By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
The first five games have provided my first benchmark reading for Kentucky basketball teams, and the 2018-19 five game benchmark is disappointing, to say the least. One year ago, Coach Calipari presented to the Big Blue Nation his weakest start of the Calipari Era at UK. One year ago today, the Cats’ Adjusted Net Efficiency (ANE) was 0.145 points per possession (ppp) which was #63 in the nation.
Based on that start, my examination of those tea leaves led to a conclusion that the 2017-18 Cats “should develop into a Sweet 16 type team by year-end. Such a team could advance to the Elite 8 before falling out, or exit early, in the Round of 32. A run at the championship in the Final 4 or an exit in the first round of the tournament is not a likely outcome for this team based on these historical relationships and results.”
(bigbluefans4uk.com/2017-18DataandWritings/SEASON_WRITINGS/11A_Reading_Tea_Leaves_About_March.htm) The 2017-18 Cats finished as the #17 most efficient team in the nation in the Sweet 16.
Big Blue Fans should buckle up for what lies ahead for this season based on these first five games, and the examination of the 2018-19 tea leaves. The Adjusted Net Efficiency through 5 games this season stands at 0.095 points per possession which is barely strong enough to remain in the top 100 rankings on Thanksgiving Day (#92).
Without reliving the details of the initial 5 games of this season, suffice it to say that this team should develop into a Round of 32 type team by year-end. Such a team could advance to the Sweet 16 before falling out, or exit early, in the first round of play. A run at the Elite 8, much less a Final Four appearance is not a likely outcome for this team based on the historical relationships between how UK teams start and how they have finished from those starts.
Today, #303 Tennessee State comes into Rupp sporting a 2-3 overall, but their wins came at the expense of Carver NR (92-57) and Fisk NR (113-61). Tennessee State is 0-3 against D1 opposition losing at #77 Lipscomb by 7, to #159 Little Rock by 16, and at #273 Cal St. Northridge by 3. This produces an early season ANE of -0.158 ppp at an average pace of almost 79 possessions per game. In contrast, the #92 Cats bring an ANE of 0.095 ppp at an average pace of 74 possessions per game.
The ANE analysis indicates a Kentucky win by 24 points, 85-64, in a game played at a pace of 78 possessions. Pomeroy projects a 25 point Kentucky win over Tennessee State, 87-62, at a pace of about 73 possessions. Vegas has opened with the Cats favored by 28 points. For the reasons identified above, the primary focus on this game against Tennessee State is whether the final margin is 20 or less, or 35 or more at the final buzzer.
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