Kentucky at Missouri preview: Hit the glass, make some 3s

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

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In last year's recruiting class, John Calipari signed six five-star players. In the last 10 years, Missouri has signed two five-star players, period ... and one of them was Tony Mitchell.

So yeah. Kentucky's pretty talented. The Wildcats are also ridiculously young, with freshmen and sophomores eating up over 95% of their primary minutes. They've played like a ridiculously young team -- dominant in stretches, great at home, super-shaky on the road -- and hopefully Missouri gets as much of the downside as the upside on Saturday. Kentucky is quite beatable, but only if Missouri plays as well as (or better than) it did on Tuesday night in Fayetteville.

Kentucky Wildcats (15-5)


UK
Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions)
67.8
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.18 0.98
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.41 1.11
2-PT FG% 53% 43%
3-PT FG% 32% 31%
FT% 68% 66%
True Shooting % 57% 48%




UK Opp.
Assists/Gm 12.4 10.7
Steals/Gm 4.7 6.1
Turnovers/Gm 12.7 11.5
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.35 1.46




UK Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 10.6 13.0
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 14.9 12.5
Difference +4.3 -0.5

Ken Pomeroy Stats

UK Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

UK Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 9 90 UK
Effective FG% 81 31 MU
Turnover % 154 291 UK big
Off. Reb. % 1 102 UK big
FTA/FGA 7 83 UK
MU Offense vs UK Defense Ranks

MU Offense UK Defense Advantage
Efficiency 36 46 push
Effective FG% 71 14 UK
Turnover % 200 283 MU
Off. Reb. % 33 163 MU big
FTA/FGA 24 74 MU

Where the Wildcats are weakest

Well, for starters, they are 351st -- dead last -- in Experience, though that's more design than flaw. Calipari banks on his recruiting ability to both sign incredible classes every year and crank out all sorts of one-and-dones. The upside: Anthony Davis leads you to a national title (2012). The downside: You might be one Nerlens Noel injury away from everything falling apart (2013).

Kentucky is also super-thin, with only six players averaging more than 12 minutes per game (279th in Bench Minutes).

On offense, this team doesn't shoot 3s well at all (249th in 3PT%), but the Wildcats also know they can't shoot very well and don't (271st in 3PA/FGA). This is an incredibly long team without a real point guard, so while the rebounding stats are off the charts, the ball-handling numbers? Not so much: 296th in Assists per FG Made, 154th in TO%, 159th in Steal%.

This is a sound defensive team despite the youth, but like Missouri, Kentucky just doesn't do much in the steals department: 283rd in TO%, 321st in Steal%. And the Wildcats go for enough blocked shots that they are vulnerable on the defensive glass (163rd in DR%).

Where they are best

Well ... they're hilariously long and talented. They're fifth in Effective Height, and it shows up dramatically on the offensive glass (first in OR%). They get a lot of shots near the basket, and they tend to make them (25th in 2PT%, 32nd in Block%), and they get to the line a ton (7th in FTA/FGA), even if they don't necessarily make a high percentage of their FTs (247th). This is a physical team that succeeds in shrinking the court on the offensive end. They don't really care about the 3-point line; they're moving the ball toward the basket.

Defensively, they're tall, too (duh). They hold opponents to 43% shooting on 2-pointers (20th), ranking 13th in Block%. They're long enough on the perimeter to disrupt your looks from long range, too: they're 56th in 3PA/FGA allowed, and they're 46th in 3PT%. (Obviously this isn't as much of an advantage against a tall Missouri backcourt.) They don't foul a ton (74th in FTA/FGA), and they tend to foul the right people (44th in FT%).

So yeah, they're long, athletic, physical (on offense), and long.

Kentucky's Season to Date

  • Wins (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    No. 8 Louisville (73-66)
    No. 25 Tennessee (74-66)
    vs. No. 48 Providence (79-65)
    No. 59 Boise State (70-55)
    No. 77 Cleveland State (68-61)
    at No. 103 Vanderbilt (71-62)
    No. 111 Belmont (93-80)
    No. 114 Eastern Michigan (81-63)
    No. 129 Georgia (79-54)
    No. 156 Texas A&M (68-51)
    No. 159 Robert Morris (87-49)
    No. 194 Mississippi State (85-63)
    No. 203 UT Arlington (105-76)
    No. 232 UNC Asheville (89-57)
    No. 294 Northern Kentucky (93-63)
  • Losses
    vs. No. 7 Michigan State (74-78)
    at No. 33 North Carolina (77-82)
    at No. 52 Arkansas (85-87, OT)
    at No. 54 LSU (82-87)
    vs. No. 61 Baylor (62-67)

13-0 at home, 1-2 on neutral courts, 1-3 on the road, 0-5 in games decided by six or fewer points. All the characteristics of a young team. In terms of common opponents, UK destroyed Georgia at home and won at Vanderbilt but lost at Arkansas and, like Mizzou, lost at LSU.

