After dispatching the pesky Bulldogs of Mississippi State, John Calipari and his young team now must turn their focus toward a road contest with Kevin Stallings’ Vanderbilt Commodores. It was a tale of two halves on Wednesday. The first half left fans pulling out their hair and questioning humanity as the Cats were still struggling with the same problems that plagued them pre-Camp Cal. However, the second half blitz on the Bulldogs showed a potential glimpse of what this team can become capable of in the distant future. At least to the players and coaches, the team’s potential ability in the distant future isn’t as important as the immediate future against Vanderbilt. However, as fans, we’re free to speculate on any number of ridiculous things, like how this team would perform against the ’96 Bulls for example. Because of this, I decided to make hypothetical lines against the top-25 using Ken Pomeroy’s current data and a formula I’ve developed to predict NFL games.
A formula to predict the NFL applied to NCAA basketball games? That’ll never work, you scream emphatically! Don’t be so sure about that. The only items you need to predict scores in any league are team efficiency totals along with tempo averages. Once you have those, in addition to league averages, you can make fairly accurate predictions. Since Pomeroy’s site is generally considered to be the most accurate and has all of the necessary data, I decided to use it in the predictions. While his site already offers predictions on future games, he only considers the games that are currently on a team’s schedule. Since my formula will predict a score within a few points of his (for instance, he predicts a 75-72 victory over Missouri in Columbia while I predict a 74-71 win), I think this is a fair representation of where Kentucky currently stands. Below, you’ll see how the Cats would be predicted to perform against the AP top-25 in a variety of locations. Kentucky’s score is listed first in every single prediction. Since the Cats are listed in the top-25 and obviously can’t play themselves, I dropped them and added the 26th ranked team.
First and foremost, Kentucky would be favored at home against any team in the AP top-25 according to Pomeroy’s data and my formula – even against undefeated teams like Arizona, Syracuse, and Wisconsin. This is a testament to the power of home court advantage. However, on the road, Kentucky would only be favored in three contests – against Missouri, Illinois, and Kansas State. This is a testament to Kentucky’s current ranking in Pomeroy’s system and home court advantage. While it’s interesting to know how Kentucky would be predicted to fare at home and on the road against the top-25, the only way we can play a vast majority of these opponents is in the NCAA Tournament. This is where the last three columns come in handy.
At a true neutral site, Cal’s squad would be favored against thirteen opponents in the current AP top-25, which, considering the way things have gone this season, isn’t too bad. While twelve of the top-25 would be favored against the Cats on a neutral floor, seven of those opponents would only be favored by a single point – meaning the prediction is a virtual tossup. Ohio State, despite not being the top team, would be favored by four over Kentucky due to their suffocating defense. Arizona, Syracuse, and Wisconsin would all be favored by three at a neutral site while Villanova would be favored by two. Of course, sometimes in the NCAA tournament you get lucky and play in a semi-home arena – much like Kentucky did during 2012’s tournament run when they started in Louisville. But sometimes you draw the short stick and have to play in a semi-road environment where the opponent is closer to home and dominates the crowd. The final two columns predict those scores. If the Cats were unfortunate enough to get a semi-away draw they would only be favored in nine contests. But, if fortune favors the Cats in the tournament and we draw a semi-home site, we would be favored in twenty-one match-ups.
These predictions aren’t perfect – no predictions are – but they do give a solid indication of where Kentucky currently stands. Personally, I believe that 15th in the rankings is about right for Kentucky at the present time, but there are some teams ahead of us that I disagree with wholeheartedly (cough, Louisville, cough). Remember that these predictions are based off what the teams have done so far and not off any other factor. While the season hasn’t been perfect for Kentucky thus far, there’s still ample time to improve and increase the odds against every team in the field.