David Robinson is one of basketball’s all-time greats. His professional numbers speak for themselves; 20,790 points, 10,497 rebounds, and 2,954 blocks for a career certainly put you in that all-time conversation. Because of this, comparisons to Robinson are few and far between, only a handful of players throughout basketball history can even come close to the type of career that “the Admiral” accomplished. Shaquille O’Neal, Patrick Ewing, and Tim Duncan are some of the players worthy of comparison to Robinson, but you rarely hear anyone comparing him to players like Devan Downey, Nick Winbush, or Joe Mazzulla. Rightfully so, no player in the later group is worthy of comparison to Robinson. Or at least when comparing careers. But for one brief period in basketball history, the previously mentioned group that couldn’t be named by 99.9% of the basketball public played one of the best games of their careers against Kentucky. Just like Robinson did in his college days.
45 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 blocked shots in Rupp Arena against Eddie Sutton’s Wildcats is one of those performances that don’t easily escape memory. While never forgotten, this feat is talked about less and less as time goes on, that is, until another player comes along and emulates the great results of the past. Two weeks ago, Texas A&M’s Elston Turner did just that, scoring 40 points on 14-19 shooting from the field, leading many Kentucky fans to tip their cap and applaud. That was, until he scored 4 points in his next outing, leading many Kentucky fans to say something along the lines of “well of course”.
Because of this performance (and the subsequent performance), it led me and many others around the internet to wonder how players who experience outstanding games against Kentucky play in their following games. So, I’ve done a bit of research to find out. To conduct this experiment, I examined three things. First test being performance in games following Kentucky, the second test is noting season averages, and finally the last constraint is performance against teams of similar strength to Kentucky in that season (KenPom). I also looked for two other things, either a spectacular statistical game or a performance that drastically exceeded season averages. The results may be statistically noisy, but nonetheless, here are the findings of opposing players from the Calipari era (in no particular order).
Player #1: Maryland’s Alex Len
Kentucky game statistics: 23 points, 12 rebounds, 4 blocks
Season averages (2012-13): 13.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocks
Game after Kentucky statistics: (Morehead State): 11 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks
Similar opponent stats: (NC State) 10 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block, (Duke) 8 points, 10 rebounds, 1 block, (North Carolina) 10 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block
There’s no doubting that Alex Len is a talented player, but he hasn’t been able to replicate his Kentucky performance against any other opponent this season. In fact, his second best game in terms of statistics came against Stony Brook, scoring 19 points, pulling down 9 rebounds, and blocking one shot. His numbers were likely due to Kentucky’s youth, but regardless, he hasn’t been able match the same production he experienced November 9th.
Player #2: Texas A&M’s Elston Turner
Kentucky game statistics: 40 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists
Season averages (2012-13): 15.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists
Game after Kentucky statistics: (Florida): 4 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists
Similar opponent stats: (Florida) 4 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists
Elston Turner is having a great season, but he also hasn’t been able to match the production he had against Kentucky. After his insane shooting night in Rupp, it took the 4 following games to match his point total from that individual contest. Turner has scored 25+ points on two occasions this season; 26 against Troy and 26 against Houston. Not exactly comparable to Kentucky.
Player #3: Louisville’s Russ Smith (2011)
Kentucky game statistics: 30 points, 5 rebounds, 0 assists
Season averages (2011-12): 11.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists
Game after Kentucky statistics: (St. Johns) 17 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists
Similar opponent stats: (Memphis) 24 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, (Syracuse) 3 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, (Syracuse) 10 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist
Russ Smith had an excellent game against Kentucky, even though he took 20 shots to get his 30 points. Of course, that’s his reputation. It’s difficult to call his performance against Kentucky a fluke as he scored 20+ points on 4 other occasions in the 2011-12 season. Though it’s not a part of the experiment, Smith has proven he can score efficiently this season, scoring 30 once and 20+ on numerous occasions.
Player #4: UConn’s Kemba Walker (2010 Maui Invitational)
Kentucky game statistics: 29 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists
Season averages (2010-11): 23.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists
Game after Kentucky statistics: (New Hampshire) 30 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists
Similar opponent stats: (Pittsburgh) 31 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, (Syracuse) 8 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assist, (Syracuse) 33 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, (Louisville) 20 points, (Notre Dame) 34 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist
The results Kemba Walker experienced against Kentucky in the Maui Invitational match-up were no fluke. Not only did he exceed his already gaudy totals after the Kentucky game, he put similar results up in nearly every single game that season. Because of those numbers and the fact he led his UConn team to the National Title, it’s still surprising he didn’t take home National Player of the Year.
Player #5: West Virginia’s Joe Mazzulla (2010 Elite 8)
Kentucky game statistics: 17 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists
Season averages (2009-10): 2.7 points, 1.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists
Game after Kentucky statistics: (Duke) 4 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists
Similar opponent stats: (Ohio State) 4 points, 1 rebound, 4 assists, (Syracuse) 0 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, (Duke) 4 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists
Perhaps the most infuriating opposing individual performance of all-time. Joe Mazzulla averaged 2.7 points per game in 2009-10. Two point seven minuscule points. In fact, he didn’t even crack 10 points in a single game that season. Then came March 27th, 2010, where Mazzulla scored a career high 17 points, outscoring his season average by nearly 15. His true ability shined through in the Final Four against Duke, he scorched the nets for 4 points in 32 minutes. In case you were wondering, 17 points is not Mazzulla’s career high, that happened a year later against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament’s Second Round, he scored 20.
Player #6: South Carolina’s Devan Downey (2010)
Kentucky game statistics: 30 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists
Season averages (2009-10): 22.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists
Game after Kentucky statistics: (Georgia) 33 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists
Similar opponent stats: (Baylor) 20 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, (Kentucky) 26 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists
Downey’s first game against Kentucky in the 2009-10 season was no freak occurrence either. Not only did he score 30 in that contest, but he followed it up with 33 points against Georgia, 26 points against Tennessee, and 24 points against Florida. He not only scored 30+ on six occasions that season, but he averaged 22.5 points per game.
Player #7: Miami’s (Ohio) Nick Winbush (2009)
Kentucky game statistics: 26 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists
Season averages (2009-10): 9.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.7 assists
Game after Kentucky statistics: (Louisiana Tech) 5 points, 2 rebound, 0 assists
Similar opponent stats: N/A
If it weren’t for Nick Winbush shooting 8-10 from beyond the arc against Kentucky, the nation would’ve had to wait to see the late game heroics of John Wall. Winbush’s following game wasn’t nearly as dramatic; his Miami Redhawks lost 62-74 to Louisiana Tech while individually scoring 5 points. He did, however, score 25 a few days after the Kentucky game against New Mexico. But the rest of the season was not as bright, he only managed to exceed 15 points twice after that.
I admit, there’s a lot of statistical noise in this comparison; it’s really difficult (if not impossible) to gather any meaningful conclusions. If nothing else, this gives some fuel to the “well of course you only play like that against Kentucky” crowd. Just for comparison, of the seven players above, their individual points per game totals against Kentucky vs. the following opponent average to 27.8 and 14.8 when combined. Given that I had to examine over 120 games in this comparison, I naturally skipped over a couple of players, so that’ll skew the data some. I can’t really say anything meaningful about the data above given the limited sample, but one thing is for sure, it’s near impossible to put up career numbers in back to back games unless you’re an elite player.
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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