position in the Pomeroy ratings. The Highlanders have joined the Atlantic Sun Conference where they are projected pre-season to finish in second position behind North Florida and ahead of South Carolina Upstate. NJIT has trimmed the number of non-D1 opponents from 4 to only 1 for this season. It appears that the Highlanders want to more fully join the NCAA D1 basketball community, and their first ever encounter with the Kentucky Wildcats will be a legitimate introduction.
Last season, NJIT played at a pace of about 66 to 67 possessions per game with an Adjusted Net Efficiency (ANE) of -0.01 points per possession against a schedule rated #238. The ANE analysis for this match up indicates a game played at a pace of 66 to 67 possessions, with the Cats winning by 20 points, 79-59.
Coach Calipari changes his starting lineup to reward Derek Willis for his solid first game performance coming off the bench. Now it is time for Derek Willis to seize the moment and solidify his role on this team as it moves into the season. Derek Willis will join Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, Marcus Lee, and Skal Labissiere in the starting lineup. Isaiah Briscoe, who was unable to go in the season opener due to bruised knee, continues to sit. Isaiah Briscoe's absence leaves guard depth to Dominique Hawkins with Isaac Humphries and Alex Poythress available to spell the front court players.
Skal Labissiere controlled the tip, but a UK turnover allowed NJIT to score first, and move on top early 7-4, and then 13-8. Coach Calipari brings in Alex Poythress and Isaiah Briscoe and the Cats trim the lead to 1 point, 16-15 at the under 16 media timeout with 14:58 remaining in the first half. After the timeout, NJIT hits another 3 pointer, their 3 rd of the game, and following a UK miss, NJIT scores following some nice interior passing to move on top 21-15, forcing Coach Calipari to take a timeout. After the timeout, the Cats respond with 3 straight baskets to pull even for the first time since 2-2 at 21-21 at the under 12 media timeout with 10:58 remaining. Just before the stoppage of play, Marcus Lee committed his second personal foul, and will have to go to the bench for the balance of the first half.
In the third segment, Tyler Ulis free throw gave the Cats their first lead, 22-21 and in an abbreviated segment, led by 3 points, 28-25 at the 8:00 mark. Over the 4 th segment, there are only 2 points, free throws by Skal Labissiere. NJIT makes a layup to trim the lead to 3, 30-27, at the under 4 media timeout with 2:47 remaining in the half. The Cats stretch their lead to 8 at the half, 36-28.
The Cats start the second half as they ended the first half, extending their 8 point half time lead to double digits, then to 20, and to 30 at 72-42 at the under 8 media timeout. At the under 4 media timeout, the Cats lead stood at 30, 81-51, and Isaac Humphries will have a pair of free throws after the timeout with 2:50 remaining in the game. The Cats close out with a 30 point win, 87-57.
UK scored its 87 points in a total of 73 possessions for the game, and NJIT scored its 57 points on a total of 73 possessions.
Kentucky won the battle of the boards, with a rebounding edge 54-23, and the Cats won the battle of the offensive glass 22-7. Kentucky used its 22 second chance possessions to score 23 second chance points, but NJIT used its 7 second chance possessions to score 10 second chance points. NJIT had an offensive efficiency of 0.643 ppp on its 73 first chance possessions and 1.429 ppp for its 7 second chance possessions. UK had 0.877 ppp on its 73 first chance possessions and 1.046 ppp on its 22 second chance possessions. With respect to the offensive rebounding, UK grabbed a strong 57.9%of its misses as offensive rebounds while NJIT was able to convert a weak 17.9% of its misses into bonus possessions with offensive rebounds.
UK hit well from the free throw line in this game, making 18-24 [75.0%]. NJIT made 18-22 [81.8%] for the game. Field goal shooting for UK was 32-69 overall [46.4%] and 5-21 from long range [23.8%]. For NJIT, their field goal shooting from inside the arc was a weak 12-36 [33.3%] and from long range, NJIT hit 5-19 [26.3%].
The Cats committed 14 turnovers, one for every 5.2 possessions. The Cats forced 14 NJIT turnovers, one for every 5.2 possessions.
Next Game On Schedule: Tuesday night in Chicago, the Cats will face defending national champion Duke in the third regular season game of the 2015-16 season.
Submitted by Richard Cheeks
Submitted by Richard Cheeks
Submitted by Richard Cheeks