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Just 2 weeks ago, the chatter across the college basketball landscape was whether the 2017-18 Kentucky Wildcats would be able to get enough wins to make the NCAA field. Many, including me, had all but written off this season as a bad sample from the OAD era. After all, this team had lost 3 in a row, something that no Calipari led UK team had ever done, and they were poised to lose an unprecedented fourth consecutive game at Auburn.
Yes, the Cats did in fact lose that 4 th game to Auburn, but something happened in that little town on the plains that nearly went totally unnoticed. Coach Calipari remarked after the loss that his team had made great strides against Auburn. He also said he had absolutely no concern about this team or its NCAA prospects. At the time, his confidence seemed to be nothing but a classic example of coach-speak, but this team has now won its last 3 games by greater than anticipated margins.
This team won seven in a row in November and December between losses to Kansas and UCLA on neutral courts. However, with rare exception, the Cats consistently under performed expectations against the likes of Harvard, Troy, IUPUFW, and Monmouth. Since those days of nibbling on cupcakes, the Cats have won 3 in a row twice. They blew out Louisville followed by narrow wins over Georgia and LSU. Then about a month later, they beat Mississippi State and Vanderbilt at Rupp around a huge unexpected win at West Virginia. This team is now poised to win a fourth consecutive game against top 100 opponents when it faces Ole Miss on Wednesday in the home finale.
However, there is much more about this current winning streak than the number of consecutive wins. Going back to the Vanderbilt game in which the Cats were frankly fortunate to leave Rupp with a W, game ANE for that game was a meager 0.050 points per possession. Despite losing the next four games, the Cats began to improve their game performance levels, to 0.099 ppp at Missouri, 0.107 ppp against Tennessee, 0.098 ppp at Texas A&M, and 0.164 ppp at Auburn. These results show steady sustained improvement by this team through their painful four game losing streak. However, their growth continued to 0.190 ppp against Alabama, and an amazing 0.470 ppp at Arkansas, followed by 0.412 ppp against Missouri last Saturday at Rupp Arena.
This rise in my opinion is now an established trend, and this team has finally “turned the corner.” It's “light” has finally illuminated. The only questions now is how long can this team sustain this higher level of play, and how far will they be able to ride that crest into March Madness?
This surge by the Cats is already sufficient, in my opinion, has lifted this team to the 3 rd highest ANE in the SEC behind Auburn and Tennessee. This team is now poised to secure one of the four double byes in the upcoming SEC Tournament, which is nearly essential if the Cats are to compete for that tournament championship. The team's NCAA bracketology outlook has similarly been rising.
The SEC standings have a 4-team log jam in 3 rd place with 9-7 records with 2 games to play. Kentucky is in this group with Florida, Arkansas, and Mississippi State. If the Cats finish in a tie with either Arkansas or Mississippi State, the Cats own the tie-breaker due to their regular season wins over each. Florida, however, holds the tie-breaker over the Cats at this time, and even if the Cats beat the Gators in their rematch, the Gators hold the tie-breaker based on their win over Auburn.
Mississippi State will finish their season at home against Tennessee and at LSU. I believe 1-1 is a likely, but 2-0 remains possible finish for the Bulldogs. Arkansas finishes with Auburn at home and at Missouri. Similarly, Arkansas will probably finish 1-1, but 2-0 is not out of the picture. If both finish 1-1, and the Cats finish 1-1, then the Cats secure the fourth seed in the SEC tournament. If the Cats finish 2-0, it does not matter what Mississippi State or Arkansas do in their last two games, and the Cats will be the #4 seed in the SEC Tournament. The Cats will have to lose both games and either Mississippi State or Arkansas win at least one of their games for the Cats to fall out of this precious #4 SEC Seed.
Therefore, a win on Wednesday over Mississippi will lock up the #4 seed in this year's SEC Tournament for the Cats.
Mississippi's 12-17, 5-11 record has produced an ANE of 0.078 ppp (#98) by playing a schedule with a strength of 0.102 ppp (#14). The Cats' 20-9, 9-7 record has produced an ANE of 0.192 ppp (#25) by playing a schedule with a strength of 0.109 ppp (#9). The ANE analysis gives the edge to Kentucky by 14 points, 81-67, in a game played at a pace of 74 possessions. Pomeroy has the Kentucky favored by 11, 82-71 with a pace of 70 possessions. Vegas opened today with Kentucky a 11 ½ point favorite.
Use the following link to see how other UK fans handicap this game at 247Sports, The Cats Pause message board:
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For the fourth consecutive game, Coach Calipari will start Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nick Richards, Kevin Knox, Wenyen Gabriel, and Hamidou Diallo against Mississippi. PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, Sacha Killeya-Jones, and Quade Green represent the experienced bench tonight.
