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My goodness, the NCAA Tournament landscape changed for the Kentucky Wildcats over the course of four days. Last Wednesday, on the eve of the tournament, the Cats were not favored to survive the first weekend of the tournament. Many “experts” thought UK would not get past first round opponent Davidson, and even if they did, Arizona would bring the season to a pre-mature end in the second round. However, these “experts” were wrong about Davidson, and by the end of Thursday evening, Arizona was toast, falling to Buffalo by 20 points.
These same “experts” yawned and proclaimed that it matters not because the Wildcats from Lexington could not get past might Virginia in the Sweet 16 should Kentucky take advantage of Buffalo's gift and advance to the Sweet 16. However, when all the dust settled on the NCAA's Friday first round games, Virginia did not survive, and had to be removed from the rubble left behind by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), effective clearing a path for the Cats into the Elite 8 where the experts proclaimed that either Tennessee or Cincinnati would undo the Wildcats' dream of another trip to the Final Four for a Coach Calipari Kentucky team.
However, the NCAA Basketball gods shouted at all the self-proclaimed “experts,” “Not so fast, slick, We are not finished with paving the way for this group of Wildcats who have been victimized in recent years by devious seeding and questionable officiating.” By the time the dust settled on the second round of the tournament, both Cincinnati and Tennessee were littering the shoulder of the highway, left in the rubble of losers by Nevada and Loyola Chicago. The path to the final four has been cleared, and the Wildcats now have their destiny in this tournament within their own hands.
The experts are reeling from all of these developments within the South Region. They believed they had stacked the deck and placed sufficient obstacles to Kentucky's progress in place, but the best laid plans of mice and men are often taken apart by providence. Now some of these “experts” wish to reseed the remaining 16 teams, presumably to put new obstacles in Kentucky's path.
The Cats have played their last 10 games at championship levels. Few, if any, teams still standing in this year's Sweet 16 can match this quality of play down the stretch. The Sagarin Ratings has published a end of season ranking based on how teams have finished, and Sagarin has Kentucky sitting atop the list of all the sweet 16 members. In my book, that means if the Cats take care of business, they are 4 wins away from #9.
First up, Kansas State because they sent UMBC back to Baltimore in a “defensive” struggle that ended with a 50-43 KSU win. KSU will bring a 24-11 record into this NCAA Sweet 16 game. The KSU schedule has been competitive, having a strength of 0.0894 ppp (#39). The KSU adjusted offensive efficiency has been 1.117 ppp, and its adjusted defensive efficiency has been 0.957 ppp. In contrast, the Kentucky offensive and defensive efficiency have been 1.157 ppp and 0.951 ppp respectively. Kentucky's offense has been more efficient and the Kentucky defense has been much more efficient than KSU's.
The Kentucky Wildcats have faced the KSU Wildcats nine times, winning every game. These teams have played twice in the NCAA tournament, in 1951 (A UK National Championship Season) with Kentucky winning 68-58, and in 2014 in route to the Championship game, Kentucky won 56-43.
The strong finish that the Cats have had has been a topic of regular discussion for the last 2 to 3 weeks. However, KSU has also finished the season strong as compared to the season averages. Kentucky's last 10 games have produced 9 wins and one loss, while playing at an average ANE over those ten games of 0.315 ppp as compared to the season average 0.213 ppp. KSU's season long ANE is 0.152 ppp, but KSU has played at a higher level over its last 10 games, posting an average ANE for those games of 0.202 ppp, and a 7-3 record.
Kentucky is favored to beat KSU by 5 points, 74-69 in a game played at a pace of 67 possessions. Pomeroy sees this game in Kentucky's favor by 4 points, 71-67 at a pace of 66 possessions. Vegas opened with Kentucky a 6 point favorite, but the Vegas line has slipped to the current 5 ½ points.
Use the following link to see how other UK fans handicap this game at 247Sports, The Cats Pause message board:
You can participate in the score prediction contest at 247Sports at the following link:
Jarred Vanderbilt could be available if needed coming off his recent ankle injury, but Coach Calipari seems to prefer to keep him sidelined for at least one more game if possible. Coach Calipari will start Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nick Richards, Kevin Knox, Wenyen Gabriel, and Hamidou Diallo against Alabama. PJ Washington, Sacha Killeya-Jones, and Quade Green represent the experienced bench tonight.
Kentucky controls the opening tip and turns the ball over. At the other end, Hamidou Diallo commits a foul, and Kansas State opens the scoring with 1 of 2 from the line. The Cats miss their first four shots from the floor and Kansas State hits 2 of 3 from long range to open up an early 7-0 lead before Nick Richards gets the Cats on the board making the second of two from the line. Hamidou Diallo commits two early fouls, and Kansas State gets a 3 point play to move on top 10-1. After another UK turnover, Kansas State hits their 3 rd 3 pointer to move out 13-1, and Coach Calipari takes a timeout with 16:33 left in the first half. The Cats have dug themselves into a deep early hole in this one, a characteristic of this team earlier in the season.
After the timeout, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander gets fouled on a drive and makes both free throws, and Kevin Knox gets a steal and layup to trim the Kansas State lead to 8, 13-5. Following a Kansas State miss, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander turns the ball over for Kentucky's 3 rd turnover in the early going, taking the game to the under 16 media timeout with 15:13 left.
In the second segment, the Cats claw their way back to within 3 points, 13-10, at the under 12 media timeout, but Kansas State will have a pair of free throws after the timeout. The Cats have only made 2 of their 9 shots, including 1-1 from long range by Quade Green, and 5-6 from the line, 4-4 by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Kansas State has only made 4 of 12 shots, but they have made 3 of 8 from long range, and one 3 point play on their 4 th basket for 12 of their 13 points. However, after starting with 4 of their first 6 shots, Kansas State has missed their last 6 attempts.
After the Cats cut the lead to 2 points twice, and failed on two chances to tie or take a lead, Kansas State scored the last 5 points of the 3 rd segment to move back on top by 7, 22-15, at the under 8 media timeout. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will have a pair of free throws after this break. Kentucky's shooting woes continued in the third segment, 2-6 from the field, and 4-15 for the game. Kentucky is getting into foul trouble with two fouls on Wenyen Gabriel, Kevin Knox, Quade Green, and Hamidou Diallo. Hamidou Diallo also is out due to an ankle injury.
Diallo returned to the game, but quickly committed his 3 rd foul at the under 4 media timeout with 3:17 left in the first half and the Cats trailing by 7, 26-19. Kansas State has the ball after the break. In the 4 th segment, the Cats missed all 4 shot attempts, and only made 4 of 9 from the free throw line, including missing the front end of the bonus opportunity.
In the final segment of the first half, Kansas State extended their lead to 9 points, 30-21 on their 5 th 3 pointer of the first half. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander trimmed the lead to 7 on a layup, and following a Kansas State turnover, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander gets fouled and will have two more free throws after a Kansas State timeout with 1:38 left in the first half. Following another miss, PJ Washington gets fouled as he secured an offensive rebound. PJ Washington made the first, missed the second and Wenyen Gabriel got another offensive rebound, scored and goes to the line for a chance to make a 3 point play and cut the Kansas State lead to a single point. Kansas State makes their 6 th 3 pointer of the half to take a 4 point lead, 33-29, to the locker room.
The largest lead of the first half was 12 points for the Kansas State and Kentucky never held a lead. There were no ties and no lead changes.
The Cats scored 29 points on 35 possessions, 0.829 points per possession, and KSU managed their 33 points on 35 possessions, 0.943 ppp. The Cats made 26.1% (6-23) of their first half shots, including 1-5 from outside the arc. KSU managed to make 35.7% (10-28) of their first half shots, including 6-16 from outside the arc.
The Cats committed 7 turnovers in the first half while KSU committed 7 turnovers.
The Cats made 16-23 from the line (69.6%) and KSU made 7-11 from the line (63.6%).
On the Boards, the Cats won the rebounding battle 19-17, and Kentucky controlled the offensive glass 6-5. KSU won the second chance points 4-3. The Cats secured 33.3% of their misses and allowed KSU to grab 27.8% of their misses as second chance opportunities.
Kentucky opens the second half and the Cats go inside to PJ Washington for a basket. After a Kansas State miss, Kevin Knox gets to the line for the first time for a pair of free throws to tie the score for the first time, 33-33. After Kansas State eases back into a 2 point lead on a pair of free throws, Quade Green makes his second 3 pointer of the game to give the Cats their first lead of the game, 36-35. Kansas State then turns the ball over, and Coach Weber takes a timeout with 17:01 left in the game.
Back to back turnovers by Kentucky, followed by Kansas State's 7 th 3 pointer of the game lifts the Kansas State Wildcats back into a 2 point lead, 38-36, at the under 16 media timeout. After Kevin Knox makes a baseline jump shot to tie the game again, Kansas State scores 9 straight points forcing Coach Calipari to take a timeout with 13:16 left and the Cats trailing 47-38.
After the timeout, Kevin Knox makes a basket to stop the run, and after a defensive stop, PJ Washington scored to trim the lead back to 5 points at the under 12 media timeout. While Kansas State has the ball, they will only have 2 seconds left on the shot clock when play resumes. After a Kansas State shot clock violation, Kevin Knox makes a basket to trim the lead to 3 points. Then the wheels start coming off again with back to back turnovers, as Kansas State extends their lead to 8, 52-44.
A third consecutive turnover by the Cats, but Kansas State fails to score. 1 for 2 from the line by PJ Washington trims the lead to 7 at the under 8 media timeout with 7:50 left in the game. PJ Washington will be at the line for a bonus free throw opportunity after the timeout. PJ Washington and Kevin Knox bring the Cats back into a 1 point lead, 55-54, and after a defensive stop, have a chance to add to their lead but a turnover results in a Kansas State basket leading to the under 4 media timeout with 3:01 left, and Kansas State will have one free throw after the break to complete a three point play holding a 1 point lead, 56-55.
Kansas State missed the free throw. PJ Washington made 1 of 2 free throws to tie the score 58-58. PJ Washington is 8-20 from the line in this game, and Kansas State is fouling him whenever he touches the ball on the block. With 1:14 left, Kansas State had the ball with the score tied. Kansas State worked the shot clock down, and PJ Washington blocked a shot out of bounds with 5 seconds. Kansas State missed, got the loose ball, and called a timeout with 40 seconds left, and 27 on a new shot clock. Kansas State ran the clock down and scored to go up by 2. Quade Green threw up a 3 point air ball, and UK fouled after the rebound. Kansas State made 1 of 2 to lead by 3, and Coach Calipari takes a timeout with 5 seconds left, and the Cats down 3 points 61-58.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's shot at the buzzer misses, and the Cats lose and end their season at 26-11.
UK scored its 59 points on 64 possessions (0.906 ppp) for the game, and KSU scored its 61 points on 63 possessions (0.968 ppp).
Kentucky won the battle of the boards, with a rebounding edge 38-29, but Kansas State and Kentucky each grabbed 11 offensive rebounds. Kentucky used its 11 second chance possession to score 15 second chance points, and KSU used its 11 second chance possessions to score 8 second chance points. KSU had an offensive efficiency of 0.841 ppp on its 63 first chance possessions and 0.727 ppp for its 11 second chance possessions. UK had 0.672 ppp on its 64 first chance possessions and 1.364 ppp on its 11 second chance possession. With respect to the offensive rebounding, UK grabbed 37.9% of its misses as offensive rebounds while KSU was able to convert 28.9% of its misses into bonus possessions with offensive rebounds.
UK made 23-37 (62.2%) from the free throw line in this game. KSU made 14-22 [63.6%] for the game. Field goal shooting for UK was 16-42 overall [38.1%] and 3-12 from long range [25.0%]. For KSU, their field goal shooting from inside the arc was 10-32 [31.3%] and from long range, KSU hit 9-22 [40.9%].
The Cats committed 15 turnovers, one for every 4.3 possessions. The Cats forced 10 KSU turnovers, one for every 6.3 possessions.
Next Game On Schedule: This ends the 2017-18 basketball season
Submitted by Richard Cheeks
Submitted by Richard Cheeks