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How Kentucky Needs to Improve Moving Forward

At the outset of the season, a 15-1 record heading into mid-January seemed like a pipe dream. For this team to escape Carolina, Louisville and Kansas unscathed, with no real injuries outside of Terrence’s pinkie finger is incredible. Even the most optimistic of the Big Blue Faithful expected the young team to drop one or two in the early going; that the only loss came from a hostile trip to Assembly Hall is nothing short of incredible.

This is a fantastic team. It would be an exercise in lunacy to take major issue with Kentucky’s performance to this point of the season. Of the 345 teams in D-1 college basketball, only 9 clubs are younger than this team. According to Ken Pomeroy’s predictive (read: accurate) ranking system, Kentucky is 2-1 against the top ten ranked teams. In fact, of the top 5 on Pomeroy’s list outside of Kentucky (UK is #3), the Cats are 2-0.

That being said, I’d be remiss if I ended the post here. While this team is playing exceptional basketball, especially in light of their youth and relative inexperience, they still have tremendous upside to achieve. This team must improve in fundamental ways in order to reach their potential. Below are 3 areas where this team can improve and be much more difficult for opposing teams to beat. While Kentucky can still win a national title without improving significantly in these areas, their opportunity gets better as these areas improve. Let me preface this with one point:

– The name of the game is efficiency

Ken Pomeroy posted a response to Matt Norlander’s contention that scoring this season is historically low, in which he argued that this year’s scoring was the second lowest in the shot clock era. Pomeroy included a graph in his analysis that demonstrates just how the game has evolved over the past 62 seasons: (OE = Offensive Efficiency)

I almost ran away from home when I was introduced to long division in the fourth grade, but even I know what this graph means:  scoring opportunities are decreasing. For all of you material girls out there, this means that possessions are increasingly valuable. As the pace of the game slows down, teams are forced to adjust by making every trip down the floor count.

(All of the stats below are from, or

From an efficiency standpoint, Kentucky is in great shape moving forward.Pomeroy’s system provides an adjusted efficiency score for each D-1 offense, Kentucky’s 116.7 is the 6th highest in the country. What’s more, the defense’s score of 85.2 is ranked 5th.

Of course, the NCAA doesn’t award any prizes for fifth place. Florida, Mizzou, Syracuse and Indiana all have higher offensive scores than Kentucky, and Ohio State, Wisconsin, Kansas and Louisville outrank Kentucky in defensive efficiency. We are very good, but there is room to improve.

Three Areas Where Kentucky Needs to Improve:

1. Free Throw Shooting

We’ve covered this before, and Kentucky has showed marked improvement in this area, even in the past three weeks. After the Indiana game, Kentucky was 68% from the stripe (#183 nationally); the Cats are currently ranked #100 and shooting 71%. Raising that percentage is imperative to this team. Even at the current, relatively low percentage, points from the stripe account for 21% of Kentucky’s total points this season. Of the 344 teams, Kentucky is ranked #28 in attempted free throws. It should be clear then that Kentucky is leaving a lot of points on the table, so to speak. There will be games in the regular season (let alone the tournaments) where a handful of points will be the difference between a loss and a win and a high FT% will crucial.

2. Offensive Rebounding

This, like free throw shooting, is not about changing Kentucky’s offense. Instead, this is about improving in areas where Kentucky is already sufficient (read: not excellent). In Defensive rebounds per game (DRPG), Kentucky ranks #5 nationally with 28.3. This high number comes on the backs of Davis and MKG. In truth, of UK’s 453 total DRs this season, those two alone account for 202 of them. 

However, Kentucky is in an eight way tie for #48 in ORPG. Granted, some this this is due to UK’s high eFG%, but this needs to improve. Kentucky can be forgiven for being out rebounded by South Carolina on Saturday (32-27) because they shot 59% from the floor. But getting only 6 offensive boards is a problem.

