It has been said before but it bears repeating: There is no such thing as a John Calipari style of play.
And there is no better proof than this season.
The Calipari Way is for the Kentucky head coach to recruit the best possible talent he can possibly recruit then figure out what is the best possible way that talent can play together and be the most effective.
Given the speed and athleticism he could see on this year’s team, Calipari made it known well before the season even started that he wanted this year’s model to run and run and run some more, advancing the ball as fast as possible up the court.
Here was Cal back in May when asked how he expected his team to play:
“Really fast, really fast,” he said. “You remember our ’12 team when we rebounded and the ball was in the basket and you went, ‘Did someone throw it down there? We were that fast. … This team has that kind of speed.”
94.2Kentucky points per game through nine games
And that’s the way this year’s team has played, only faster. According to advanced stats guru Ken Pomeroy, after Friday’s games, UK was sixth in the nation in raw tempo, averaging 78.2 possessions per game. Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo numbers, which takes into account the opposition’s penchant for playing fast or slow, ranked Kentucky 11th at 75.5 possessions per game.
Kentucky’s average length of possessions: 13.5 seconds, fifth shortest in the nation.
That’s much faster than any of Calipari’s teams at Kentucky have played before. Last season, UK’s 68.2 possessions per game ranked 220th nationally.
In fact, only once in Cal’s seven previous seasons at Kentucky has his team averaged 70 or more possessions per game. That wasn’t the 2011-12 national championship team. It was 2009-10, Cal’s first at UK, the team with John Wall at point guard. Its adjusted average of 71.5 possessions per game ranked 65th nationally.
More possessions have led to more points. According to NCAA numbers, Kentucky is fourth in the nation in scoring, averaging 94.2 points per game through its first nine games. Before this season, Kentucky’s highest average of points per game was last season at 79.5, followed by that 2009-10 team at 79.3 per game.
The faster tempo hasn’t hurt UK’s offensive efficiency. Heading into Saturday’s games, Pomeroy ranked the Cats seventh in offensive efficiency, averaging 117.2 points per 100 possessions.
Given Kentucky’s offensive success, you would think opponents’ strategy would revolve around slowing the tempo. That’s easier said than done considering UK’s penchant for forcing turnovers. According to those NCAA numbers, UK is sixth in the nation in turnovers forced.
I think their best offense honestly is transition.
Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich on UK
“I think their best offense honestly is transition,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said after losing to UK 87-63 on Wednesday. “For us, our game plan coming was to take good shots so we could fly up the court. I thought in the first half we took a lot of quick shots and they sped us up a lot and really got out and feeling good in transition.”
Last Saturday, of course, UCLA’s strategy was not just to run with the Cats, but beat the Cats running. And the Bruins did just that, winning 97-92, because they are one of the few teams that could do just that. Where UK is fourth in the nation in scoring, UCLA is second at 97 points per game. Where UK is 11th at adjusted tempo, UCLA is 10th. Where Kentucky is seventh in adjusted offensive efficiency, UCLA is third.
Those opponents are few and far between, however. Calipari isn’t about to change his team’s style now. This year, at least, his Cats will keep on running.
No. 6 Kentucky vs. Hofstra
3 p.m. in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. (ESPN)
Kentucky’s pace of play under John Calipari
Points per game