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Florida Defeats Kentucky by 15 to Close Regular Season
Florida Secures the Second SEC East Tournament Bye
By
TheProfessor

Game Preview:

Five games ago, UK Coach Tubby Smith displayed his displeasure with the way in which his team had been playing and vowed to make changes for the final six game stretch-run. Some fans and commentators hailed Tubby's moves as drastic but necessary. Others cynically pointed to the futility of making such drastic changes 24 games into a season after two different three game losing streaks in SEC play. Nevertheless, the Cats are 4-1 since that public change, including last Wednesday's two-point victory of SEC East leading Tennessee in Knoxville on their senior night.

During this 5-game run, UK's only loss was last weekend at Baton Rouge, Louisiana to the SEC regular season champions by a mere 4 points. In addition, the Pomeroy rating system places this 5-game run as the 5 th best in the nation. Cat fans have every reason for optimism as this season winds to a close, an optimism that has been fleeting at best during the 2005-06 season.

Florida on the other hand, is a team in disarray. After starting this season by reeling off 17 consecutive victories, the Gators have lost as many as they have won over their last 12 games. They come to Rupp Arena on Sunday for one of the toughest games for a visiting team any season, UK 's tradition laden, emotional senior night. No Tubby Smith coached Kentucky team has lost a senior game performance. In fact, during the first 8 years of the Tubby era, UK has defeated Florida in this senior day observance 3 times. Just as the UK fans have every reason to be optimistic, the Gator fans must be dejected, and doubtful about the current state of their team, despite the fact that Florida has defeated Kentucky the last three meetings.

Add to this dynamic the fact that Sunday's winner will take the spoils; second place in the SEC East and a coveted first round bye in next week's SEC Tournament in Nashville. What a complete reversal of fortunes in the month since Florida had their own way against these same Wildcat players in Gainesville, taking an easy 95-80 victory, a victory that the Gator players publicly mocked the Cats before a National TV Audience.

On the season, Florida has has been significantly more effective offensively this season than Kentucky [0.993 ppp v. 0.892 ppp]. Florida has also posted stronger defensive numbers for the season [0.785 v. 0.838 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. Florida averages 81 possessions per game this season, but allows their opponents 84 possessions per game. These teams should play this game in the lower 80s pace.

Florida currently has a Net Game Efficiency for the year of 0.208 ppp while UK 's current NGE stands at 0.054 ppp. Kentucky has played a stronger schedule than Florida to this point of the season [0.5839 v 0.5336].   Given the play of these two teams over the course of the SEC schedule, and particularly the last 5 games by each team, the efficiencies take on a different complexion. In SEC play only, Florida has posted a slightly higher offensive efficiency than Kentucky [0.945 v. 0.932 ppp] but, this comparison is much closer today than it is when each team's non-conference play is included. Defensively, Florida has again posted better efficiencies that UK [0.835 v. 0.888 ppp]. Florida 's NGE in SEC play is better than UK 's [0.110 v. 0.045 ppp] but this match up is much closer on paper when only SEC play and venue are considered. If one examines just the last 5 games for each team, the pendulum swings completely into UK 's favor.

The Pros in Vegas say Kentucky will defeat Florida Sunday afternoon by 4 points, 74-70. This season, UK is 12-13 against the spread. The Net Game Efficiency analysis, adjusted for schedule strength and venue suggests a Florida win over the Cats, 72-69 based on the total season, but based on the last 5 games, the NGE analysis indicates a UK win over Florida , 74-70. My official prediction is Florida by 3, 72-69, The pre-game magic number is 71 points. The first team to score its 71 st point should win this game.

The First Half:

Florida and Kentucky opened the game with a hectic pace in the opening mini-game, setting a pace of 90 to 100 possessions as Florida charged to a 5-0 lead and a 7-4 lead at the first TV timeout. Each team committed two turnovers, and Florida got to the foul line 4 times to UK 's zero. In the second game segment, the pace slowed by about 50 percent from the initial flurry, to a game pace equivalent to about 75 possessions, and Florida clinging to a 2 point lead, 14-12 at the second TV timeout of the afternoon. Through the first 8 minutes, UK has scored 12 points on 15 possessions [0.800 ppp] while Florida has tallied 14 points on its 15 possessions [0.933 ppp]. In the middle segment, Florida extended its early lead to 7 points, first 19-12, 22-15, and the segment ended with Florida holding a 5 point lead, 24-19. The pace has settled into the anticipated upper 70s to lower 80s range. However, UK responded to the challenge out of the timeout and surged to a 31-29 lead, their first lead of the game, at the under 4 timeout of the first half. At the half, Florida clings to a 1 point lead, 34-33.

Each team one 2 of the first half's 5 game segments, and the fifth segment was a push. UK scored its 33 points on only 38 possessions [0.868 ppp] and Florida scored its 34 points on 42 possessions, 0.810 points per possession for the half.

Of UK's 38 first half possessions, 5 came by virtue of its offensive rebounding that produced 2 second chance points. Florida earned 9 bonus possessions created by its offensive rebounding that produced 5-second chance points. UK had an impressive offensive efficiency on its first chance possessions, of 0.939 ppp on its 33 first chance possessions and only 0.400 ppp for its 5-second chance possessions. Florida had a 0.878 ppp on its 33 first chance possessions but Florida did not take advantage of it 9-second chances by scoring only 5 points, 0.556 ppp.

