From Tom Leach, the Voice of the Wildcats…
From a numbers standpoint, Kentucky just had its best defensive week of the season, as Texas A&M scored 0.77 points-per-possession and Georgia managed only 0.82. It’s certainly worth noting that in conference play, the Aggies and Bulldogs rank 11th and 14th respectively in SEC play, according to Ken Pomeroy’s (kenpom.com) efficiency ratings.
This week, the Cats hit the road to LSU and Missouri, teams that rank fifth and third respectively in the SEC’s offensive efficiency standings. IF UK’s defense holds firm against those teams in those venues and the Cats notch two road wins, future opponents may be like Roy Scheider’s character in “Jaws,” when he saw the shark for the first time and told Capt. Quint “you’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
John Calipari’s last four teams at Memphis and his first three at Kentucky all ranked in the top 15 nationally in defensive efficiency. Last year, the Wildcats ranked 129th in that category. After Saturday’s win, UK has moved up to 33rd this season.
From the beginning of the campaign, the Wildcats have excelled at blocking shots. But in recent weeks, they have improved markedly in guarding the perimeter and pressuring the ball. For the most part, they have responded to Calipari’s call for a couple of more steals per game and Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress are all starting to help Willie Cauley-Stein when it comes to blocking shots, too.
Now that the Cats have improved individually as on-ball defenders, Cal is calling on them to become better collectively and that means not relaxing when the ball is away from you and communicating better with your teammates on picks.
Why is defensive efficiency such an important number?
Look at the past 10 national champions and you’ll find that seven of them ranked in the top 10 in that stat. The other three ranked 13th (’11 UConn), 17th (Florida in ’07) and 21st (’09 North Carolina) respectively. Of those three, two of them (Florida and North Carolina) ranked number one in offensive efficiency, a stat in which Kentucky currently stands 12th in the nation. UConn ranked 18th in offensive efficiency in its championship year of 2011, a unpredictable season that was the only one in which the highest seeded team in the Final Four was a three.
–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network