I don’t blame Cal for this because in some ways I think he is just playing into the fan’s beliefs, but after the demoralizing defeat to Ohio State Saturday, the coach made some comments about guys essentially playing over their heads and hitting all the shots against Kentucky. I think Cal has said this kind of the thing before but I know some fans make that claim all the time. And there have been examples where guys just go off against UK, such as the Crispin Brothers, Steve Novak, that Texas A&M guy a few years back. But the reality of the situation is every team in America, over the course of 32-40 games, is going to have examples of players having superb games against them.
The problem I have is with fans (or Cal in this case) who basically believe that UK is special in some way when it comes to this factor. That because they are playing UK, teams and players just focus so hard and play better, or some would say get luckier. I thought maybe there was some truth behind that claim, since if Calipari said it, it must be true, right?
Well, I did the research. I looked at every game of the Cal era and compared the shooting percentage of the opponent against Kentucky to their season average. In how many games did the opponent actually shoot BETTER against UK than their average? The numbers don’t support Cal and some fans’ claims:
5 out of 38 games
Miami OH, Indiana, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Tennessee
6 out of 38 games
UCONN (Maui), Louisville, Alabama, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, UCONN (Final 4)
4 out of 40 games
Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida, Indiana (Sweet 16)
10 of 33 games
Notre Dame, Louisville, Texas A&M, Tennessee (x2), Auburn, Florida, Vanderbilt (x2), Robert Morris
11 out of 40
Michigan St, Baylor, North Carolina, Vanderbilt, LSU, Missouri, Florida, Georgia, Wichita St, Louisville, Wisconsin
6 out of 39 games
Ole Miss, Alabama (x2), Florida, LSU, Georgia
2 of 11 games
South Florida, UCLA
So, for Calipari’s career at Kentucky, teams have only shot above their season average in 44 of 233 games. If anything, Cal should take a source of pride in that number. That the defense he has built at UK has done such an amazing job at defending the opponent. It comes off as excuse-making to essentially make up a stat that isn’t true. I love Cal but this was foolish. It becomes especially foolish when you consider Ohio State only shot 40% for the game! They shoot 45% for the season. Sure, they made 9 of 18 three-pointers and that was much better than they shot this season. But those shots only accounted for 27 of their 74 points, not exactly a game changer.
Here’s another interesting part about the numbers above: THIS DOESN’T MEAN UK LOSES. UK’s record in the 44 games that teams shot above their season average: 26-18.
My point in all of this is not that Kentucky doesn’t have games where teams play above their heads. Of course they do. But that is the natural process of a season. Kentucky is not special in this regard. So when our fans harp on this and then our coach repeats it, it makes us look ridiculous. It’s an excuse for losing that doesn’t hold water.
I know what some people will respond: WHAT ABOUT 3-POINTERS??? That’s what Ohio State did so well that was above their average. Ok, fine. Here are all the times that a UK opponent has shot better than 50% from the 3-point line and made 7 or more 3-pointers:
2009-10: Miami OH (15-26, UK WINS)
2010-11: UCONN (7-12, UK LOSES)
2010-11: Penn (8-12, UK WINS)
2010-11: Alabama (7-14, UK LOSES)
2010-11: Tennessee (9-16, UK WINS)
2010-11: Vanderbilt (11-20, UK LOSES)
2010-11: Mississippi St (12-22, UK WINS)
2011-12: North Carolina (11-18, UK WINS)
2011-12: Indiana (9-15, UK LOSES)
2011-12: Florida (11-22, UK WINS)
2012-13: Notre Dame (8-15, UK LOSES)
2012-13: Samford (7-14, UK WINS)
2012-13: Auburn (7-13, UK WINS)
2013-14: Providence (10-19, UK WINS)
2013-14: Florida (9-15, UK LOSES)
2014-15: Ole Miss (9-17, UK WINS)
2014-15: Auburn (11-19, UK WINS)
2015-16: Ohio State (9-18, UK LOSES)
So even in the games when the other teams shoots AMAZING from behind the arc, the Cats are still 11-7 in those games.
Point being, what happened against Ohio State is not the norm, it is the anomaly. And I would hope our fans and coach would look at it that way from now on or risk looking silly.