Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky basketball: On defensive efficiency and blocked shots

Mississippi State Bulldogs guard I.J. