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9 Reasons to Feel Good about Kentucky’s Chances in March

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Between Kentucky’s 19-point comeback vs. Vandy and this morning’s storms, March certainly came in like a lion. How fitting is it that the most important month of the year started with a nail biter? After a roller coaster regular season, where do the Cats stand heading into March? After examining the landscape, they’re in better shape than you’d think.

Here are nine reasons to feel confident about Kentucky’s chances in March, because, you know, we’re going for nine.

1. There are no dominant teams

Even though the national media practically gave Duke the national championship trophy at the beginning of the season, there haven’t been any dominant teams this year like in the past. There have been six different number one teams in the AP Top 25 poll this season, three in the past month. Right now, there’s a core group of about eight teams that are legitimate title contenders, and each has struggled recently:

  • Kansas: Lost at Iowa State on Feb. 4, trailed Oklahoma by 12 last night
  • Villanova: Lost to Butler last week
  • UCLA: Hasn’t lost in the past month, but is ranked 95th in defensive efficiency by KenPom (No team that’s won the title in the KenPom Era has ranked lower than 21st in defensive efficiency)
  • North Carolina: Lost to Virginia by 10 on Monday, only scored 43 points
  • Oregon: Lost at UCLA on Feb. 10
  • Louisville: Lost at North Carolina on Wednesday, at Virginia on Feb. 6
  • Kentucky: Only loss in the past month was at Florida, but has needed Malik Monk to bail them out from slow starts
  • Gonzaga: Lost to BYU at home on Saturday

I’m tempted to replace Gonzaga with Duke on that list because I simply can’t imagine the Zags winning it all, but my point is, unlike most years, there isn’t a heavy favorite going in. In fact, if you look across the entire landscape of college basketball, you can see that…

2. Everyone is struggling

Back on February 11, the Selection Committee released their top 16 seeds one month before Selection Sunday. Shoutout to @BigBlueBit for this telling graphic, which shows which teams have lost since then (one line equals one loss). Kentucky is one of only four teams that hasn’t lost since February 11:

@BigBlueBit

@BigBlueBit

3. Malik Monk

The biggest reason Kentucky make a run in March? When Malik Monk is in the zone, he’s unstoppable. Monk has scored 50 points in the second halves of Kentucky’s last two games combined. While Monk has struggled to get rolling early on, he has a knack for coming through when his team needs it the most. Not only can Monk get scorching hot from the outside, in the past week, he’s started driving the lane more, earning easy points and opening up Kentucky’s offense a little bit. It’s like he realized he’s an 84% free throw shooter or something.

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4. Malik Monk vs. big teams

Additionally, Monk has a way of going off vs. elite teams. This morning, Chris Fisher put together these averages of Monk’s performances vs. Michigan State, UCLA, North Carolina, Louisville and Kansas:

  • 48 of 94 FG (51%)
  • 22 of 46 3PFG (47.8%)
  • 25.6 points per game

If Kentucky can avoid upset and make it to the Elite Eight, I like Monk’s chances of going off on the big stage even more.

5. Calipari’s track record in March

Since coming to Kentucky in 2009, Calipari’s taken his teams to the Final Four or beyond four out of seven seasons for an impressive 57% clip. The 2010 team not making it was the universe’s way of punishing us for having too much fun, but the 2013 and 2016 teams both had glaring problems offensively, specifically on the inside. While this team is shaky at the four spot, it’s beginning to get consistent production from Bam Adebayo in the post, a must heading into March.

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6. De’Aaron Fox hasn’t been at 100% in a while

Between an ankle injury, an illness, and a knee injury, De’Aaron Fox has missed two games in the past month and played about 23 minutes per game, down from his 29.4 minute season average. Even when he has played, Fox clearly hasn’t been at 100% and last night, the rust showed. Calipari said Fox practiced Monday for the first time in five or six days, and thankfully, he finally seemed to click into gear late in the game. If he can finally get back to 100%, Kentucky will be a stronger team for it. Dominique Hawkins shouldered the load admirably in Fox’s absence, but for Kentucky to win a title, they have to have Fox playing well.

