The 2012-13 season for Kentucky hasn’t gone according to plan. Of course, when an entire roster departs, it’s difficult to maintain high levels of success, no matter who you replace people with. In previous seasons, some replacements initially had trouble maintaining the successes of their peers, but they ended up highly improved as the season progressed. As it currently stands, this year’s edition of Wildcats are firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble after losing to a Texas A&M team which owns a home-court loss to Southern University. Pair that with one marquee victory over a 13-3 Maryland squad and a 10-5 overall record and you can see why Bracketologists are skeptical of this year’s Kentucky team. While the future looks bleak now, history says there’s reason to look ahead.
While researching Ken Pomeroy’s advanced database, I’ve found that this year’s Kentucky team is very similar in nature to multiple teams throughout recent NCAA basketball history. How so? In terms of their offensive and defensive efficiency, of course. To explain further…wait for it…I made a chart containing individual team efficiency numbers along side season win/loss totals and eventual NCAA tournament results.
This chart may be confusing to some, so here’s a brief and simple definition of the above advanced terms. Adjusted Offense/Defense are two efficiency metrics that measure how well a team would perform against an average opponent at a neutral site. For example, if this year’s Kentucky squad were to play the team rated 173rd nationally, they’d be expected to score around 110 points while allowing 88 (assuming there are 100 possessions in that theoretical game). The “Pyth” column is the percent chance a respective team would have to win a game over the 173rd rated team on a neutral floor. The “rank” columns, simply enough, indicate where individual teams rank in those respective categories according to Kenpom.com. The final three are self explanatory.
Recently, there’s been much worry and even some panic among Kentucky’s fan base on whether or not this squad is capable of making the NCAA Tournament. Using history and advanced statistics as a guide, we can see that the outlook is positive for the Wildcats. That is, at least, how it currently stands. The above chart contains 11 other teams since the 2008 season who are nearly statistically identical to this season’s Kentucky squad. Of those 11 teams who were near identical in terms of Adjusted Offense/Defense, all 11 made the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season. That news is certainly relieving to fans who are (rightfully) questioning if this team can make it to the big dance. On the other end of the spectrum, very rarely have those similar teams made noise in the tournament. Keep in mind these numbers in particular don’t determine the NCAA field; RPI, record, and strength of schedule are more commonly used. In terms of those numbers, Kentucky doesn’t look as appealing.
Of course, the season is only half-way completed at the current juncture, so we have no real way of knowing whether or not this team will follow the model of previous teams or be the first to fall short of the field of 68. Assuming that game efficiencies stay similar, this team should be just fine. However, if the numbers continue to fall as they have in recent games, this team could be in serious trouble as they’re already walking a razor thin line. Likewise, if this team were to increase their efficiency totals, they should make the tournament with little problem. Given the wide range of recent results, it’s difficult to judge which of the three paths this team will go choose. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance and we’ve also seen the exact opposite, so its anyone’s guess as to how this team reacts. Luckily, John Calipari is coaching in this instance and he has proven time and time again that he can lead a talented group of freshmen through struggle.