By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
Building on the second half against Mount St. Mary’s, the Cats turned in their second strongest game of this young season against Lamar on Sunday evening. The game ANE (0.36 ppp) nudged the season average ANE up from about 0.14 ppp about 0.17 ppp. To be sure, the rising trend in this parameter is very welcome after the ANE plummeted due to the loss to Evansville and the lack luster performance against Utah Valley.
Prior to the Lamar game, I expressed concern that poor overall play of the team against Evansville, Utah Valley, and the first half against Mount St. Mary’s raised concern about the Cats’ fortunes against Lamar given Lamar’s stronger performances against Utah Valley and Mount St. Mary’s. I also recognized that the strong finish against Mount St. Mary’s could indicate this team has begun to turn a corner, and a 20+ win over the Cardinals could signal the team’s turn in the better direction is continuing.
The Cats took care of business against Lamar with a 25 point win. Clearly, the final margin was strong enough to be the Cats’ strongest game in their first 6 games, but it is equally clear that this team has a considerable issues to resolve before it can lay a legitimate claim to completing its turn to move forward in the direction that the coaches, the players, and the fans expect from this team.
— A championship caliber basketball team will not squander a 15-2 lead against a team like Lamar, as this team did in the first half.
— A championship caliber team will not allow a team like Lamar trim a 25 point second half lead to only 14 points, as this team did in the second half.
— A championship caliber team will not be content to play the majority of the second half trading baskets with a team like Lamar once it establishes a 20 point working margin at the half.
This team must make significant improvements to grow into a SEC contender by January and a national championship contender by March.
Coach Calipari has been complaining since mid October about injuries impacting his ability to work this team as he likes due to injuries. Before the season, Dontaie Allen had knee surgery and his recovery and rehabilitation has kept him on the sidelines. Zan Payne is also recovering from surgery. Since October, injuries have sidelined or limited Immanuel Quickley, Ashton Hagans, E. J. Montgomery, and Nick Richards. On Wednesday, Nate Sestina broke his left wrist in a practice fall and will miss 3 to 4 weeks according to Coach Calipari.
With UAB visiting Rupp on Friday, the Cats will not have Dontaie Allen, Zan Payne, or Nate Sestina available, limiting the available players to 8 players.
The Cats now stand at 5-1 with an Adjusted Net Efficiency (ANE) of 0.17 points per possession (ppp) against a schedule strength of -0.065 ppp. The Cats’ average tempo remains about 71 possessions per game.
#211 UAB has played five games with a 4-1 record in those games. UAB’s last three opponents have been Utah Valley, Mount St. Mary’s, and Lamar, and the Blazers lost to Utah Valley by 11 and defeated MSM by 7 and Lamar by 9. These games produced an ANE of -0.036 ppp against a schedule strength of -0.129 ppp.
Based on this early season data for these teams, an ANE analysis indicates this game will have a tempo of 69 possessions with the Cats prevailing by18 points, 75-57. The challenge for the Cats in this game is to continue turning that corner with Nate Sestina out of action, and a win by 27 or more points would be consistent with movement toward championship caliber play.