Numbers Crunch

Saturday’s Georgia game brought most of it to a halt, but following Dec. 31st’s beatdown of Louisville there was a tiny contingent of the UK fanbase that was starting to verbalize their belief that the 2010-11 Kentucky squad a notch ahead of last year’s team.  The same team, mind you, that went 35-3, won the SEC Tournament and Regular Season, went to the Elite Eight, and produced five first-round NBA draft picks.

I’ll start by saying that I like this year’s team.  Like, a lot.  I’d even go as far to say that I actually enjoy watching them more than last year’s team, which probably sounds insane when you consider John Wall might’ve been the most exciting player in Kentucky history.  But I stand by it.  I love the perimeter offense of the 2010-11 Cats.  They remind me a bit of the Orlando Magic team that lost to the Lakers in the ’09 Finals (a comparison that, it’s worth nothing, would be damn near flawless had Kanter been able to suit up for us).  But better than last year’s team?  That’s a tough case to make.

For verification, I went to the stats.  Just FYI – if you’ve ever had the displeasure of talking sports with me, you know that I love stats.  I mean, like, fucking love them!  Save your hooey about heart and toughness and random intangible bullshit.  Does the guy score?  Does he rebound?  Then he can have the heart of the tin man and the toughness of Jeremy Davies in Saving Private Ryan, for all I care.

The comparison was pretty straightforward: UK’s played 16 games this season, so I compared this team’s current stats to those of the 2009-10 team through their first 16 games.  All stats were acquired via ukathletics.com, with the 2009-10 team’s stats coming off a set of game notes prior to the 17th game of the season.

Offense

PPG: 82.4 (09-10), 79.9 (10-11) Edge: 09-10

Field Goal Percentage: .498 (09-10), .469 (10-11) Edge: 09-10

Assists: 265 total or 16.6 per game (09-10), 221 total or 13.8 per game (10-11) Edge: 09-10

Turnovers: 246 total or 15.4 per game (09-10), 179 total or 11.2 per game (10-11) Edge: 10-11

A/T Ratio: 1.1 (09-10), 1.2 (10-11) Edge: Wash

Offensive Rebounding:  240 total or 15 per game (09-10), 206 total or 12.9 per game (10-11) Edge: 09-10

Three Point Shooting Percentage: .391 (09-10), .407 (10-11) Edge: 10-11

Free Throw Shooting Percentage: .686 (09-10), .692 (10-11) Edge: Wash

Defense

Opponent PPG: 64.5 (09-10), 63.1 (10-11) Edge: 10-11

Opponent Turnovers: 246 (09-10), 202 (10-11) Edge: 09-10

Steals: 120 total or 7.5 per game (09-10), 91 total or 5.7 per game (10-11) Edge: 09-10

Blocks: 117 total or 7.3 per game (09-10), 109 total or 6.8 per game (10-11) Edge: 09-10

Rebounding Margin: 41.7 to 31.1 (09-10), 40.2 to 33.0 (10-11) Edge: 09-10

Opponent Field Goal Percentage: .383 (09-10), .386 (10-11) Edge: Wash

At a glance, you’ll see that the 2009-10 team has the edge in most statistical categories.  Look a little closer and you’ll also see that those edges in just about all the categories are slight.  Throw in the fact that this year’s Kentucky team currently sports a SOS of 16, while the 2009-10 team’s was not very good (I realize that’s vague, so I’ll note here that I do not have their exact SOS at this point in the season because UK did not include it in their game notes  — which, by the way, is a strong indication that it was weak), and all of the sudden the conversation gets a little more interesting.  And in case you prefer the written word in paragraph form over straight numbers, here’s the way it looks:

Offensively, this year’s Kentucky team is about 2.5 points off the pace of last year’s.  In hindsight, the 2009-10 squad was really a Jodie Meeks-type of shooter away from being an offensive juggernaut – 82.4 points per game with no real outside shooting threat illustrates as well as any stat just how offensively talented they were.  But with Meeks or not, it’s safe to say they were doing alright — through 16 games, Wall, Cousins and Co. had already eclipsed the 90-point mark six times.   Just for the sake of comparison, this team’s done it twice.

But that’s not to say that the 2010-11 team has any issues scoring points.  Just under 80 per game for a team that includes three freshmen in its six-man rotation is nothing to shake your head at.   Really, the biggest difference between last year’s team and this year’s isn’t the number of points (as mentioned, it’s less than a trey per game), but rather the way they go about getting them.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone that has watched Kentucky since the start of Calipari’s tenure in Lexington, but this year’s team shoots the ball noticeably better from behind the arc.  A shade under 41 percent through 16 games – and an average of just over eight three-point field goals per game – is a far cry from last year’s club, which was actually shooting a respectable 38 percent at the same point in the season.  Worth mentioning – that number that would dip down to 33 percent by the time their season ended against West Virginia (also worth mentioning – UK shot 4-for-32 from three-point range in the season-ending contest alone…Jesus).

One stat that genuinely surprised me was the assist differential between last year and this year.  Thanks in no small part to Wall, who ended the year averaging around six dimes per contest (but was averaging more than seven at this point), the 09-10 team averaged about three more assists per game than this team has averaged thus far.  One need look no further than the play at point guard, as Brandon Knight, who is more of a pure-scorer than Wall was, dishes just three helpers per game.  I’d also be willing to entertain the logic that Knight doesn’t have the finshers around him that Wall had.  Josh Harrellson’s gone above and beyond anyone’s wildest expectations this year, but DeMarcus Cousins he is not.

But the 2010-11 Kentucky Wildcats do exceed the 2009-10 bunch in one very important category: turnovers.  Last year’s group was a turnover laden bunch, and it shows when you compare them to the team this year: 15.4 turnovers per game – that’s what Calipari’s first group averaged through its first 16 games.  Compare that with the 11.2 per game average that this team currently sports and it’s easy to see why, despite the anemic assist numbers, the 2010-11 club has a slightly better assist-to-turnover ratio (1.2 to 1.1) than the 2009-10 one.

And that’s pretty much where the statistical advantage ends for the 2010-11 club, at least offensively.  In terms of rebounding the ball the 2009-10 team has the clear edge.  Overall, they were pulling down nearly 42 rebounds per contest, with 15 of those coming on the offensive glass.  This year’s club averages 40 overall and 13 on offense.

On defense, this year’s club holds its own.  Fewer PPG allowed to go along with a (slightly) better opponent field goal percentage.  The 2009-10 team sweeps the steals, blocks, and rebounding margin, however.

And what should we take from this?  This year’s team is pretty good.  They don’t have the sexy early-season wins that last year’s club had (UConn, UNC), but aren’t far behind in terms of on-court efficiency.  Compound that with the fact that this year’s team SOS is more than a little better and, well, the argument for 2009-10 starts to take some hits.  I’m still not ready to give them this year’s team the edge, but the numbers show a much closer matchup than I would’ve expected.

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