The Mississippi controls the opening tip and they commit a turnover. The Cats work their way to a 9-4 lead in the first 3 ½ minutes while the game was delayed twice on technical fouls and lengthy TV monitor reviews by the officials. After all the dust settles on the second round of tv watching, the Cats lead 12-5. At the under 16 media timeout, the Cats lead by 7, 14-7. With 14:10 remaining, the official decide to watch tv for the third time in the first 6 minutes of the game. In the second segment, the Rebels trimmed the lead to 3 points on two occasions, and the Cats finish the segment with a 5 point lead, 19-14, at the under 12 media timeout.
In the third segment, the teams played on even terms to a 29-25 Kentucky lead at the under 8 media timeout. After the Cats extended their lead to 6, 31-25, Mississippi trimmed the lead to 1 point, 31-30 before the Cats scored 8 straight to a 9 point lead, 39-30, forcing a Mississippi timeout with 4:22 left. Cats lead 50-42 at the half.
The largest lead of the first half was 11 points for the Cats and 2 points for Mississippi. There were 2 ties and 7 lead changes.
The Cats scored 50 points on 41 possessions, 1.220 points per possession, and MISSISSIPPI managed their 42 points on 42 possessions, 1.000 ppp. The Cats made 45.7% (16-35) of their first half shots, including 2-8 from outside the arc. MISSISSIPPI managed to make 40.5% (17-42) of their first half shots, including 5-20 from outside the arc.
The Cats committed 5 turnovers in the first half while MISSISSIPPI committed 6 turnovers.
The Cats made 16-19 from the line (84.2%) and MISSISSIPPI made 3-5 from the line (60.0%).
On the Boards, the Cats won the rebounding battle 23-21, but the Rebels had a 9-7 advantage on the offensive glass. Mississippi won the second chance points 15-6. The Cats secured 36.8% of their misses and allowed MISSISSIPPI to grab 36.0% of their misses as second chance opportunities.
Mississippi opens the second half and scores with a second chance basket. The Rebels trim the lead to 4 points at the under 16 media timeout, 58-54, and Kevin Knox will have free throws after the break. In the second segment, Mississippi trimmed the lead to only 2 points, 59-57, but the Cats responded with a 6 point run to go to the under 12 media timeout with a 8 point lead, 65-57 and possession. After the Cats extend their run to 8 points and a 10 point lead, Mississippi has a 5 point trip with a basket, 1 of 2 technical free throws, and a second chance basket on the ensuing technical possession. When the Cats miss again, Mississippi cuts the lead to 3 points, 67-64, and Coach Calipari takes a timeout with 10:10 remaining in the game. After the timeout, the Cats move back out to a 9 point lead, 78-69 at the under 8 media timeout with 7:12 left in the game.
After the timeout, Mississippi misses 2 free throws, PJ Washington makes the first of two, and Wenyen Gabriel gets an offensive rebound off the miss, allowing Quade Green to hit a 3 pointer to give the Cats their biggest lead of the game, 82-69 with 6:32 remaining. Mississippi takes a timeout. Following another Mississippi missed shot, Quade Green is fouled on the rebound and his two free throws extends the lead to 15 points, 84-69. The Cats lead by 15, 89-74, at the under 4 media timeout with 3:20 left in the game and Mississippi in possession.
The Cats win by 18 points, 96-78.
UK scored its 96 points on 77 possessions (1.247 ppp) for the game, and MISSISSIPPI scored its 78 points on 79 possessions (0.987 ppp).
Kentucky won the battle of the boards, with a rebounding edge 43-35, but Mississippi controlled the offensive glass 13-12. Kentucky used its 12 second chance possessions to score 13 second chance points, and MISSISSIPPI used its 13 second chance possessions to score 24 second chance points. MISSISSIPPI had an offensive efficiency of 0.684 ppp on its 79 first chance possessions and 1.846 ppp for its 13 second chance possessions. UK had 1.078 ppp on its 77 first chance possessions and 1.083 ppp on its 12 second chance possessions. With respect to the offensive rebounding, UK grabbed 35.3% of its misses as offensive rebounds while MISSISSIPPI was able to convert 29.5% of its misses into bonus possessions with offensive rebounds.
UK made 26-35 (74.3%) from the free throw line in this game. MISSISSIPPI made 9-15 [60.0%] for the game. Field goal shooting for UK was 31-62 overall [50.0%] and 8-18 from long range [44.4%]. For Mississippi, their field goal shooting from inside the arc was 21-44 [47.7%] and from long range, MISSISSIPPI hit 9-30 [30.0%].
The Cats committed 12 turnovers, one for every 6.4 possessions. The Cats forced 12 MISSISSIPPI turnovers, one for every 6.6 possessions.
Next Game On Schedule: Saturday afternoon in the last (31 st and 18 th ) regular season game of the 2017-18 season at Florida.
Submitted by Richard Cheeks
Submitted by Richard Cheeks