Friday, January 06, 2006

Preview: Kentucky at Kansas

Let's start with total numbers and work our way down from there.

TeamPoss/40PPPOpp PPP

Those are the raw efficiency numbers that even I can calculate.

Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency numbers look like this.

TeamPoss/40PPPOpp PPP

Why the difference? Ken adjusts for the quality of opponent, the location of the game, and weights recent performances more heavily. There is no argument that Kentucky has played a more difficult schedule than Kansas. In the Pomeroy ratings, Kansas has played the 241st most difficult schedule. Kentucky has played the 69th. Sagarin rates both schedules lower, but narrows the difference: Kansas, 258th; Kentucky, 145th.

The degree of difference in difficulty between the two schedules depends on how one compares true road games with games played at neutral or semi-neutral sites. Kentucky's only true road game was at Georgia State. They beat Louisville and North Carolina at home, lost to Iowa and beat West Virginia in Kansas City, got blown out by Indiana in Indianapolis, beat Iona 73-67 in Louisville, and beat Ohio 71-63 in Cincinnati.

That makes one more true road game than Kansas, one more good home win, an equal number of home losses, one more win at a neutral site, one less loss at a neutral site, and one more win at a semi-home venue.

Kentucky offense vs. Kansas defense

TeameFG%TO%OR%FT Rate

As you can see, Kentucky struggles both to shoot the ball accurately from the field and to get to the free throw line very often. Kansas should accentuate Kentucky's problems with the former, and, even if the Jayhawks send another opponent to the line too often for my comfort, Kentucky shoots only 65% from the free throw line as a team. One more note of encouragement for Jayhawk fans: Rajon Rondo has more than twice as many free throw attempts as any other Wildcat. He's a 63.6% free throw shooter.

Rondo makes up for his relatively poor free throw and three-point shooting (9-28 on the season) by making almost 60% of his two-point attempts. I don't think there's a Kansas guard that can keep Rondo out of the paint. Kansas can likely survive a huge scoring game from Rondo. However, should his forays into the paint create open three-point shots for Sparks, Bradley, and Sims, or offensive rebounding opportunities for the Wildcats as Giles, Wright, and Kaun attempt to block Rondo's shot attempts, Kansas will have a much more difficult time Saturday.

Kansas beat Cal not just on the strength of CJ Giles' individual defensive effort against Leon Powe, but also by staying on Cal's shooters and protecting the defensive glass. Rondo presents a more difficult matchup than Powe in that he doesn't have to rely on his teammates to get him the ball in a dangerous position.

Robinson and Chalmers give the Jayhawks the best chance of slowing Rondo down. Even if they fail to slow Rondo significantly, merely staying out of foul trouble, thus allowing Vinson and Hawkins to have more favorable matchups guarding Sparks, Bradley, and Moss off the ball, Robinson and Chalmers will play an important defensive role.

Kansas offense vs. Kentucky defense

TeameFG%TO%OR%FT Rate

Kentucky doesn't force a lot of turnovers. They don't dominate the defensive glass. They don't keep their opponents off the free throw line.

So far this year, Kentucky has suppressed scoring by forcing opponents to take 36% of their field goals from behind the arc and holding opponents to 29% shooting on those attempts. It makes sense that a guard-oriented team such as Kentucky would both have to collapse on the post and be reasonably successful at recovering back out onto shooters.

Kansas only takes 28% of their field goals from beyond the arc. The Jayhawks were a 25% three-point shooting team through the Nevada game. They now stand at 39% for the season. Granted, the quality of competition has decreased, but the Jayhawks have shot the ball effectively from behind the arc in each of the last seven games (7-20, 11-21, 6-12, 5-11, 9-19, 9-20, 9-19). Kaun, Giles, Wright, Jackson, and even Moody should present a challenge for Kentucky's post defenders. If the Jayhawks guards can get the ball to the post players in dangerous positions and convert 35% of their three-point attempts they'll like post a total Kentucky can't match.

Kentucky's defensive rebounding numbers are buoyed by Rondo's 23.7% defensive rebound rate. To put that in perspective, Rondo has, for the season, as a point guard playing 32 minutes a game, gotten defensive rebounds at about the same rate as Darnell Jackson has in 15 minutes a game against New Orleans, Northern Colorado, and Yale. Allenye has a decent DR% in only 83 minutes, but the rest of the Kentucky players (except for Sparks at 7.4% and Bradley at 5.7%) sit between 10.9% and 14.2%, the Moody/Downs/Rush range.

Kansas's 38% offensive rebound rate has come from a team effort rather than a dominant individual performance. I don't see Kentucky regularly enough to know how Rondo gets his rebounds; if he typically gathers all those missed three-pointers Kentucky forces or uses his quickness and athleticism to rebound in the paint. I do see, in the numbers, that Moody, Kaun, Giles, Wright, and Jackson should have an advantage over their Kentucky counterparts in tracking down Kansas misses.

Keys to a Kansas victory:

1) Hold Kentucky under 45 eFG% from the field.
2) Get 65% of the defensive rebound opportunities.
3) Take 70% of field goal attempts inside the three-point line.
4) Make 35% of three-point shots.
5) Get 38% of the offensive rebound opportunities.
6) Make 65% of their free throws.

I don't think the Jayhawks need to do all six of those things to win. At home, four out of six should do it. Accomplishing three out of the six above could be enough if the Jayhawks excel either making their shots or forcing Kentucky misses.

Prediction: Kansas 67 Kentucky 62

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