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Kentucky Defeats Tennessee 80-78 in Knoxville
Stays In Hunt For #2 in SEC East
By
TheProfessor

Game Preview:

Each team comes into this next to the last game of the regular season off losses, Kentucky to LSU in Baton Rouge by 4 points, and Tennessee to Arkansas in Knoxville by 4 points. That is where the similarities between these two basketball teams end. Tennessee sits atop the SEC East with a record of 20-5, 11-3 with a two game lead over the Florida Gators with two games to play. Kentucky [18-10, 8-6] has a lock on third place in the SEC East [only if Vanderbilt loses once more], with a slim, but declining chance to capture the #2 spot from a fading Florida team. All that UK requires to move into the #2 spot is to defeat Tennessee in Knoxville and defeat Florida at Rupp in the last game of the regular season, or failing the first step, the Cats must defeat Florida by 15 points or more on Sunday.

Tennessee currently holds a lofty #4 RPI ranking. Tennessee is playing for a possible #1 or #2 seed in the upcoming March Madness. In contrast, UK is clearly on the NCAA bubble, needing at least one more regular season victory to secure an at large bid. Tennessee is a program on the rise under the leadership of first year coach Bruce Pearl while the UK program is slipping into the obscurity of mediocrity with coach Tubby Smith at the helm. Tennessee captured the first game of the season between these teams at Rupp Arena 75-67.

Certainly Tennessee wants to rebound from its home court loss with a home season ending victory on their Senior Night, and it is clear that coach Pearl has clearly defined his success as Tennessee's coach as beating the University of Kentucky basketball team. It matters not that the cumulative 11-3 record in the 2006 season says so much more about Coach Pearl's impact at Tennessee than one or two wins over the struggling UK team, Bruce Pearl cast the gauntlet, and in the minds of his players, tonight's game presents a huge opportunity for the UT program to make a seminal statement.

Tennessee 's other two prior conference losses have both been on the road, at Alabama [by 13] and at LSU [by 14]. Tennessee has been significantly more effective offensively this season than Kentucky [0.969 ppp v. 0.886 ppp]. However, Kentucky has posted slightly stronger defensive numbers for the season [0.833 v. 0.868 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. Tennessee averages 85 possessions per game this season, as do Tennessee 's opponents. These teams should play this game in the lower 80s pace.

Tennessee currently has a Net Game Efficiency for the year of 0.101 ppp while UK 's current NGE stands at 0.053 ppp. Tennessee has played a stronger schedule than Kentucky to this point of the season [0.6014 v 0.5787].

The Pros in Vegas say Tennessee will defeat Kentucky Wednesday evening by 6 points, 80-74. This season, UK is 11-13 against the spread. The Net Game Efficiency analysis, adjusted for schedule strength and venue suggests a Tennessee win over the Cats, 79-67. The pre-game magic number is 74 points. The first team to score its 74 th point should win this game.

The First Half:

Missed the first half tonight. UK scored its 38 points on only 45 possessions [0.844 ppp] and TENNESSEE scored its 45 points on 45 possessions, 1.000 points per possession for the half. Tennessee led most of the half, by as many as 14 points. Over the last 8 minutes the lead vacillated between 5 and 11 points, with Tennessee taking a 7 point, 45-38 halftime lead to the locker room.

Of UK 's 45 first half possessions, 6 came by virtue of its offensive rebounding but I do not have records of second chance points in this half. TENNESSEE earned 5 bonus possessions created by its offensive rebounding

TENNESSEE made only 2 of 4 free throw attempts [50.0%] while UK converted 7 of its 9 attempts from the line [77.8%]. Kentucky out rebounded Tennessee in the first half, 20-15, and Kentucky won the battle of the offensive rebounds 6-5 during the first half. The field goal shooting TENNESSEE shot a good 60.90% [14-23] and a respectable 5-13 from beyond the arc [38.5%]. Kentucky was 11-20 [55.0%] inside the arc and a fair 3-9 [33.3%] from outside the arc. The game pace is equivalent to a fast 90 possessions for UK TENNESSEE.

MAGIC NUMBER

The pregame analysis indicated a magic number of 74 points. However, based on the pace and effectiveness of the teams in the first half today, the magic number is modified to 87 points. The first team to score its 87th point will win this game. UK needs to score 49 more points in the second half to reach this level before TENNESSEE can score 42 points in this race to 87 points. Neither team reached the magic number of 87 points in this game primarily because the pace of the second half only saw 30 possessions for UK and 36 possessions for UT. However, UK did score the 74 th point first, and moved on to take the victory.

The Second Half:

Kentucky opens the second half with back to back 3 pointers to cut the 7 point half time deficit to a single point 45-44, forcing a quick Tennessee timeout. During the remainder of the first segment of the second half, UK made 2 more 3s, 2 of 4 free throw attempts, and claimed their second lead of the game, 52-50. Kentucky extends their lead to as many as 5 points, but Tennessee responds to the challenge with renewed offensive efficiency, and with about 9 minutes to play, UK holds onto a slim 2 point lead, 65-63. At the under 8 TV timeout, the score stands tied at 69-69. The 90 possession pace of the frantic first half has slowed with the teams having only 20 and 21 possessions respectively in the first 3 segments of the second half, an equivalent game pace of 70, and now on pace for an 80 possession game. Morris went to the bench with his 4 th personal foul at 4:55 and the score tied. UK clings to a 1 point lead and possession, 76-75 at the under 4 TV timeout. Kentucky held on to win by 2, 80-78.

The Outcome:

Kentucky won the battle of the boards for the game, 33-25, and TENNESSEE won the battle of the offensive boards 11-7. TENNESSEE grabbed a low 30.6% of its misses as offensive rebounds while UK grabbed an average 33.3% of its misses.

Tonight UK shot the ball well above their season average from the field for the game. From the field, UK shot 69.0% [20-29] inside the arc, and a solid 9-19 from beyond the arc [47.4%] for a combined shooting percentage of 60.4%. The Free throw shooting was slightly better than average in terms of percentage and the number of opportunities, 13-19 [68.4%]. TENNESSEE shot the ball well, but not well enough to match UK 's 60%. From inside the arc, TENNESSEE hit 51.3% [20-39] and from long range, TENNESSEE hit 45.8% [11-24]. TENNESSEE 's free throw shooting was poor, 5-10 [50.0%]. Kentucky committed one turnover for every 4.0 possessions while forcing a turnover in every 6.2 possessions. Last year, in comparison, these turnover rates were 6.2 and 4.6 respectively for the season.

I predicted a TENNESSEE win over Kentucky today, 79-67. The predicted v. actual offensive efficiencies were 0.818 and 1.067 ppp respectively for a A effort on offense. The predicted v. actual defensive efficiencies were 0.975 and 0.975 ppp respectively for an C on defense.

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Copyright 2006 Richard Cheeks
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