By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
On Tuesday night, it seemed the Kentucky Wildcats portrayed a modern version of Charles Dickens’ 1859 opening lines for his “A Tale of Two Cities” when the Cats played its best of halves and the worst of halves in the same game. When the Cats fell behind Vanderbilt by 14 points late in the first half of the game, they clearly played their worst half of basketball of the season.
When the Cats surged past Vanderbilt to post a 14-point victory at the final buzzer, they clearly played their best half of basketball this season. Some might prefer to compare this Kentucky team to Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” which he penned in 1886. In either case, this team more mindful of 19th century struggles rather than the 21st century promise for #9.
The most that can be said about Tuesday’s win is that the Cats took care of business, leaving Nashville with a 19-5, 9-2 record. Now the focus shifts back to Rupp Arena and once again, the immediate task for the Cats is to take care of business against Mississippi, 13-11, 4-7, before closing the season at LSU, against Florida, Auburn and Tennessee at Rupp, and at Florida .
After opening their SEC season 1-7, Ole Miss enters Rupp Arena buoyed by a 3 game winning streak with a 14 point win over South Carolina (0.27 ppp Game ANE), 17 point win over Florida (0.39 ppp Game ANE), and a 25 point win over Mississippi State (0.48 ppp Game ANE). Mississippi has posted an average ANE over these last 3 games of 0.38 ppp.
Kentucky also brings a three-game winning streak into this game. After losing at Auburn, the Cats have beaten Mississippi State by 8 (0.22 ppp Game ANE), Tennessee by 13 (0.43 ppp Game ANE), and Vanderbilt by 14 (0.28 ppp Game ANE), which is an average ANE of 0.31 ppp over these last 3 games.
Mississippi’s season ANE of 0.101 ppp against a schedule strength of 0.061 ppp and an average tempo of 68.8 possessions per game. Kentucky’s season ANE of 0.207 ppp against a schedule strength of 0.69 ppp at an average tempo of 69.3.
The ANE analysis based on these season profiles points to an 11 point Kentucky win, 75-64 in a game played with 69 possessions. However, these teams’ recent performances suggest a much narrower margin in the low single digits.