7. Defense is improving

This is still Calipari’s worst defensive team during his time here, but it’s worth noting that they are getting better. Kentucky’s held three of its last five opponents to under 37% shooting from the field, a marked improvement over the 42.6% season average. They’re also working the boards better, averaging a +11.8 rebounding margin the past five games. For the first time this year, Kentucky’s defensive efficiency (11th) now ranks higher than its offensive efficiency (13th) in KenPom’s ratings. Yes, the Cats still have lapses, but we’ve seen more lockdown team defense in the past few weeks than at any point this season.

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8. Seniors are contributing

As we’ve talked about ad nauseam the last few days, this is Calipari’s most productive senior class, and as any one-and-done hater will tell you, you’ve gotta have significant seniors to make a run in March. At this point, this is what you can count on from each senior on any given night:

  • Dominique Hawkins: Lockdown defense and hustle
  • Derek Willis: At least one big three and rebounding (!)
  • Mychal Mulder: Outside shooting (if he plays)

While the core of this team is young, having two seniors that have been to the Final Four twice is an underrated intangible.

9. Nothing brings a team together better than the SEC Tournament

While the SEC Tournament is a great excuse for the Big Blue Nation to come party in Nashville, it’s also a proven ground for team bonding. Over the years, we’ve seen teams come together during those three or four day spans, most notably the 2013-14 group that implemented the “tweak” in Atlanta. Three straight days of nothing but basketball brings out the best in young and talented squads, and Kentucky will have the chance to iron out the kinks against SEC teams in front of what will basically be a home crowd, a luxury almost any of the other title contenders would kill for. If the Cats can’t gather momentum for a run with all of that, then it’s just not meant to be.

 

Oh, did I mention Malik Monk?

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

47 Comments for 9 Reasons to Feel Good about Kentucky’s Chances in March



  1. Allison
    7:41 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

    I was thinking about how I (oddly) have a really good feeling about this team come tournament time. I might regret sharing that later on, but for now, I like my team. GO CATS!!



  2. GroundControlToNumber9
    8:09 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

    Good points.

    Biggest Challenges To A Title:
    1. Brickso or Fox resorting to jump shots (greater than 10′).
    2. Slow starts in games (when the transition game is sniffed out). AAU All-Stars have to learn to play half court basketball.
    3. Lack of Humphries developing
    This is on Cal (for not demanding this development)The guards (for wasting the better part of the past 5 months not getting the ball into the post)Humphries (for being a quiet piano beta boy)
    4. Matchup problems (UCLA, UL)
    5. Calipari not adjusting to zone when man to man isn’t working (or other defensive tricks… see Bill Self [triangle & 2], Bob Huggins [1-1-3 zone], Rick Pitino [full court press], Jim Boeheim [2-3 zone]).



    • runningunnin.454
      8:21 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      Our zone is very weak; a good shooting team like Vandy would kill it…you have to have players 2-3 years to run a zone like Syracuse.
      We did run a trapping press last night…needs some tweaking like trapping sooner to take advantage of the end line and the side lines.
      Don’t understand Humphries, he was tougher last year, and he really looked lost when we pressed…just too slow.
      BUT WE HAVE MALIK MONK…GO CATS.



    • GroundControlToNumber9
      8:46 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      Our zone is weak because it’s only been displayed twice? (in 30 games).

      Not every team can handle it. Some have a skill PG who can and some teams practice to beat the zone. But ‘trying’ it twice doesn’t count for a statistical significance.

      This team has incredible length & speed… which means a zone could serious hurt ‘some’ teams.

      I liked the ‘trapping press’ last night and feel it is the sole reason we were able to finally fight back and take the lead (along with the crowd responding to it’s success). If that game last night was in Nashville we walk out with a L.

      Yes Humphries. The kid is close (loved that jump shot that Rupp coaxed out of him). Either Sacha or Tai need to get out their axes in practice or we are seriously banking our entire tournament on Adabayo staying healthy. Come on guys… we need some depth to step up and lay off the piano until off-season.

      Malik Monk is a very special player. It would be a shame with the talent that we have to only hope he can save us again & again.



    • GroundControlToNumber9
      8:51 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      Also, most kids growing up have played & been taught zone for ‘years.’ Much more so than man to man.

      That’s because zone is easier to teach & stifle offenses (in the 7 – 18 year old development years).

      I am not a zone champion… I champion variation. When the offense doesn’t always know what to expect you gain an defensive advantage.



    • UK Big Board Update
      10:55 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      Please quit referring to Isaiah Briscoe as Brickso. Thats a bitch move.

