EXPLANATION OF DATA AND
How Was Morris Time in the SEC
As the University of Kentucky men's basketball team transitioned from its non-conference schedule into SEC play for the 2006 season, one question overpowered all others. Would the return of Randolph Morris revitalize a team that seemed incapable of playing with any heart or soul. UK finished the 2005-06 non-conference schedule 10-4. The last 3 games of that run included an uninspired, come from behind victory over Ohio University , a sleep walk victory over Central Florida that required a last second shot by Rajon Rondo to secure a timid 2 point victory at Rupp, and an embarrassing drubbing at the hands of the Kansas Jayhawks in Lawrence .
Following the Kansas debacle, and prior to the first SEC game on January 10, 2006 , the Kentucky basketball team stood with a record of 10-4. Kentucky had taken losses at the hands of Iowa by 4, North Carolina by 4 in Rupp Arena , Indiana by 26, and Kansas by 27. Kentucky earned a couple of nice wins from this non-conference schedule. They outshot a good West Virginia offense, and they handed little brother his lunch. The other eight wins come against middle and lower rung teams, including the last second two-point win over Central Florida .
Many fans speculated for weeks prior to Morris' actual return that he would be “the difference” that would set the UK basketball ship off onto the “right” course. Some speculated that with Morris in the lineup, UK would not only win the SEC wars, but actually waltz through them. Many of these fans agreed that the team's performance, as reflected by the non-conference average performance levels summarized above would improve upon Morris' return. These fans understood that if the season ends with these same numbers, 2005-06 will be the least efficient Kentucky basketball team since Tubby's 2000 squad [0.058 ppp].
There was a substantial basis for this hope. The defensive performance of the team [0.787 ppp] was among the best ever posted by any Tubby Smith Coached UK team. The downfall of this UK team, at least as it seemed on January 9, 2006 , was an inept offense due primarily to no inside presence. The 0.849 ppp offensive efficiency is the lowest ever by a Smith team at Kentucky , and certainly that number would improve once Morris provides a legitimate inside threat that opponents must honor. Since there was no basis to believe that Morris' return would adversely affect this strong defensive effort, any improvement in the offensive efficiency would translate directly into an improvement in the NGE. All things being equal, this analysis appeared solid and based on reasonable expectations for the SEC season with Morris in the lineup.
Looking ahead at the SEC season, prior to any games, it was clear that the SEC wars would not be easy. There would be trips to Florida , Vanderbilt , Tennessee , South Carolina , Georgia , Mississippi State , Auburn , and LSU. Of these, only the trips to Mississippi State and Georgia appear to be opportunities for precious road victories based solely on the pre-sec results of all the SEC teams. However, the home SEC schedule appeared less threatening, with only Florida posing a serious threat to hand these Cats a rare Rupp Arena loss, but most recognized that several of the other home games could require strong efforts to secure the home victories.
Based on prior seasons experience, and the pre-SEC performances by the SEC including Kentucky, I opined in early late December 2005 and early January 2006 that UK would likely go 10-6 in the SEC this season [7-1 at Rupp; 3-5 on the road]. In addition, I also projected SEC efficiency values and year-end efficiency values based on two factors: (1) the non-conference performance levels this year, and (2) the ratio of SEC to non-conference performances in recent seasons. Of course, these projections are based upon the assumption that Randolph Morris either would not be present during SEC play, or that his presence would have no Net Impact upon the team's performance. Therefore, any deviation from these projections in the actual SEC and year-end numbers could be reasonably attributed to Morris' contributions to the team.
Project SEC Performance Based On Prior Seasons
In recent years, Kentucky 's offensive efficiency at the end of the non-conference schedule is about the same as their offensive efficiency at the end of the season. In other words, UK plays at about the same efficiency in SEC play as non-conference. However, defensive efficiency is a different situation. Historically, the year-end defensive efficiency is about 5 percent higher [poorer] than after the non-conference schedule. If that relationship holds again this season, then the current 0.787 will increase to about 0.82 ppp. Kentucky 's scoring during the SEC season will also drop from the current levels by about 4 ppg and the opponents' scoring will continue at about 62 ppg during SEC play. These changes also correlate to an overall slowing of the game pace through the SEC wars.
