By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
The Cats moved into the top spot of the major wire service polls last Monday, and on Tuesday, the Cats surrendered any claim to the top spot with a 3 point upset loss to Walter McCarty’s Evansville Aces. Evansville took control of the game early, and maintained control to the end. The Cats did mount 3 runs at the Aces in the second half, even taking a small lead once, but each time the Cats made a run, McCarty’s Aces were not just up to the challenge, they regained control of the game quickly.
The list of firsts surrounding this loss is lengthy and I will not recite any elements of this list here. Suffice it to say that no Kentucky team should lose to any Evansville team at Rupp. Not in 2019, not any year prior to 2019, and in no season yet to come. However, just as previous Kentucky teams have had embarrassing, inexplicable losses to the likes of Gardner-Webb and VMI on this same court, this team has carved out a dubious place in UK history and lore.
This game again exposed these cats as weak on the boards and poor shooting from long range. Calipari teams at UK have routinely worked to earn an offensive rebounding rate upwards of 40% every year while limiting opponents in the aggregate to well under 30% on the offensive glass. This team’s offensive rebounding rates defy explanation for any Calipari coached team. This team is languishing with an offensive rebounding rate of only 26.5% through the first 3 games. Last year’s team had an offensive rebounding rate a little below the typically Caliparian rate at 36.6% and averaged over 11 second chance points per game. This year’s start on the glass has produced under 7 second chance points per game.
Yes, the 3-point arc is further from the basket than ever for the college game this year, but is that the explanation for a drop in 3 point shooting from 35.4% last year to 25.0% so far this season. If the longer arc distance is the explanation, don’t you think the logical coaching and player response would be to attempt fewer not more 3 point attempts? Yet, the rate of 3 point attempts has remained at about 29% this year, essentially unchanged from last year.
After a masterful opening game against a very strong Michigan State team, and the dismantling of EKU, the loss to Evansville sticks out like a sore thumb even with the rebounding and 3 point shooting issues noted above. So the question must be answered soon. Was Evansville a gross aberration or was Evansville a precursor of troubling times? The Cats will get a chance on Monday night to answer this nagging question when Utah Valley comes to Rupp.
The Cats now stand at 2-1 with an Adjusted Net Efficiency (ANE) of 0.21 points per possession (ppp) against a schedule strength of +0.019 ppp. This ANE corresponds to a plunge from the aforementioned #1 ranking. The Cats’ average tempo has been about 71 possessions per game despite the 82-possession tempo of the EKU game.
Utah Valley has played four games, two against D1 opposition with a 1-1 record in those games. Utah Valley lost at #295 Denver by 12 and won at #148 UAB by 11 in games played at a tempo of 68 possessions. These games produced an ANE of -0.008 ppp against a schedule strength of -0.008 ppp.
Based on the limited data from 2 or 3 games for these teams, an ANE analysis indicates this game will have a tempo of 72 possessions with the Cats prevailing by 19 points, 76-57.