Yesterday evening, Kentucky learned they wouldn’t be given the opportunity to defend their NCAA Title when they were left out of the field of 68. The season, which started with promise, unfortunately never materialized as a perfect storm of events led Calipari and his squad to a first round NIT match-up with Robert Morris University. From the coaches and players who actually participate in games to the fans who cheer on the team, disappointment has consumed the Commonwealth today. This sort of depression naturally leads many to assign blame. Some fault the coaches, others fault the players, and others even blame media influence for the lack of success. However, blame for a sub-standard season truly lies with the ones directly influencing results; players and coaches. Because many are trying to get a grasp on where the season went wrong, I thought it’d be worthwhile to investigate week-by-week efficiency ratings from Kenpom.com to track Kentucky’s season long progress. The premise was simple, track offensive and defensive ratings (points scored/allowed per-100 possessions) all season and see where the Cats ranked at the time.
Consistency was a difficult subject for the Wildcats all season long. For evidence, look no further than the numerous head-scratching losses to perceived inferior competition and the three separate 2-game losing streaks. While steady play on both sides of the ball was hard to come by, offense was not the main cause of trouble. In fact, scoring was Kentucky’s most consistent area all season long. Granted, there were a number of offensive duds this year that cost us a shot at victory, but for the most part, the offense was fine. Of course, it was nothing compared to last years juggernaut, but all things considered, our offense was actually solid this year, hovering anywhere from 20-35 in D-1.
Whereas offensive play was relatively consistent this season, the defensive effort fell off in the later portion of the year. Of course, this was exclusively due to Nerlens Noel’s catastrophic knee injury. However, even with Nerlens in the line-up, defensive play wasn’t very strong by traditional Calipari standards. While a Calipari coached defense hasn’t fallen outside the KenPom top-15 in adjusted defensive efficiency since 2005, this season was a much different story. Once pre-season ratings were eliminated from consideration, our defense went from average to poor in the blink of an eye. Pre-Noel injury (February 11th), Kentucky could lay claim to the 31st most efficient defense nationally. However, after two games without the shot-swatting big man, the Wildcat defense dropped 17 spots to 48th overall. A defense rated this low is foreign to John Calipari during the “efficiency era” (2003-present) as his worst defense ever in this span was previously ranked 40th overall (2005). The below chart contains Kentucky’s defensive rating at various parts of the season along with their overall D-1 rank at the time.
If you’re a fan of judging by the numbers than you can clearly see where the season veered off course. Noel’s injury in Gainesville on February 12th was the event that truly broke our back this season. A defense hanging by a thread because of weak guard play was soon hammered because the last line of defense protecting the rim vanished. While I’m just as disappointing in the season’s end result as anyone (granted, the season isn’t over yet), the future looks bright. Not only are more blue-chip players coming in, but it seems as though this batch of freshmen is staying around for another year of improvement. While the NIT is largely treated as a joke among fans, don’t undersell the value that extra game experience could bring to freshmen entering their sophomore seasons. If players like Poythress, Cauley-Stein, and Goodwin improve and join forces with next year’s talent, we could have another special season in Lexington come 2014. But for now, all attention is focused on college basketball’s secondary tournament.