3. Three Point Shooting

The three point shooting percentage isn’t particularly low at 36%, it just appears that way relative to the 2PT% (53.6%). What concerns me is the impact, or lack of impact, that the three point shot has on Kentucky’s scoring: only 45 teams rely on the three less. Only 21.6% of UK’s points come from shots taken behind the arc, the same distribution given to free throws (The D-1 average is (27%). Kentucky must diversify their scoring portfolio. 

Go Cats.


Article written by Tyler Montell

30 Comments for How Kentucky Needs to Improve Moving Forward

  1. obviously
    1:36 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    as long as we score more than our opponents do, we’ll be fine

  2. optimist
    1:42 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    Call me crazy, but I did not think we would lose any of them… I fully expected a tough game from UNC at home, but Kansas did not scare me and I thought we would beat IU fairly easily. I was looking at maybe Florida or Vandy as the first loss…As good as this team is, how could any fan expect to have lost two games going into January…

  3. Go Deep
    1:43 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    A better way to look at ORPG is percentage of opportunities for the rebound not just pure numbers of rebounds. I suspect we do quite well in that regard. I also think our scoring ‘diversification’ is just fine. I like that we don’t have to have the three to win and we do have 6 guys averaging double figures in scoring, that is the definition of ‘diversification’ isn’t it?

  4. Ag.Wildcat11
    1:47 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    Quality Post!

  5. ThatGuy
    1:51 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    I would like to bring light to the fact that Da Ville is the third ranked team in the state according the coaches poll….little brother just got a kick in the nuts from the little cousin!!!! Murray State 16-0

  6. Really?
    1:52 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    Pipe dream? I thought it was expected. No one I heard expected us to lose any games to this point except perhaps to unc. I like how this team is playing and am very happy with the record but uk was preseason number 2 for a reason. Easily the most talented roster in America so don’t pretend to be surprised.

  7. John Chaney
    1:59 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink


  8. RIP Mel Turpin
    2:00 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    Excellent analysis. It’s like we got BTI’s number crunching back without all the stupid statements. Thanks Tyler!

  9. catcrawler
    2:00 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    Not palming the ball like in the picture is a start.
    I hate how college ball has become more relaxed with palming and travelling.
    For example, when a player catches the ball and then hops to set his feet before shooting a jump shot…. it’s a travel! Have your feet set before you catch it.
    It never gets called, it’s a travel, I hate it- everybody does it.

  10. Wu Tang Financial
    2:01 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    You gotta diversify yo’ bonds ****a!

  11. Johnny in Brooklyn
    2:02 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    I agree with #6 – I think our record is what many of us expected it would be, given our talent level. Yes, we’re young, but it would’ve been a stretch to imagine us having more than one loss right now.

  12. Austin Powers
    2:09 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    Nerd Alert!

  13. Bicycle Seat Sniffer
    2:11 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    I disagree, Montell. The fact that the 3-point shot doesn’t impact Kentucky’s scoring as much as other programs should be considered a strength.

  14. dave
    2:13 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    so 2 players, MKG & davis, account for ~44.5% of all of UK’s rebounds. isn’t this reasonable/expected/uneventful??
    last season, 2 players, harrellson & jones, accounted for ~46.8% of total RBs.
    i bet if ppat & boogie accounted for about 45% of that team’s RBs?

  15. Hillsboro
    2:22 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink


  16. dave
    2:23 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    -shot selection — more drives/post touches for tjones. more drives (less jumpers) for teague.
    -3pt shooting/selection — improved shooting for miller & less 3s for teague. these 2 alone will equate to wayy better 3PT%.
    -continued & increased level of aggression — tjones/davis on both sides of ball.
    -more efficient game for teague — cut down on bad TOs. 1-2 more assists/gm

  17. Deepblue
    2:27 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    Absolutely Fantastic Post. Thank you Tyler.

