By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
Over the last three Saturdays, the Cats have turned back a respectable Utah team by 27 points at Rupp, defeated highly ranked North Carolina in Chicago by 8, and defeated arch rival Louisville by 13 at the YUM center. They accomplished this impressive three game winning streak while participating in this year’s version of Camp Cal, taking a 4 day Christmas vacation, and coming off the overtime loss to Seton Hall at MSG.
There is little doubt that this team’s start through the first sixgames was nothing short of dismal, and as November was turning into December, I was not bashful in proclaiming this season a lost cause because no Calipari led UK team had started so poorly, and based on the first nine seasons, the way UK has finished has depended upon how UK had started the season.
The loyalist within the Big Blue Nation took issue with my pessimism. While I do not apologize for the analysis that provided my bleak outlook, I do admit that there are very strong reasons to believe the loyalists’ faith in a strong team led by Coach Calipari may be closer to reality than my dismal forecast. Here are the reasons for optimism that I simply could not fathom just 4 weeks ago.
The average ANE for games 1through 5 was a pitiful 0.095 ppp, but the average ANE for games 6 through 10 rose to a respectable 0.229 ppp. Even moreso, the average ANE for games 11 and 12, against North Carolina and Louisville, has been an astounding 0.478 ppp.
The average ANE since game 7 through game 12 (6 games) has been 0.342 ppp, which is clearly in championship quality play, and if we can do some focused cherry picking, and eliminate from all memory and records the first 6 games, this ANE is second highest in the country, behind DUKE.
I am not one to advocate cherry picking data to support the answer I desire. Make no mistake, UK’s average ANE through all 12 games, currently stands at 0.205 ppp. However, that value is substantially above the trend line that the historical data would suggest and is rising at a rate that will end after the regular season very near the magical threshold ANE value of 0.3 ppp that history tells us is necessary to be a legitimate contender. I do not like cherry picking. I do not advocate cherry picking.
However, this situation is different from the typical cherry-picking events because the overall quality of play has made a quantum leap since Thanksgiving. In the first 6 games, UK played only one game with a game ANE above 0.14 ppp (game 3 against North Dakota), and since that time, UK has had a game ANE above 0.3 ppp four of the six outings.
For these reasons, I have modified my analytical model. The model uses each team’s average ANE value and the venue adjustment to compute a theoretical margin for the game. As noted above, the average ANE value for UK probably understates the strength of UK. However, the average ANE value for the most recent 5 games probably provides a better picture of how this team is playing at present. However, to shift the basis of prediction to the ANE for the last 5 games for UK and not doing so for opponents may make the cherry picking exactly that. Therefore, starting with this game, I will be using the ANE values for each team over their most recent 5 games.
The Cats now move into SEC competition, and start the 18 game SEC season at Alabama on Saturday. Alabama enters this game with a 9-3 record. The Tides’ twelve games have seen six opponents ranked in the top 60 and 1 of those opponents are in the top 40 (ANE). The Tides’ schedule to date has been relatively strong with a SOS value of +.0382 ppp (#74). Alabama has lost to #142 Northeastern by 16 on a neutral court, at #35 UCF by 6, and to #127 Georgia State by 3. The Tide beat #53 Ball State by 18 on a neutral court in Alabama’s strongest game of the year, and also claim victories over #47 Arizona by 3, #56 Liberty by 9, and #62 Penn State by 9. Overall, Alabama’s ANE stands at 0.106 ppp, but over their last 5 games, the Tide has improved to 0.135 ppp.
The Cats’ schedule has been slightly weaker at 0.0034 ppp (#158), with four of the first twelve opponents in the top 60 and three opponents in the top 30. The Cats lost to #1 Duke and to #59 Seton Hall on neutral courts and defeated #10 North Carolina also on a neutral court and have added the road win over #30 Louisville to their list of defeated highly ranked opponents. As described previously, the Cats’ ANE for the season stands at 0.205 ppp and their ANE over the last 5 games is 0.312 ppp.
The ANE (Last 5 game basis) analysis indicates a UK margin of 9 points, 79-70, in a game played at a pace of 72 possessions. As a matter of record, the traditional ANE analysis indicates a 4 point Kentucky advantage (77-73). Pomeroy has this game as 4 points in Kentucky’s favor, 76-72, at a pace of 70 possessions.
Use the following link to see how other UK fans handicap this game at 247Sports, The Cats Pause message board:
You can participate in the score prediction contest at 247Sports at the following link: