By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
Regardless of the reason, i.e. the Cats gave an usually strong effort or Kansas’ game was lacking, it is clear that the closeness of the Cats’ loss to the Jayhawks is an anomalous outcome for the Cats when compared to how these same Cats competed in the other three games of this young season. On Friday night, the Cats’ effort against a much weaker ETSU Buccaneer squad was more akin to the lackluster wins over Utah Valley and Vermont than the close loss to #4 Kansas. This roller coaster team took another sharp drop in game 4 after the thrilling rise the team gave the Big Blue Nation in game 3.
The game against ETSU followed what is becoming a familiar script. The Cats fell behind the Buccaneers by 10 points, 18-8, at the second media timeout. Yes, the Cats did reverse trend following the under 12 media timeout, and moved into their first lead at 26-25 and led by 2 points, 32-30 at the under 4 media timeout. However, the halftime lead was only 6 points, 36-30. In the second half, The Cats expanded the lead to a game high 22 points with 1:15 remaining in the game, but the Cats also allowed ETSU to trim 5 points from the lead before the final buzzer, 78-61.
The ETSU experience reinforced the Cats’ struggles on the boards, allowing the Buccaneers to to grab 19 offensive rebounds, a whopping 41.3% of their missed shots, that produced 13 second chance points. In addition, the Cats’ efficiency at the free throw line, which had been a strength through the pre-season, and the first two games, continued to slid off the charts. In the first two games against Utah Valley and Vermont, the Cats made a combined 34-46 from the line (73.9%). Against Kansas, their efficiency slipped to 12-18 (66.7%) which in and of itself is not sufficient to sound off the alarms. However, against ETSU, the Cats missed their first 10 attempts, among which were several front ends of bonus opportunities, and only made 3 of their final 5 attempts down the stretch of the game.
It is very tempting to rationalize the overall performance against ETSU by pointing out that IF the Cats had made 70% of its free throw opportunities, they would have had 18 or 19 attempts, and made 12 or 13 free throws instead of the 3 that now resides in the box score for this game. Those additional 9 or 10 points would have, could have, indeed should have increased the net game efficiency for this encounter with the Buccaneers from a paltry 0.22 ppp to an impressive 0.35 ppp. However, the team’s performance is what it is, and a game raw net efficiency of 0.22 ppp at Rupp against this ETSU team is and will remain paltry.
Please understand my point. I am expressing continuing concern about how this team is starting the season. I am not throwing this team into the trash can and dismissing the remainder of the 2017-18 basketball season as futile with regard to a legitimate chase for #9. However, it is clear that this team continues to lag behind their previous counterparts of the Calipari Era.
On Monday night, the Cats will entertain Troy at Rupp Arena in the fifth game of this young season. Troy will enter the game as the #162 rated team at Pomeroy, and frankly that ranking may be extremely generous. Troy has lost to #223 North Dakota by 3 on a neutral court, and at #209 Hawaii by 5 in OT. The Trojans defeated #348 (out of 351) Arkansas Pine Bluff by 24 on a neutral court. Last Thursday, Troy easily handled Non-D1 Brewton Parker by 35 at home. Last season, Troy finished the season at #137 with a 22-15 record. They finished 6th in the Sun Belt Conference (10-8). However, Troy finished the season by winning 10 of their last 12 games including four straight in the Sun Belt post season tournament to win the Sun Belt’s automatic NCAA. Duke ended their dream finish in the first round by 22 points.
The Trojans’ winning record in 2016-17 is their first winning season since 2010. It appears that this team is probably more akin to its 2011 through 2016 teams that finished between #250 and #287 in the final Pomeroy ratings.
The Adjusted Net Efficiency (ANE) analysis for this match up, based on early season experience for each team, indicates a 17 point Kentucky win over Troy in a game played at 77 possessions, 84-67. Pomeroy sees this game with Kentucky having a 21-point advantage, 84-63 played at a pace of 71 possessions.
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