By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
In game 1, the Cats showed sufficient toughness to hold off a very strong group of Spartans to lay claim to the #1 spot on the college basketball totem pole. This past Friday, the Cats put the pedal to the metal from the opening tip to the final buzzer and took a bunch of Colonels apart for an impressive 42-point win over our neighbors from Richmond. Tonight former Wildcat star Walter McCarty will bring his Evansville Purple Aces into Rupp to see if he can find the keys to slow down this hot set of Wildcats.
Just as two games do not define a season, neither does one game performance by any player define that player. However, these single game player eruptions serve to illustrate how strong (or weak) the components of the team can be. Against Michigan State, Tyrese Maxey emerged on one of the biggest stages against a legitimate final four opponent and turned in one of the strongest freshman debuts in Kentucky basketball history. Against EKU, Junior Nick Richards had perhaps his best game ever as a Wildcat.
Both individual game performances are most welcome to the Big Blue Nation. However, these individual performances are peaks, and where there are peaks, there are also valleys. For me, the more encouraging observations from these first two games are the steady, reliable contributions to the team’s efforts by Nate Sestina, Immanuel Quickley, Kahlil Whitney, and Ashton Hagans.
Yes, Big Blue Fans, the season is still in its infancy, and the basketball landscape will change as infants mature basketball players for March Madness and the run toward Championship Monday. There is no way to know today who will remain standing at midnight on April 6, 2020, but our Wildcats have started their 2019-20 journey in an impressive manner.
The Cats now stand at 2-0 with an Adjusted Net Efficiency (ANE) of 0.35 points per possession (ppp) against a schedule strength of +0.073 ppp (MSU and EKU). This ANE is worthy of the #1 ranking. The Cats’ average tempo has been in the upper 70s possessions per game due to the 82-possession tempo of the EKU game. Evansville opened its season on Saturday with a 4-point (79-75) home win over #157 Ball State. That game produced an ANE of 0.027 ppp against a schedule strength of -0.027 ppp. While the Cats have the highest ANE in the land, Evansville’s ANE ranks #164.
Based on the limited data from 1 or 2 games for these teams, an ANE analysis indicates this game will have a tempo of 76 possessions with the Cats prevailing by 30 points, 88-58.