      Thanks,

      the rest of BBN.



    • AGSlater
      11:27 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      speak for yourself



    • GroundControlToNumber9
      11:16 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      When Isaiah improves 3 point shooting percentage above 30% like the rest of division 1 guards then he will no longer be called Brickso. OR (bonus round)… he could stop shooting 3 pointers.

      It’s his move…



    • GroundControlToNumber9
      11:30 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      UK Big Board Update – The fact that you accept a UK guard continuing to jacking up 3’s with a proven record of not being able to make the shot… means your ready for the donkey punch.



    • maximumscott
      11:45 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      Yea chut up NERD!



    • AGSlater
      12:06 am March 2, 2017 Permalink

      Its not that ground he just will not accept any negativity. Even if something is factual and obvious.



    • UK Big Board Update
      11:35 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      Shut up, nerd.



    • catsarerunnin
      8:03 am March 2, 2017 Permalink

      Why would anyone “accept negativity”? Slater and others are always negative and when the Cats lose or struggle,they relish it. They want it. It’s obvious because when our Cats win or are doing well they are absent. It’s fine to raise concerns. Obviously I have concerns about this team. I had concerns last season and the season before. But also I don’t expect perfection or a title every year. I’m a UK fan. I bleed blue. But I refuse to come on a UK fan site and bash the team that I love and that most on here love. Those who come here just to bash and be negative aren’t fans.



    • AGSlater
      1:00 pm March 2, 2017 Permalink

      Im on here after every game. You keep saying absent.



    • J-Dub421
      10:32 am March 2, 2017 Permalink

      Things Ground Control likes to do for fun:
      1. Kick puppies.
      2. Actually take candy from babies.
      3. Scream at kids to get off his lawn.
      4. Burn ants on the sidewalk using a magnifying glass.



  3. GroundControlToNumber9
    8:13 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

    6. Team IQ (Tyler Ulis is not on that court).



  4. 8xchamp
    8:18 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

    UL a match up problem, that’s good comedy.



    • AGSlater
      8:34 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      They actually are this year. We are already having problems scoring and they have arguably one of the best defensea in college. Their length is also an issue for us.



    • GroundControlToNumber9
      8:37 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      8xchamp – So instead of being a homer I’m interested in honest discussion.

      If the past doesn’t matter to you then you can’t participate http://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/boxscore?gameId=400910690

      I will say that several factors could have played into that result that might not be persistent:
      1. Young UK team playing on the road early in the season
      2. Several UL players had ‘career games’ that day

      However, I’m taking those into consideration and feel that if we played them again I think they matchup well against us (#2 so far… #1 being UCLA). I don’t include Kansas in this list due to us simply getting outcoached in that game (Self adjusted to a zone and Cal didn’t).



    • KYcats11
      9:16 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      UL=length UK=Strength aka bam



    • AGSlater
      11:37 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      he is playing better, but struggles vs good big guys.Now cry about this post. Its the truth



    • 8xchamp
      10:40 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      Someone should tell wake forest how scared they should be



    • AGSlater
      11:35 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      you guys get so butt hurt after every comment. I simply stated they are a bad matchup. I said one of the best defenses. 7th in adj defense. So??



    • Eazy
      1:24 am March 2, 2017 Permalink

      Wake Forest is about the same as Vandy. Borderline tournament teams. WF might be in now but they aren’t a good team.



    • Eazy
      1:27 am March 2, 2017 Permalink

      Yeah, UK barely lost at UL this year but Cal owns them…8-2…2-0 in the tourney. I like our chances in a rematch. UK has also won 7 of their last 8 against the vaunted ACC. Lol.



    • AGSlater
      2:42 am March 2, 2017 Permalink

      Still not the point. They as a whole are a better conference. For someone to say sec is on the same level or good is drinking major blue kool-aid.



    • Eazy
      10:58 am March 2, 2017 Permalink

      I never said the SEC is in on the same level. I said UK owns UL and we do well against the ACC. I’m not an SEC fan. I’m a UK fan. You Louisville fans are a joke. You act like you care more about the ACC than your own team. I’ll take UK over any team in the ACC historically and the SEC is the better conference in overall sports.



