By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
I have updated all of the data I maintain to include the Missouri win, and in recognition of the clear change in this team’s level of play over the last several games, I believe it is appropriate to comment on the recent improvements that this team is achieving.
The team’s average ANE has surged over the last three games to a season high level. The magnitude of this current surge is noteworthy and significant, and the only lingering question about this surge is how long can this team sustain it, and how high will the surge carry this team up the ANE rankings. Some specific observations include:
For the first time this season, this team has played back-to-back games at with single game ANE values above 0.4 ppp. In addition, since the nadir of game 22 (Vanderbilt at Rupp), this team has been steadily improving, even during the agony of the four game losing streak (games 23 through 26). Furthermore, during the current 3-game winning streak, this team’s performance levels are rising like a rocket. Many fans have steadfastly maintained their confidence that this team would do exactly what we are now witnessing, and I commend these fans for their unwavering confidence.
The comparison of this team to 2014 is taking on an entirely new perspective with the surge we are observing in average ANE over the last 3 games. This team has nearly risen to the level of 2014, and more importantly, a solid win over a weak Mississippi AND a win at Florida to finish the season should put this team on par with 2014 through 31 games, yet in the midst of a continuing surge. To continue to match the 2014’s post season improvement, this team will have to perform at similar levels as the 2014 in the post season, which is very much in play.
The comparison of this team to 2011 has not changed substantially with the current surge. I still do not see this team on par with 2011.
This team has languished in the middle of the SEC pack for the entire season, until the last two games. Before the current 3-game winning streak, this team was the 7th most efficiency SEC team. After the Alabama win, it remaining in the 6th position, and after the Arkansas win, it rose to #5. This morning, UK is the #3 most efficient team (on the season) in the SEC, and is now on track to secure the #4 seed in the SEC Tournament.
My projections for the SEC tournament this morning have the Cats meeting Mississippi State in the quarterfinals, and advancing to the semifinals to face Auburn. The current season ANE values for Auburn and Kentucky would give Auburn a theoretical margin of about 3 points, which puts that game squarely in play. If the Cats do advance to the championship game, that game is also in play with theoretical margin of 2 ½ points (Tennessee) or less depending on the opponent.
To my critics, I offer no apologies or excuses. The data is what the data is, and the data tells us where a team has been leading to where it is. Projections into the future is equivalent to reading tealeaves, and I dare to read those tealeaves, and share my readings with all, offered for what it is worth.
Finally, a tip of the hat to Coach Calipari and his players is appropriate. Calipari must have an iron stomach to maintain his public posture about the process and the direction the process is taking into the uncertain future. I have no doubt that he has worked as hard during the course of this season as he has ever worked.