Based on that Pre-SEC analysis, I projected that UK would finish 10-6 in the SEC, play 2 or 3 games in the SEC Tournament before losing, and playing 1 or 2 games in the NCAA before losing and ending their season. The final regular season record will be 20-10, and year ending record will be 23 – 12, with a first or second round NCAA exit. Again, it is important to understand that these projections were based on the team's performance without Randolph Morris; therefore, the question arises about the Morris factor in the SEC and beyond for these Kentucky Wildcats.
Projected Year End Performance
I published all of the preceding summary of the pre-SEC performance and the projections for the remainder of the year prior to any SEC play in 2006. At that time, I ended the presentation with the following statements.
“For weeks we have been saying that only time will tell. It is now time for show and tell by Mr. Morris, and we will all be watching.”
“Watch” is exactly what we did. For the most part, we watched in disbelief. At the time of this writing, UK has played 14 of the 16 game SEC schedule. The remaining games include a road game at Tennessee , and the Cats must still entertain Florida at Rupp.
The Cats now stand at 8-6 in SEC play, and 18-10 overall. Most prognostictors now foresee an additional loss at Tennessee , and the Florida game could go either way given the venue and the fact that the game will be Kentucky 's senior day. Therefore, at this stage of the season, it appears that UK will end the SEC schedule at either 9-7 or 8-8. Tables IV and V show the current values for SEC and Season long play.
Actual SEC Performance Through 14 Games
Projections of SEC and Year End Performance
It is clear that Morris' return has been a mixed bag of results. As forecast prior to the SEC season, Morris' presence appears to have improved the UK offensive efficiency in a rather substantial way. Prior to Morris, the average offensive efficiency was 0.849 ppp and since Morris returned, the team has averaged 0.929 ppp, increasing the season average to 0.886 ppp. However, the forecast that Morris would not affect defensive performance was radically wrong. The defensive efficiency declined from an impressive 0.787 ppp prior to Morris to a dismal 0.888 ppp with Morris, and the overall season average defensive efficiency similarly declined to 0.833 ppp.
The SEC values produce a NGE [0.041 ppp] which correlates to barely a winning record that this team now can achieve if it can defeat a highly ranked Florida team at Rupp or pick up a difficult road win from Tennessee. The NGE for the year, 0.053 ppp, is not sufficient to justify any excitement about UK 's post-season outlook for 2006.
It is easy to conclude that a cause-effect relationship exists between Morris' return and the improved offensive performance levels. First, such a relationship was forecast, and the basis for that forecast had logical foundations. Second, Morris' mere presence on the court has indeed drawn defensive attention that opponents could divert to other players before Morris returned. However, the collapse of the defense after Morris' return may not be totally attributable to Mr. Morris' return, or his individual defensive short comings.
Sea level changes, such as we have observed in both offense and defense should be related to substantial changes in the team's makeup or character. I am content to attribute most, if not all, of the improved offensive performance to Mr. Morris. However, the total loss of defensive effort by this team suggests a broader problem that simply the defensive short comings of any individual player. First, prior to Morris, this team has plenty of inside players with serious defensive short comings, and as a team, they were still able to post very impressive overall defensive values in their non-conference schedule. Second, Morris' defensive problems should have been no more severe than those of Obrzut, Alleyne, Carter, Perry, Thomas and Sims, especially since Morris had a full year under his belt as a starter on a good UK team.
Therefore, the $64,000 question for this season is why has its defense collapsed since January 9, 2006 ?
Defense is hard work, with few psychic payoffs for the individual players. Defense requires a full team effort, a willingness on the part of each player to sacrifice and cover for his teammates. Effective defense requires constant intensity and focus. Attitudes can affect defense more substantially than it will affect offense. The turmoil surrounding this team has been well documented in the press, starting in October before UK played its first exhibition game.
I don't know the answer to the $64,000 question. However, in my opinion, the disintegration of the 2005-06 UK basketball team is due to this turmoil. Turmoil and conflict among the players, and certainly turmoil between certain players and the coach.
Copyright 2006 Richard Cheeks