Florida made only 6 of its 10 free throw attempts [60.0%] while UK converted 8 of its 10 attempts from the line [80.0%]. Florida out rebounded Kentucky in the first half, 20-14, and Florida earned most of that advantage by winning the battle of the offensive rebounds 9-5 during the first half. Florida shot 47.1% [8-17] from inside the arc, and a respectable 4-11 from beyond the arc [36.4%]. Kentucky was 8-15 [53.3%] inside the arc and a poor 3-13 [23/1%] from outside the arc. The game pace is equivalent to 76 possessions for UK and 84 possessions for Florida .

MAGIC NUMBER

The pregame analysis indicated a magic number of 71 points. However, based on the pace and effectiveness of the teams in the first half today, the magic number is modified to 68 points. The first team to score its 68 th point will win this game. UK needs to score 35 more points in the second half to reach this level before Florida can score 34 points in this race to 68 points. Florida scored its 68 th point of the game on an old fashioned 3 point play by Horford following a steal from Morris on an inbounds pass at the 5:43 mark to take the lead to 70-52. Florida played out the last 5 ½ minutes of the clock to secure the victory, 79-64 win.

The Second Half:

Florida opened up the second half very efficiently on offense, scoring 9 points on its first 4 possessions, while UK only managed 2 points from its first 4 trips of the half. On UK 's fifth offensive effort, a trap at the sideline force UK into an unscheduled timeout less than 3 minutes into the second half. Tubby Smith again started the “new” lineup, sans Morris, Rondo, and Crawford, and witnessed the 1 point lead expand to 8 in the first 2 minutes before getting the players into the game. Almost instantly, Florida took the ball right at Morris, drawing his 3 rd foul of the game within seconds after his appearance. Out of the timeout, UK began to make quick 3 point attempts, all failing, and Florida extended the lead to 10 points at 45-35 UK scored again. The under 16 TV timeout [15:09] saw Florida holding to the 8 point lead, 47-39, and ahead of the race to 68 by 7 points at this early stage of the second half.

Trailing by 8, 49-41, and 14:30 to play, Tubby Smith returns Morris to the floor. The teams have begun to battle more evenly now, and at the under 12 TV timeout, Florida continues to hold the 9 point lead, 51-42 it established in the first 3 minutes of the second half. Florida has established this lead with its dominance on the boards, getting 8 second chance points to UK 's none in the first 8 minutes of the second half. Florida is now ahead of the pace in the race to 68 by 8 points. At the under 8 timeout, Florida maintained its lead at 59-48, and the game pace stands at about 76 possessions for UK and 83 possessions for Florida . In the race to 68, Florida needs to score only 9 points before UK can score another 20 points. Time is running out on the Wildcats in this game. Just as 60%+ shooting will hide many other sins, under 40% shooting, as today, will expose every one of them.

At the under 4 TV timeout, Florida had the game completely under control, and are prepared to simply run out the clock to secure a huge victory of the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena 79-64.

The Outcome:

Florida won the battle of the boards for the game, 39-27, and Florida won the battle of the offensive boards 15-11. Florida grabbed an impressive 48.4% of its misses as offensive rebounds while UK grabbed a low 31.4% of its misses. UK scored 64 points on its 75 possessions [0.853 ppp] while Florida scored its 79 points using 80 possessions [0.988 ppp]. Kentucky committed 7 turnovers to Florida 's 14 for the game.

Kentucky had 64 first chance possessions in which they scored 55 points, 0.859 ppp while they scored 9 points on their 11-second chance possessions, 0.818 ppp. Florida had 65 first chance possessions on which they scored 66 points, 1.015 ppp while they scored 13 second chance points on their 15 second chance possessions, 0.867 ppp.

Tonight UK shot the ball below their season average from the field for the game. From the field, UK shot 47.1% [16-34] inside the arc, and a weak 6-24 from beyond the arc [25.0%] for a combined shooting percentage of only 37.9%. The Free throw shooting was about average for the Cats today, 14-21 [66.7%]. Florida shot the ball above their season average from the field today. From inside the arc, the Gators hit 59.5% [22-37] and from long range, Florida hit a solid 38.1% [8-21]. Florida 's free throw shooting was poor, 11-17 [64.7%]. Kentucky committed one turnover for every 10.7 possessions while forcing a turnover in every 5.7 possessions. Last year, in comparison, these turnover rates were 6.2 and 4.6 respectively for the season.

I predicted a Florida win over Kentucky today, 72-69. The predicted v. actual offensive efficiencies were 0.851 and 0.842 ppp respectively for a “C” effort on offense. The predicted v. actual defensive efficiencies were 0.917 and 0.988 ppp respectively for an “D+” on defense.

The Cats end their regular season today with a 19-11 record, 9-7 in SEC play. The Cats will play next on Thursday afternoon in the first round of the SEC tournament in Nashville against Mississippi .

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Copyright 2006 Richard Cheeks
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