In case you’ve been living under a rock or have somehow forgotten, Kentucky took home their eighth National Title in April. There were many factors that were instrumental in the winning of this ever so elusive title such as Anthony Davis’ unbelievable skill set, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s tenacity, and Darius Miller’s leadership. While those things were undoubtedly key in winning the title, there were measurable stats that could have tipped us off to this team’s greatness before they took home the hardware in New Orleans. One of which being Turnover Rate (total turnovers divided by possessions). A trend in Calipari coached teams that have high offensive efficiency is a low turnover rate and this year was no exception. Kentucky finished the season with the 2nd most efficient offense nationally while only turning the ball over on 17.0% of possessions. Likewise a trend in Calipari coached teams that have high defensive efficiency is a high Block Percentage (blocks divided by opponent two point shot attempts). Last year was again no exception as Kentucky finished the season with the 9th most efficient defense and the highest Block Percentage. When the two are combined it seems as though Calipari coached teams always make a deep tournament run. Below is a chart containing data from Kenpom.com and pairs it with the outcome of the team (I was forced to do 1995-96 myself since his site didn’t exist back then).
It certainly seems as though these numbers play a huge role on all of John Calipari’s Final Four teams. These simple stats tell us two things; elite Calipari coached teams maximize the most out of every offensive possession, and they also make sure opponents cannot operate efficiently on the opposite end of the floor. These are certainly interesting to look at from an historical context but what about predicting future performance? While there are certainly other factors that make basketball teams effective like rebounding and shooting, let’s examine for a moment if this year’s Kentucky team fits this elite profile.
First we’ll investigate the offensive portion of this trend, Turnover Rate. Next season’s primary ball handler will be the NC State transfer, Ryan Harrow. In his Freshman season as a member of the Wolfpack he only turned the ball over 51 times (1.8 per game) while assisting on a shot 96 times (3.3 per game). Another primary guard next season will be Wright State transfer, Julius Mays. Last year he averaged 2.1 turnovers per game but only turned the ball over on 16.6% of personal possessions. Finally, the Freshman from Little Rock, Arkansas, Archie Goodwin, is only projected to turn the ball over on 18% of his personal possessions next season as predicted by BasketballProspectus.com‘s Drew Cannon. These are numbers that should be greatly encouraging to Kentucky fans. The defensive portion of this trend, Block Percentage, will almost certainly be filled next season as Kentucky is replacing one shot blocking machine with another in Nerlens Noel. Cannon projects him to block 10% of opponents’ shots alone next year. Willie Cauley-Stein, while more known for his speed, is also predicted to be a great shot blocker for shorter amount time he’ll be on the court (all though it’s impossible to predict minutes). Kentucky fans also should be encouraged when realizing that this portion of the trend will be filled as well.
A Calipari coached team is known for many things like youth, elite Point Guard play, and tenacious athletes. But, the elite teams are defined by efficient ball handling and shot blocking. Sure there are examples of a Calipari team fitting this mold and not making the Final Four (2006-07 for instance, but they still made the Elite 8), but they give a pretty solid gauge of team success. There are certainly other factors in effective basketball, but in times where youth must be relied upon for immediate success it’s nice to have a tool in predicting performance.