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Kentucky 's Three Game Win Streak
Crashes To End in Baton Rouge
Cats Lose 71-67
By
TheProfessor

Game Preview:

For the first time this season, the University of Kentucky basketball team appears to have both the offensive and defensive efficiencies headed in the right direction. They are riding a 3-game win streak with wins over Georgia , South Carolina , and Mississippi . It is difficult to foresee whether this team's revival is sufficient to provide any additional victories during the regular season.

Saturday, UK plays LSU at Baton Rouge . Kentucky will then wrap up their regular season play with a trip to Knoxville and their traditional home finale against Florida . These are the best teams in the SEC this season, and UK has yet to secure a single SEC win against an SEC opponent with a winning conference record this season.

During this three game win streak, UK 's performance was conflicted during the first two games. Against Georgia , UK played very well at the defensive end [0.735 ppp allowed] while their offensive effort was poor [0.764 ppp]. Against South Carolina , the halves were as different as night and day. In the first half, UK 's offense was dismal [0.676 ppp], but their defense was effective [0.778 ppp] which allowed UK to stay within 3 points of USC, 28-25 at the half. In the second half, UK shot lights out and posted a season high 54 points on only 35 possessions [1.543 ppp]. However, the red warning flag must also run up the old flag pole because the defense reverted to its old, lax ways allowing USC to score nearly at will during the second half [0.905 ppp].

Against the backdrop of these inconsistent performances, primarily on offense, the Cats destroyed a much weaker Mississippi team on Wednesday night, for Kentucky 's most complete game of this season. UK posted an offensive efficiency well above 1 point per possessions for the game [1.111 ppp]. This represents a season high for UK , matched identically in UK 's earlier 2-point victory over USC at Rupp Arena.

UK also played a smothering defense that limited Mississippi to only about ½ point per possession for the game, the season's most effective defense against any opponent [0.506 ppp], and the best overall defensive performance in any game since UK defeated Morehead 71-40 last season [0.482 ppp].

After the Georgia and USC victories last week, I observed that this particular team [coaches and players together] are not able to play defense and offense efficiently at the same time. In the Mississippi game, they overcame that obstacle in remarkable fashion. Now the question shifts to whether UK can maintain that newfound effectiveness against good teams.

UK has secured a strong hold on 3 rd place in the SEC east going into the final 3-games of the year, and due to recent Florida losses has an opportunity to move into the 2 nd spot in the East. The only way UK finishes below 3 rd in the east is for UK to lose the last three while Vanderbilt wins the last three.

However, to make that final move to obtain the first round bye that accompanies a #2 finish, UK will need to beat Florida in the last game of the year. UK will probably also need to defeat either LSU or Tennessee on the road. Therefore, this game means a lot to UK for post-season opportunities, a potential first round SEC bye, and a higher seed in the NCAA big dance.

A UK victory over LSU, if it occurs, will extend UK 's current win streak to 4 games, and set the table for the season finale with Florida a week from Sunday, regardless of the outcome of UK 's game against Tennessee or Florida 's game with Alabama . A UK win at LSU would certainly keep the heat up on Florida as both teams prepare to close the season at Rupp a week from Sunday. However, it is clear that if LSU beats UK and Florida defeats Alabama this weekend, UK must then defeat Tennessee to remain in the chase for second place in the East.

LSU currently sports a RPI rank of #11 with an 18-7 record, 11-2 in the SEC. LSU's conference losses have both been on the road, at Alabama [by 5] and at Florida [by 9]. Kentucky has been slightly more effective offensively this season than LSU [0.887 ppp v. 0.881 ppp]. However, LSU has posted much stronger defensive numbers for the season [0.784 v. 0.833 ppp]. UK has averaged 80 possessions per game, while holding its opponents to only 78 possessions per game due to a +2 average offensive rebounding margin per game. LSU averages 86 possessions per game this season, and LSU's opponents average 82 possessions per game. These teams should play this game in the lower 80s pace.

LSU currently has a Net Game Efficiency for the year of 0.098 ppp while UK 's current NGE stands at 0.054 ppp. LSU has played a stronger schedule than Kentucky to this point of the season [0.5918 v 0.5779].

The Pros in Vegas say LSU will defeat Kentucky Saturday afternoon by 7 points, 71-64. However, it is important to note that the vast majority of Vegas houses have taken this game off their sheets because of reports coming from Baton Rouge that LSU guard Mitchell and Forward Davis will not play today. This season, Uk is 10-13 against the spread. The Net Game Efficiency analysis, adjusted for schedule strength and venue suggests a LSU win over the Cats, 74-64. The pre-game magic number is 70 points. The first team to score its 70 th point should win this game.

The First Half:

LSU came out of the blocks aggressively, and ended the first game segment with a 5 point lead, 12-7. LSU hit the boards hard as well, grabbing 3 offensive rebounds in the early going for 4 second chance points. During the second mini-game, UK responded to the challenge, and cut the early 5 point lead to 3 points at the second TV timeout with 11:11 to go in the half. However, LSU is owning the boards, has 6 offensive rebounds that produced 9 second chance points in the early going. In the third game segment, UK pulled even with LSU, actually taking a brief 1 point lead. The pace of the game is in the low 80s, with LSU pushing 90 possessions on the strength of its rebounding dominance. UK continues its segment by segment control of this game by outscoring LSU by 3 points in the fourth segment of the first half to take a 33-30 lead with about 3 ½ to go to intermission. UK won 4 of the 5 game segments in the first half to take a 5 point lead, 37-32, into the locker room.

