By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
For the first time since August, a team worthy of the “KENTUCKY” scribed across the chest of the uniform appeared and played a game this season. After such a lackluster first two games against Duke and SIU, it was refreshing to witness the 38-point win on Wednesday night over the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks at Rupp Arena. That single game elevated this team’s year to date (3 games) Adjusted Net Efficiency (ANE) from a pathetic 0.034 points per possession to about 0.150 ppp.
As we all know all too well, a single game does not establish a trend, or confirm a changed trajectory for a team, but the improved play was clearly a welcome occurrence, and the challenge now for this team is to build upon this game with more games displaying similar levels of proficiency.
The final margin in games such as this are important to maximize the team’s efficiency values for the entire season, especially since the NCAA has finally abandoned the archaic, nonsensical RPI system in favor of efficiency based analytics beginning with the 2019 NCAA Tournament Seedings. The only way these Cats can minimize the impact of their lackadaisical showings against Duke and SIU will be to maximize game margins in all future games.
Based on early season game outcomes, Kentucky’s next opponent, VMI, is the weakest team on the 2018-19 schedule with a current ANE ranking of #330 and an ANE of -0.281 ppp. The ANE analysis indicates a Kentucky win by 40 points, 97-57 in a game played at a pace of 76 possessions. Pomeroy projects a 30 point Kentucky win over VMI, 91-61, at a pace of about 73 possessions.
Vegas has the Cats favored by 32 ½ points. For the reasons identified above, the primary focus on Sunday’s game against VMI is whether the final margin is 30 or less, or 40 or more at the final buzzer.
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