Kentucky Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Julius Randle (6'9, 250, Fr.) 16.4 0.56 29.2 MPG, 16.1 PPG (55% 2PT, 18% 3PT, 73% FT), 10.2 RPG, 1.7 APG, 3.2 TOPG, 2.4 PFPG
Willie Cauley-Stein (7'0, 244, So.) 12.4 0.49 25.2 MPG, 7.8 PPG (58% 2PT, 46% FT), 6.8 RPG, 3.2 BPG, 1.3 SPG, 2.5 PFPG
James Young (6'6, 215, Fr.) 12.0 0.37 32.5 MPG, 14.7 PPG (51% 2PT, 34% 3PT, 67% FT), 4.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.9 TOPG
Aaron Harrison (6'6, 218, Fr.) 11.9 0.41 29.1 MPG, 13.8 PPG (56% 2PT, 31% 3PT, 77% FT), 3.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.8 TOPG, 2.4 PFPG
Andrew Harrison (6'6, 215, Fr.) 8.1 0.26 30.7 MPG, 11.0 PPG (37% 2PT, 37% 3PT, 75% FT), 3.5 APG, 3.0 RPG, 2.5 TOPG, 3.1 PFPG
Alex Poythress (6'8, 239, So.) 7.5 0.39 19.3 MPG, 6.9 PPG (56% 2PT, 27% 3PT, 65% FT), 5.6 RPG, 1.0 BPG, 1.1 TOPG
Dakari Johnson (7'0, 265, Fr.) 4.8 0.43 11.2 MPG, 4.6 PPG (61% 2PT, 46% FT), 3.3 RPG
Marcus Lee (6'9, 215, Fr.) 3.6 0.51 7.1 MPG, 2.9 PPG (65% 2PT, 44% FT), 1.6 RPG
Jarrod Polson (6'2, 182, Sr.) 0.9 0.12 7.9 MPG, 1.1 PPG
Dominique Hawkins (6'0, 193, Fr.) 0.4 0.04 10.8 MPG, 1.2 PPG, 1.0 RPG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds. It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls. It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • Highest Usage%: Randle (27%), Young (23%), Aa. Harrison (23%)
  • Highest Floor%: Johnson (47%), Cauley-Stein (46%), Randle (42%)
  • Highest %Pass: Hawkins (62%), An. Harrison (58%), Aa. Harrison (45%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Johnson (49%), Poythress (42%), Cauley-Stein (41%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Johnson (24%), Randle (20%), Poythress (16%)
  • Highest %T/O: Randle (11%), Poythress (9%), Cauley-Stein (7%)
  • Highest OR%: Johnson (18%), Randle (15%), Poythress (13%)
  • Highest DR%: Randle (22%), Poythress (17%), Cauley-Stein (16%)

  • Randle's the ring-leader. The No. 2 player in the 2013 recruiting class according to Rivals.com (the Harrisons were No. 5 and 7, Johnson was No. 9, Young was No. 11, and Lee was a lowly No. 19), he's got a touch of finesse in his game, but he's also a beast on the glass. He's a decent passer (which is good since the offense runs through him at times), but like a lot of young bigs, he does struggle with turnovers.

  • Cauley-Stein, meanwhile, is the reason why the defense is so strong near the basket. Despite averaging only 8 PPG, the wily veteran of the rotation (hey, he's the only sophomore averaging 20+ minutes), he's second on the team in Adj. GS because of his shot-blocking and the fact that, at the very least, he doesn't waste many possessions on offense.

  • Andrew Harrison is the closest thing to a point guard in the rotation, but there really isn't one. I'm pretty sure the only reason Dominique Hawkins is averaging 11 minutes per game is to come in and raise his hand in the air (to signify the play-call) without turning the ball over. He doesn't appear to actually do anything else on the court. (Harrison't also the closest thing to a 3-point threat on the team.)

Keys to the Game

  1. The glass. If you hold Kentucky to one-and-dones, they can go through some serious scoring droughts. Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to do that. We've seen Missouri's rebounding come and go this year, and while it was absolutely incredible in Fayetteville, Mizzou has fallen out of the top 100 in defensive rebounding. We absolutely have to see Good Mizzou on the glass, or Kentucky will eventually wear the Tigers out with second chances.

  2. The 3-ball. Kentucky doesn't shoot it well, and Missouri has the hottest 3-point shooter in the country. Jabari Brown has made over 50% of his 3s in five straight games (he's 20-for-29, 69%, in that span -- he had only two games like that last year), and he's 34-for-64 (53%) since the UCLA game. As Missouri's identity has changed from "Drive, drive, drive," to "Well hell, refs aren't calling fouls like they did in December," Brown's emergence as not only a deadly shooter, but the deadliest shooter, has been key. Mizzou will need to make its 3s to have a chance here -- there's not going to be much available near the rim -- but Brown and Earnest Ross can do that. Maybe. (Meanwhile, if Kentucky gets hot from 3-point range, that's free points for them ... they don't count on it, and if it comes, they're almost unstoppable.)

  3. The role players. On Tuesday, we saw how good Missouri can be when it's getting production from players outside of its Big 3.5 (Brown, Ross, Jordan Clarkson, and sometimes Johnathan Williams III). Ryan Rosburg hit the offensive glass hard in the first half, Wes Clark made a couple of jumpers, Shane Rector played six neutral (not even great, just neutral) minutes, and Missouri outlasted a deep Arkansas team despite some terrible play from Tony Criswell and Torren Jones. Mizzou just needs something from its role players to be a pretty good team, and against Kentucky, the focus will be on the bigs. Can Rosburg block out effectively? Can Williams finish near the basket? Can Criswell ... be Good Leo Lyons and not Bad Leo Lyons for the first time in a while?

Prediction

I just have no idea what to think about this one. I've defended Kentucky a few times this year, mentioning how they're not nearly as "disappointing" as some are making them out to be. But ... the Wildcats still ridiculously young, they're still iffy on the road, and they've still lost just about every tight game they've played. When in doubt, I defer (mostly) to the Pomeroy projections. He says Kentucky 75, Mizzou 73; in the guise of them being better than normal at home and worse than normal on the road, I'll change that to something like Mizzou 74, Kentucky 72.

A win here isn't absolutely vital to Missouri's NCAA Tournament cause, but wow, would it be a huge boost to start this tough stretch with two wins. If the Tigers make some 3s and avoid getting completely massacred on the glass, they could pull it off.

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