Kentucky won 4 of the 5 game segments and LSU won the fifth segment as they opened the game hot. UK scored its 37 points on only 39 possessions [0.949 ppp] and LSU scored its 32 points on 44 possessions, 0.727 points per possession for the half.

Of UK's 39 first half possessions, 4 came by virtue of its offensive rebounding that produced 4 second chance points. LSU earned 9 bonus possessions created by its offensive rebounding that produced 11-second chance points. UK had an impressive offensive efficiency on its first chance possessions, of 0.974 ppp on its 35 first chance possessions and 1.000 ppp for its 4-second chance possessions. LSU had a 0.600 ppp on its 35 first chance possessions but LSU took advantage of it 9-second chances by scoring 11 points, 1.222 ppp.

LSU made 10 of its 12 free throw attempts [83.3%] while UK converted 5 of its 7 attempts from the line [71.4%]. LSU out rebounded Kentucky in the first half, 23-15, and LSU earned most of that advantage by winning the battle of the offensive rebounds 9-4 during the first half. The field goal shooting LSU shot a poor 40.0% [8-20] and a pitiful 2-10 from beyond the arc [20.0%]. Kentucky was 10-20 [50.0%] inside the arc and a respectable 4-11 [36.4%] from outside the arc. The game pace is equivalent to 78 possessions for UK and 88 possessions for LSU.

MAGIC NUMBER

The pregame analysis indicated a magic number of 70 points. However, based on the pace and effectiveness of the teams in the first half today, the magic number is modified to 72 points. The first team to score its 72nd point will win this game. UK needs to score 35 more points in the second half to reach this level before LSU can score 40 points in this race to 72 points. UK scored its 69 th point of the game on a 3 pointer by LeMaster with about 9 ½ minutes to play in the game to move UK up 70-27. UK played out the last 10 minutes of the clock to secure the victory, 80-40.

The Second Half:

LSU opened the second half with intensified defense and 7 points in the first game segment, cutting the 5-point halftime deficit to only 3 points, 42-39. However, Davis picked up his 3 rd foul early in the half, and continues to play due to LSU depth limitations. In the second mini-game of the second half, LSU controlled, and moved back into the lead, 47-44 at the under 12 time out. For the game, with about 12 to play, LSU has scored 47 points on 59 possessions, 0.797 ppp while UK has scored 44 points on 51 possessions, 0.863 ppp. The big change between halves is the turnover rate for UK , 7 on their first 12 possessions.

However, Kentucky responded to the challenge in the third segment, outscoring LSU 7-4 to pull even at 51 when the whistle blew for the under 8 time out. During that segment, the turnover woes shifted to LSU as they surrendered 5 straight possessions with a turn over. The race to 72 points is a dead heat with each team needing 21 more points over the last 7 minutes. At the under 4 TV timeout, LSU has crawled back into the lead, 57-56, primarily on the strength of improved defense and the ability to get to the line, and another offensive rebound basket. It seems clear that this game will go to the last possession, and neither team will reach the MAGIC Number today. With LSU leading 69-67, and UK in possession, a Thomas attempt from close range missed, LSU secured the rebound, and closed out the scoring on a couple of additional free throws to defeat a scrappy UK team 71-67.

The Outcome:

LSU won the battle of the boards for the game, 38-26, and LSU won the battle of the offensive boards 13-7. LSU grabbed an impressive 40.6% of its misses as offensive rebounds while UK grabbed an anemic 21.9% of its misses. UK scored 67 points on its 77 possessions [0.870 ppp] while LSU scored its 71 points using 84 possessions [0.845 ppp]. Kentucky committed 15 turnovers to LSU's 18 for the game.

Kentucky had 70 first chance possessions in which they scored 58 points, 0.829 ppp while they scored 9 points on their 7-second chance possessions, 1.286 ppp. LSU had 71 first chance possessions on which they scored 57 points, 0.803 ppp while they scored 14 second chance points on their 13 second chance possessions, 1.077 ppp.

Tonight UK shot the ball above their season average from the field for the game. From the field, UK shot 50.0% [18-36] inside the arc, and a solid 8-21 from beyond the arc 38.1%] for a combined shooting percentage of 45.6%. The Free throw shooting was better in terms of percentage but the number of opportunities was too low, 7-10 [70.0%]. LSU shot far below their season average from the field today. From inside the arc, LSU hit 47.1% [16-34] and from long range, LSU hit only 23.5% [4-17]. LSU's free throw shooting was excellent, providing the scoring margin and more today. LSU made 27-31 [87.1%]. Kentucky committed one turnover for every 5.1 possessions while forcing a turnover in every 4.7 possessions. Last year, in comparison, these turnover rates were 6.2 and 4.6 respectively for the season.

I predicted a LSU win over Kentucky today, 74-64. The predicted v. actual offensive efficiencies were 0.786 and 0.870 ppp respectively for a B- effort on offense. The predicted v. actual defensive efficiencies were 0.906 and 0.845 ppp respectively for an B- on defense.

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Copyright 2006 Richard Cheeks
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