  18. Freethrow
    2:30 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    I too thought we would drop a couple of games early on and happy to see only the one narrow loss from a buzzer beater. But, with from here on out most games are going to be only a few days apart. These kids are going to get tired and not be as focused in games. Teams like Florida, LSU, Bama, Vandy, Arkansas, Miss St are all going to be wired when they play us. I expect us to lose a few of these games ahead. Not because they are better, but because many are very very good. Our biggest threat, IMO, is Florida. Too many quick guards and the entire team shoots very well. They lead the nation in 3 pointers made for a reason.

  19. Carl
    2:32 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    I disagree with points 2 and 3. For point #2: We could always do a better job of rebounding but….we’re hitting our shots against zone defenses, which doesn’t always leave us in a good position to rebound and we’re winning so I don’t think you’ve quite proven your point.
    For point #3: I think the last two years we were more dependent on the 3 point shot to win and we lost the last game each of those seasons because we could not hit the 3 pointer when we needed it. I’d rather focus on scoring inside, which we are able to do and use the three point shot to keep teams honest. also, hitting 36% of your 3 pointers gives you the same scoring average as hitting about 58% from of your 2 pointers.
    You could take those stats and make the same argument for 80% of the teams in America. Everyone needs to shoot better from free throw line, get more offensive rebounds and hit more 3 pointers.

  20. Space between John Hoods jersey and chest
    2:39 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    Good article

  21. Tyler Montell
    2:40 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    14. You nailed it. The duo makes up 43% of all boards and 44% of defensive boards.

  22. bluristhurr
    2:54 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    We don’t need to take more 3’s we’re fine as is. Taking to many 3’s is what made John Wall and company lose.

  23. The Dude
    3:10 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    Comment 3 is exactly right about offensive rebounding. For example, if opposing teams are missing twice as many shots as UK is missing, so UK gets half as many opportunities for offensive rebounds. Yet UK almost always takes better advantage of those opportunities than do opponents. ORB% is the stat to track. Do some math, KSR, and get back to us.

  24. Tyler Montell
    3:26 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    23 and 3: You’re right that UK is shooting well (eFG% at 54%) but we’re only rebounding 39% of our shots. Not bad when you consider the national average is 32%, but 15 teams are better (Cuse, UConn, KSU etc.). Again, these are complaints, or even concerns. Just areas where improvements will go a long way.

  25. Tyler Montell
    3:35 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    And 39% comes from Pomeroy’s formula where OR% = OR/ (OR+ Opponents’s DR)

  26. TJ's Sowertude
    4:04 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    Seriously? This team was rated preseason #2. Where is the surprise?

  27. Calipari'sInYourEar
    4:41 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    Hey Tyler, relying less on the three is not a negative attribute. Especially considering we have the top three point shooter in the country (Lamb).

    A side effect of the dribble drive offense run with elite talent is RELYING LESS ON THE 3 POINT SHOT because the drivers are getting to the rim or are dishing as they drive to an better, open, closer, shot.

  28. Big Blue Crystal Balls
    4:43 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    I think ball control/protection is our biggest vulnerability. Unfortunately Lamb seems to be the only guard who tries to concentrate on this when he’s at the point. Teague is too score-oriented to realize that his primary role SHOULD BE ball control and distribution, while scoring occassionally just to keep his defender honest. This team does not need him to be as shot happy as say BK was last yr. We have more offensive options. Next game notice, teams are exploiting this weakness with the press. I hope Cal addresses this in practice because eventually it will get us beat on the road in the SEC and in a tournament situation.

  29. Tyler Montell
    5:37 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    27) Only two of Cal’s teams since 2003 finished the season with less than 25% of their points coming from 3’s (Memphis 2009/ UK 2010). The 2008 Memphis team was 28%.

  30. ukeith26
    6:47 pm January 9, 2012 Permalink

    we actually suck at defenseive rebounds. we get a lot of Def rebounds cus our opponents shoot poorly. but other teams get a ton of offensive rebounds