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The Cats have navigated the first 9 games with only one defeat, at the hands of #5 Kansas by 4 points in the Champions Classic one month ago today. The Cats disposed of every other early season opponent. While the current wire service polls have the Cats ranked in the top 10, I believe these lofty rankings are the equivalent of fools' gold. These Cats have simply not played well enough on a sustained basis to justify even a top 25 ranking because despite the 8-1 record, the Cats' strength of schedule is #228 per Pomeroy's data. The Cats' current ANE ranks #51.
This Saturday marks several transition points for this basketball season and team. Saturday marks the end of the final exam week for the fall semester, thus the beginning of Camp Cal. In addition, when Virginia Tech runs into Rupp Arena on Saturday, the strength of the Kentucky schedule will instantly shift gears. Other than Kansas, the highest ranked UK opponent thus far has been #71 Vermont followed by #137 ETSU. The average ranking of the Cats' first 9 opponents has been 158.
Virginia Tech will waltz into Rupp on Saturday as the #15 team (ANE) and the most powerful offense in the country, averaging over 95 ppg. The Cats' schedule then takes the Cats to a neutral location for #79 UCLA, back home for #39 Louisville, and then the SEC schedule, which appears daunting at this stage of the season. The weakest opponent remaining on the schedule (Vanderbilt) is #141, and the average rank of all remaining opponents is 53. The Cats will face 13 opponents who currently have higher ANE values over the remaining 22 games.
Beginning Saturday, the Cats' schedule shifts gears from low range into a higher range. Will the Cats also elevate their play to match the higher speed of their opponents?
Last week, prior to the Cats' excursion to New York City, Coach Calipari warned the Big Blue Nation that mighty Monmouth would present a stern challenge to the Cats. However, such a warning about the #159 Hawks seemed completely out of place. Today, if Coach Calipari does not issue a real warning about the challenge that Virginia Tech will present in Rupp Arena on Saturday, then I will.
Virginia Tech brings a 9-1 record into Rupp. Unlike the Cats who have handled each of their cupcake opponents with victories, the Hokies must explain how they lost to #225 Saint Louis by 6 on a neutral court on November 16. Furthermore, Virginia Tech needed overtime to get a 3 point win at #120 Mississippi in the Hokies' only road game. This loss, and their struggles at Mississippi are not simply chinks in their armor but a completely inexplicable loss by a team that has otherwise steam rolled its way through nine other opponents by an average margin of 97-70. While the Kentucky schedule thus far has been very weak, the Virginia Tech schedule has been anemic, at #340 (out of 351). This explains some of these gaudy margins, but not all. The Hokies' ANE is 0.270 ppp, #14 in the nation as they prepare to face the Cats at Rupp.
In summary, the Hokies have two low level outliers out of 10 starts and the Cats have 2 exceptionally high performances (Kansas and UIC) out of 9 starts.
The Adjusted Net Efficiency (ANE) analysis for this match up indicates a 6 point Kentucky loss to Virginia Tech, in a game played at 77 possessions, 81-75. Pomeroy sees this game with Kentucky having the 6-point advantage, 81-75 played at a pace of 73 possessions.
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Coach Calipari will start Nick Richards, Kevin Knox, PJ Washington, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Hamidou Diallo in the starting lineup. Quade Green is not starting due to his eye injury in the Monmouth game, but Coach Calipari indicated that Quade Green will be available today. Wenyen Gabriel, and Tai Wynyard will provide the primary bench help. Jarred Vanderbilt remains unavailable and Sacha Killeya-Jones is out today with an ankle injury, and his status is day-to-day.
The Cats control the opening tip and Hamidou Diallo missing from point blank range. Virginia Tech gets on the board first. After back to back turnovers, Coach Calipari inserts Quade Green into the lineup with 18:30 remaining. After VT goes up 5-0, Quade Green leads a Kentucky run of 9 points fueled by 3 VT turnovers to close out the opening segment up by 4, 9-5 at the under 16 media timeout. VT opens the second segment with their 2 nd 3 pointer of the game. Despite shooting 3-4 in the segment, the Cats saw their early 4 point lead disappear into a 2 point deficit at the under 12 media timeout, 18-16, as the Hokies hit 5-6, including 1-1 from the free throw line and 2-3 from outside the arc.
In the third segment, the Cats attempt 5 shots from outside the arc, making two of them to match their 3 point production of the first 8 minutes and lift the Cats back into the lead by 2 points, 27-25, at the under 8 media timeout. After the break, Kevin Knox will have a pair of free throws and an opportunity to extend the Cats' lead back to their previous high, 4 points. However, Kevin Knox missed his first try, and VT regains the lead on another 3 pointer and a layup following a UK missed shot. After moving on top by 4, 32-28, the Cats rode 3-3 shooting from long range to move on top by a game high 5 points, 37-32, forcing VT to take a timeout with about 5 minutes left in the first half. After the timeout, VT scores 7 straight to move back into the lead, and hold a lead 42-39, at the under 4 media timeout with 2;12 remaining and VT in possession of the ball.
