That smug little grin won’t be there come November 17th. Call it a hunch.
Yesterday afternoon, Kentucky released their 2013-14 non-conference basketball schedule for the world to see. This news release thrilled many fans at the prospect of playing marquee games against elite level competition. Of course, a schedule this loaded may be a subtle shot at the detractors of John Calipari who criticized him for last season’s non-conference slate. While the criticism from media members and fans about last season’s schedule was probably justified, this year’s campaign leaves little room for discussion. This season’s path to the Final Four includes the defending national champion who will be in contention yet again, two teams in Michigan State and North Carolina that will be vying for a Final Four, and a Baylor squad with one of the nation’s premier frontcourts. It’s a formidable slate no matter how you slice it, but just how good are the teams that Kentucky will face? To find out, I viewed every team’s Kenpom profile and examined their key stats from last season.
Fear not if you’re unfamiliar with the advanced terms in the above chart as they’re actually quite simple to understand. Adjusted Offense is the amount of points scored per-100 possessions, then adjusted for strength of defense played. Adjusted Defense is obviously the exact opposite of its offensive counterpart. “Pyth” is simply an abbreviation for Pythagorean Win Expectancy and it’s derived from points scored/allowed. It measures the ratio of offensive and defensive efficiency and then estimates the relative strength of a team. A higher number equates to a stronger team. Lastly, the far right column explains how much scoring a team is expected to return.
As you can tell from the information above, next year’s opponents (outside of the obvious lower-level teams) will not make life on Kentucky any easier. Michigan State returns a vast majority of their top-25 offense and top-10 defense. Louisville, North Carolina, and Boise State are all teams that should produce competitive and high scoring affairs because of their highly rated offenses returning over 70% of scoring respectively. While Baylor did lose their leading scorer from last season, Pierre Jackson, they still return 64% of their scoring from 2013’s 16th ranked offense. It doesn’t take an expert in advanced statistics to tell you that Kentucky has planned one of the nation’s best schedules. Each and every opponent will provide the opportunity to plan for a different style of play. Some will play up-tempo, some slow, and others around average. Some opponents will have strong offenses and others will challenge with physical defense. Even if the haters deny it’s strength, there’s no doubting this schedule will prepare the Cats for battle in March.