    • AGSlater
      1:01 pm March 2, 2017 Permalink

      I only meant bball. Of course sec is better



    • Eazy
      4:48 pm March 2, 2017 Permalink

      AG: to be honest I don’t have a problem with the ACC. I think the Big 12 and PAC 12 are usually way overrated though. Just look at how each conference does in the tournament every year. The PAC hasn’t won a title since 97 and the Big 12 has 1 title in the last 29 years. They are both full of chokers. The SEC on the other hand has won 6 basketball titles in the last 22 years. SEC does a lot better than every conference in March other than the ACC. Peace.



    • maximumscott
      11:45 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      Chut up NERD!



    • UK Big Board Update
      11:24 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      “Best defense in college” just allowed 88 points in a loss against 16-12 Wake Forest. LOL!!!



    • UK Big Board Update
      11:52 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

      The 7th best adjusted defense has more losses than UK does. 😉



    • AGSlater
      12:07 am March 2, 2017 Permalink

      doesnt matter. Thats not the point. They are playing in a much tougher conference. The point was they are top 10 defense. All i was stating



    • UK Big Board Update
      12:09 am March 2, 2017 Permalink

      23-7. LMFAO!!

      Great defense, and 7 losses. Must be poor coaching… 😉



    • UK Big Board Update
      12:12 am March 2, 2017 Permalink

      …and Wake Stormed the floor. LOL!!



  5. Angelo
    8:30 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

    UCLA 95th in defensive efficiency?!?! How can that be true? I do not want to play them again.



  6. Luether
    10:02 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

    Defense is this Ky team’s Achilles heel. The Freshmen will need to really step up on D for us to make a deep run. Wish we still had Marcus Lee…



  7. maximumscott
    10:54 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

    If you think about it. This team is definitely getting better by the game. As long as they grow enough to be better than a first and second round opponent then that gives them another week worth of growth amd again until final four weekend. It would be a month away from final four right now. This team doesnt need to perform at a final four level until final four time. Just be good enough to win the game in front of you and progress each game like they have been. Im still on board this team. I do believe they ill turn it on come SEC and we will see great growth then and it carries into the first weekend amd then everyone starts talking.



  8. KYcats11
    11:17 pm March 1, 2017 Permalink

    LOUISVILLE LOST!!



  9. BNClay
    12:08 am March 2, 2017 Permalink

    With that UofL loss and the UNC loss it isn’t unthinkable that we still back our way into a #1 seed. Nova, Kansas, and PAC12 champ, get a 1. Then who? Send a west coast team easy just so they can be a 1? That doesn’t seem fair to them. Give it to UNC who has similar record, but harder schedule, but who we beat head to head? Cats take care of business and there is a chance.



  10. kentuck1
    12:57 am March 2, 2017 Permalink

    Bam is a different player right now than he was just a few games ago. And the team is learning how to use him in the offense. The pick and roll has become an effective weapon.

    Monk can score points in a hurry…anybody that can score 30 points in a half is a dangerous weapon on the court. He has changed his game to more than just an outside shooter.

    The best thing about the Cats is that they are playing better as a team. Everyone is contributing. That is important. One player cannot win a championship.

    Lastly, the Wildcats have improved their defense a lot. Their switches have cut off the drives to the goal and are creating a lot of problems for opponents.

    The biggest question at this time, in my opinion, is whether the Cats can play this way consistently? If they do, they have as good a chance as anyone at winning a championship.



  11. EdC
    8:11 am March 2, 2017 Permalink

    To my eyes it is largely down to energy and to some degree the danger of nit picky officiating sapping that energy.

    When this team shows up with energy they are completely different. They have skills and athleticism that very few teams can match. Not sure any can surpass. The defense is much better leading to more energy on offense. If you go back and look at the past few games notice Monk in the first half is not really moving off the ball the same way he is in the 2nd half, again, urgency and energy. When he has it nobody at this level is going to stop him.

    Now … officiating … the great wildcard. When officials are letting the game play out energy is easier to sustain. When they call several quick fouls and there is not only no reward for energy but a penalty then a team loses it. Whoever plods better wins the game. Interesting thing is that UK has gotten a lot better at those plodding games thanks to crappy SEC officiating.

    Add to that Bam’s improvement is accelerating, Willis has become a rebounding and shot blocking machine. Dom’s defense is fantastic. Fox is physically healing. A lot of reasons to have hope.

    Feels like the winner will be a team that gets hot. With UK’s physical advantages gotta up us in the mix.