After the timeout, VT hits a three pointer and a layup to move on top by 8, the largest lead of the game by either team. Coach Calipari takes a timeout with 1:06 remaining. The Cats break a scoring drought with 8 second left in the half and go to the locker room down 6, 47-41.
The Cats scored 41 points on 39 possessions, 1.051 points per possession, and VIRGINIA TECH managed their 47 points on 38 possessions, 1.237 ppp. The Cats made 45.7% of their first half shots, including 7-13 from outside the arc. VIRGINIA TECH managed to make 62.1% of their first half shots, including 7-12 from outside the arc.
The Cats committed 8 turnovers in the first half while VIRGINIA TECH committed 11 turnovers.
The Cats made 2-4 free throws (50.0%) and VIRGINIA TECH was 4-5 (80.0%) from the line in the first half.
On the Boards, the Hokies controlled the boards with a 16-14 advantage, but the Cats won the battle on the offensive glass 5-3. The Cats used their 5 offensive rebounds to score 6 second chance points while the Hokies used its 3 offensive rebounds for 8 second chance points. The Cats secured 27.8% of their misses and allowed VIRGINIA TECH to grab 25.0% of their misses as second chance opportunities.
Virginia Tech opens the second half with a layup to go back on top by their game high 8 points. After the teams traded baskets to a 51-44 score the Cats scored the next 10 point run, lead by 8 points by Kevin Knox to move back on top by 3, 54-51, at the under 16 media timeout. VT will have a pair of free throws after this timeout. In the second segment, VT moved back into the lead, last at 58-56, but the Cats finished the segment strong to maintain their lead at 2 points, 62-60 at the under 12 media timeout with 11:36 remaining in the game and VT in possession of the ball.
In the third segment, the teams battled to a 1 point UK lead, 67-66 at the under 8 media timeout, and the Cats will have the ball after the timeout. The Cats hit 2-2 from inside the arc, 1-1 from outside the arc, and 4-4 from the charity stripe to move into their largest lead of the game, 7 points, 78-71, forcing a VT timeout with 4:43 remaining in the game. At the under 4 media timeout, the Cats still lead by 7, 80-73.
With 3:03 remaining, VT's leading scorer, Blackshear, fouled out on a moving pick, and the Cats on top by 6, 80-74. After Quade Green gave the Cats their largest lead, 8 points, 82-74, VT made a 3 pointer, and a basket following a UK turnover to trim the lead to 3 points with 2:10 remaining. A VT 3 pointer trimmed the lead to 2 points, 85-83, and Hamidou Diallo drained a 3 pointer from the left corner to put the lead back to 5 points. Following a VT missed shot, Quade Green made 1-2 from the line to go up by 6, 89-83. A VT timeout with 0:33 remaining.
Cats win 93-87
The Cats lifted their game to their most efficient level of this season in the 10 th game of the season.
UK scored its 93 points on 75 possessions (1.240 ppp) for the game, and VIRGINIA TECH scored its 86 points on 75 possessions (1.147 ppp).
Kentucky won the battle of the boards, with a rebounding edge 33-30, and the Cats won the battle of the offensive glass, 14-6. Kentucky used its 14 second chance possessions to score 18 second chance points, and VIRGINIA TECH used its 6 second chance possessions to score 12 second chance points. VIRGINIA TECH had an offensive efficiency of 0.987 ppp on its 75 first chance possessions and 2.000 ppp for its 6 second chance possessions. UK had 1.000 ppp on its 75 first chance possessions and 1.286 ppp on its 14 second chance possessions. With respect to the offensive rebounding, UK grabbed 36.8% of its misses as offensive rebounds while VIRGINIA TECH was able to convert 24.0% of its misses into bonus possessions with offensive rebounds.
UK hit poorly from the free throw line in this game, making 16-24 [66.7%]. VIRGINIA TECH made 12-17 [70.6%] for the game. Field goal shooting for UK was 33-68 overall [48.5%] and 11-22 from long range [50.0%]. For VIRGINIA TECH, their field goal shooting from inside the arc was a powerful 22-33 [66.7%] and from long range, VIRGINIA TECH hit 10-22 [45.5%].
The Cats committed 11 turnovers, one for every 6.8 possessions. The Cats forced 19 VIRGINIA TECH turnovers, one for every 3.9 possessions.
Next Game On Schedule: Saturday afternoon in New Orleans against UCLA for the eleventh regular season game of the 2017-18 season.
Submitted by Richard Cheeks
Submitted by Richard Cheeks