By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
The Cats survived the first weekend of this tournament by easily handling Abilene Christian and getting past Wofford in a hard fought battle without the services of P J Washington for either game. Now the Cats advance to the Sweet 16 where they will face a very strong Houston team. The big question hanging over the program, and on the minds of the entirety of the Big Blue Nation is whether P J Washington will return to the floor on Friday when the Cats tip it off against Houston.
The information from inside the program has been minimal thus far this week. Why does this program insist on withholding this information from the Big Blue Nation?
This year’s sweet 16 is the first time that all of the top 12 seeded teams have advanced past the first weekend together Furthermore, and from my perspective, the most telling aspect of this year’s Sweet 16 is it includes the top 14 most efficient teams in the land, and the other two, per Pomeroy, are #18 LSU and #29 Oregon. There are no Cinderellas as we have seen emerge in so many of these tournaments. In my opinion, this is the probable consequence of the NCAA’s abandonment of the insane RPI for seeding and moving toward an efficiency based system for seeding.
More than any previous year, there are no easy paths from this Sweet 16 to move forward to the promised land of college basketball. Each team must defeat two legitimate championship capable opponents this weekend to advance to Minneapolis. For Kentucky, it is Houston and with a win, on to face the winner of the Auburn-North Carolina Sweet 16 matchup.
For now, the only opponent of concern is Houston. With the fundamental question about P J Washington’s availability still hanging over this game, the analysis is based upon P J being on the court for this game. Without him, the Kentucky offense struggled against Wofford, and if the Cats must face this Houston defense without him, the only way the Cats can beat Houston is to engage in and win an all-out defensive war because Houston’s defense has been formidable is likely to curtail the Cats’ on their offensive end:
• #5 defense against 2 point shooting percentage, 42.7%: UK #7, 43.6%
• #1 defense against 3 point shooting percentage, 27.8%: UK #179, 34.4%
• #22 in percentage of shots blocked, 13.7%: UK #23, 13.7%
• #12 overall defensive efficiency, 0.913 points per possession: UK #8, 0.905 ppp
The Cats’ defense matches up well against these Houston numbers in every category except defense against 3 point shooting, which has haunted this team for most of this season.
With P J Washington, the Cats’ offense has been the 11th most efficient in the country, at 1.182 points per possession. Houston’s offense has been strong as well at #20, 1.154 ppp. The difference in this game, with or without P J Washington, will be determined by how much of the Cats’ offensive production suffers against the Houston defense.
Houston brings a 33-3 record into this game. The Cougars’ three losses have been at #81 Temple by 4 on January 9, to #45 UCF by 5 at home, and to #31 Cincinnati by 12 in the championship game of the AAC Tournament. Houston beat Sweet 16 members #20 LSU by 6 and #43 Oregon by 4, both at home in November and December.
Houston has earned its 33-3 record against a schedule with a SOS value of 0.0388 ppp (#77). Furthermore, Houston’s ANE for the season stands at an impressive 0.245 ppp, and their ANE over the last 5 games is 0.266 ppp.
The Cats’ schedule has a SOS value of 0.1047 ppp (#24). The Cats’ ANE for the season stands at 0.288 ppp, their season ANE since game 7 has been 0.330 ppp, and their ANE over the last 5 games is 0.365 ppp.
This is a dangerous opponent for Kentucky when at full strength, and frankly my ANE analysis has no capacity to account for a missing player, especially one as important to the team as P J Washington. With that in mind, the ANE analysis based on Kentucky’s ANE since game 7 and Houston’s ANE indicates a Kentucky margin of 6 points, 76-70, in a game played at a pace of 68 possessions. As a matter of record, the traditional ANE analysis indicates a 3 point Kentucky advantage and a “last 5” analysis indicates a Kentucky advantage of 6 ½ points. Pomeroy sees this as a 2 point advantage for Kentucky, 68-66, and Vegas gives Kentucky the edge by 3 points.
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: