Much has been made about Kentucky’s slower than usual start under fourth year head coach, John Calipari. While Big Blue fans are world famous for overreaction and hyperbole, even other coaches have noticed the lack of performance by the Cats. A notable example would be the head coach of last night’s opponent, Ben Seltzer, apparently saying on the sidelines that “This is the worst Kentucky team I’ve ever seen.” While it’s unclear if he watched collegiate basketball in 2008-09, it’s crystal clear that this isn’t the worst Wildcat team of all-time. Not even close. But, how does this team compare to John Calipari’s previous five teams through eight games? To find out, I used the Statistician’s heaven that is KenPom.com and compared his most recent Memphis and Kentucky teams to see how they performed in their initial eight contests using strength of schedule, points scored/allowed, and tempo-free data to reach a conclusion.
First a bit of explanation to a few concepts in the above chart that may be foreign to some. Offensive/Defensive Points per Possession and Pythagorean Rating may seem complex, but they’re actually pretty simple to understand. Offensive/Defensive Points per Possession are simply points scored/allowed divided by total possessions. Pythagorean Rating is simply a mathematical formula that combines the two to predict a team’s record/strength. Note that the data is not adjusted for strength of schedule, but it should be easy to comprehend that a low rating paired with a low SOS indicates a weaker team and vice-versa.
As you can see from the above table, this year’s edition of the Wildcats are the lowest rated among Calipari’s previous five teams in terms of points scored/allowed per possession. But, there’s no reason to panic just yet, the rating Kentucky currently possesses is nothing to be ashamed of (mainly because of the Juggernauts that have come before them). While it’s been well established by everyone with access to a keyboard and microphone that this year’s Kentucky squad is nowhere near as talented as last year’s, there’s no reason to light your hair on fire and run in the streets. Above you’ll notice that this year’s team is near statistically identical to Brandon Knight’s 2010-11 squad through eight games. While it’s also glaringly obvious that 2010-11’s version of the Cats played a tougher schedule, it’s further proof that great things can be accomplished even with a shaky start. Even Cal’s 2008-09 Memphis squad, who stumbled out of the gate, finished 2nd in the KenPom.com ratings and appeared in the Sweet 16.
While the start has been less than ideal, I say again, there’s no reason to be concerned with the performance. History has given us many instances were Calipari teams improve throughout the season. More practice and game experience will certainly see this team improve. It should also be noted that Kentucky’s SEC schedule is “down” this season, so wins and losses should look about normal come March 9th’s bout with Florida in Rupp Arena. As it currently stands, this team is behind it predecessors, but that may not be saying much as we’re not competing with any of them. No, we’re competing against 2012-13’s version of college basketball, which is down significantly too.