Coming off back-to-back losses to Utah and Ohio State in Las Vegas, along with the team’s loss to Evansville at home earlier in the year, there’s no denying Kentucky basketball’s season through 11 games has been quite underwhelming.
And with No. 3 Louisville coming to town on Saturday, it’s not going to get any easier.
Looking at the side-by-side breakdown of the numbers, Louisville bests Kentucky in points per game, opponent points per game, rebounds per game, field goal percentage, opponent field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage, and opponent three-point field goal percentage.
In short, most of the major statistical categories favor the Cards over the Cats.
Taking a deeper look, though, there are a few numbers that favor Kentucky and key points of emphasis that the Wildcats could lean on to find an advantage.
Here are five numbers that should make fans feel at least somewhat better regarding Kentucky’s chances against the Cards on Saturday:
Louisville has only played against two players ranked as top-50 recruits
As pointed out by Hoops Insight on Twitter, Louisville has looked pretty darn good this season, but they haven’t had to take down much top-end talent to make it happen.
Through 12 games, UofL has played just two players ranked as top-50 recruits in the RSCI rankings – a composite of all major recruiting services and their rankings. Kentucky, on the other hand, has eight on this current roster alone.
While rankings aren’t the end-all, be-all, there is something to be said about natural speed, quickness, and athleticism of high-level recruits. Can the Cats make the Cards uncomfortable with size and length? Can they get out in transition and change the pace of the game? It’ll be something different than UofL has seen all season.
Ashton Hagans is averaging 16 points, 8.6 assists, and two steals per game over his last eight
While Louisville struggles in the backcourt, Kentucky thrives, and sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans is the key reason for that.
After an inconsistent start to the year, Hagans has taken over the offense, both as a scorer and as a distributer. Most importantly, the sophomore guard has been phenomenal driving to the rim, finishing through contact, and earning opportunities at the free throw line.
Defensively, Hagans is beginning to convert on steals at a ridiculous rate, including seven in the last two games alone. His presence on that end of the floor will make life difficult for Louisville guards Ryan McMahon and Darius Perry, leading to transition baskets for the Wildcats.
Kentucky leads Louisville in assist to turnover ratio, free throw percentage, steals, and forced turnovers
To take the first two numbers a step further, the Wildcats as a whole lead in several guard-oriented statistics.
Kentucky has taken slightly better care of the ball, forced more turnovers, and have been more efficient at the line, three key aspects of UK’s style of play this season. The Wildcats boast a 1.24 assist to turnover ratio, average 5.5 steals (and climbing), and shoot 79% from the stripe.
Louisville is better on the wing with Jordan Nwora, but Kentucky wins the overall guard matchup with Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, and Immanuel Quickley. If the guard unit can manage even an average shooting performance to match the other successes they find on both ends of the floor, the Cats will be in good shape.
Jordan Nwora has led UofL in scoring in all 12 games
In Louisville’s lone loss against Texas Tech on Dec. 10, Nwora managed a season-low 14 points on 4-16 shooting to go with four turnovers.
Over the last five games, a player outside of Nwora has scored in double figures just eight times. On the year, Louisville center Steven Enoch is the only player on the team’s roster averaging more than ten points a game.
Kentucky, on the other hand, has four players averaging double figures in points, with six Wildcats leading the team in scoring at least once this season.
This Kentucky team has had its struggles and they’ve certainly looked discombobulated at times, but there are several weapons on the team capable of leading the team in points on any given night. Slow down Nwora for Louisville, and you’ve got a chance.
John Calipari is 10-2 against Louisville
Above all else, Kentucky head coach Calipari has made a point of emphasis in taking down Louisville year after year. His only two losses as UK’s head coach came during Kentucky’s NIT season in 2012-13 and during the 2016-17 season at the Yum! Center.
Three coaches in for UofL during that span, and Calipari has notched wins against all of them, including eight against Rick Pitino.
Will that continue when the Cards head to Lexington on Saturday afternoon?