The most obvious discrepancy between Kentucky and North Carolina in the game yesterday was from the three point line. North Carolina shot 11-18 from deep while the Cats only connect on four of their 17 attempts. It seems that three point defense has always been the area most exploited by opponents in Cal’s two plus seasons in Lexington. The easiest explanation is that the length on the teams from the past three seasons makes going inside less appealing than pulling up from distance, but at some times it seems that opposing teams can’t miss from deep – especially in Rupp.
Both Portland and UNC had impressive performances from long range during their visits to Lexington and going back to Cal’s first games against Sam Houston St. and Miami (OH) teams have always seemed to find the magic touch against us. Does the adrenaline rush of playing in their “super bowl” boost the shooting capabilities of our opponents or do the big lights of Rupp add to that experience?
In the 2009-2010 season of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, UK opponents shot 35 percent from deep when playing in Lexington and only 31 percent in games away from Rupp either in true road games or at neutral sites. It seemed that the numbers were enhanced by the teams that the Cats were heavy favorites over, too. In “big games” against traditional rivals and in the SEC and NCAA tournaments, the Cats held opponents to 29 percent shooting. The Nick Winbush’s of the world skewed the numbers on overall three point defense and made Rupp seem to be a friendlier venue for opposing shooters. However, those numbers are not held up in the next season.
Last year, the story of the team was an inability to win on the road. That was reflected in the teams three point defense. While the home percentage didn’t change by much – only dropping to 34 percent – the road percentage ballooned to an absurd 44 percent. Again, it was inflated by the teams that UK was expected to beat. In “big games” UK opponents stayed consistent with the Rupp average, shooting about 35 percent per game. The absurd 44 percent on the road can be attributed to those disappointing losses to teams like Ole Miss and Arkansas that had the fan base in a frenzy in the middle of the season.
In this young season, the Cats are allowing 33 percent shooting in Rupp and 28 percent away from home. Since the only “big games” so far have been against Kansas and UNC, the number isn’t really reliable at 46 percent. While there is a marked improvement against teams away from the confines of home, the home percentage has stayed relatively constant over the past three seasons.
In the total Calipari era, UK has allowed an average 34 percent in Rupp and 38 percent at all other venues. While the shooting performances in games like the UNC one will be the most memorable, it’s the outings by teams like St. Johns that serve to bring the averages back down to earth. 34 percent is still high considering the athletic abilities and defensive capabilities of Cal’s teams but the super bowl factor and the Rupp experience don’t seem to elevate the percentages as high as it sometimes seems they do.