If there’s one thing above all else that Kentucky basketball fans cling on to, it’s the unparalleled historical success of the program. It never ceases to amaze me when talking to UK fans the depth of information recalled. If you’re participating in a trivia contest and the question arises of how many points Jodie Meeks scored on February 20th, 2007, somebody would likely come up with the correct answer of 18 and tell you that the opponent was LSU (all without using a phone). Yes, Kentucky fans love history, but how do we feel when history affects us in a negative way? Today, ESPN writer John Gasaway, tweeted an interesting historical trend that will apply to Kentucky this season; no defending national champion since 2007 has advanced past the Sweet-16 since Florida won back to back titles in 06-07. This certainly isn’t what Kentucky fan wants to hear coming into a 2012-13 campaign where the ‘Cats are ranked top-5 in numerous polls, but is this the ceiling we’re destined to?
There’s certainly some basis to the belief that Kentucky could possibly not advance past the Sweet-16 this season, after all we did lose 6 out of our 7 main contributors from last year’s squad. That alone is cause for concern. That is until one realizes John Calipari is a master of molding youthful teams, he’s had no problem taking teams with experience issues in the past all the way to the Final Four (2010/11 was a notable example of such). While the previously mentioned fact that no defending champion has advanced past the round of 16 since ’07 is concerning, it is going up against another trend that is much more meaningful. A Calipari coached team that doesn’t turn the ball over and blocks a high percentage of opponent shots almost always advances to the Final Four (the exception was ’07 Memphis, who still made the Elite 8). A few weeks ago I went back and investigated common occurrences among successful Calipari teams and noticed that they all had those two factors in common. Below is the chart containing such data.
Note that Turnover percentage is total team turnovers divided by possessions and Block Percentage is the rate at which a team blocks opponents two point shot attempts. All Calipari coached teams who advance the furthest are the teams who take care of the ball and don’t allow opponents to shoot efficiently. Looking through the numbers of the incoming players one can only be encouraged that these profiles will most likely be filled. Ryan Harrow and Julius Mays, two of Kentucky’s primary ball handlers next year both had Turnover Rates under 18% in their most recent season’s, also, Nerlens Noel is predicted by many to be near the caliber of shot blocker that Anthony Davis was. I’m the first to admit that there are tons of other factors in winning basketball games other than these two particular stats like shooting and rebounding to name a few, but those should be filled as well with next year’s edition of the ‘Cats.
The fact that no defending champion has advanced past the Sweet-16 since Florida can make one wonder if Kentucky will fall into a similar fate. But just remember the fact that no team has accomplished it recently means only that, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done again. Because of that I’ve filed this historical fact right next to “Freshmen led teams can’t win a national title.” The better way to predict if a defending champion will have the tools to advance further in the tournament is looking at the skill set of current players and trends of coaching success, not the happenings of other teams in history.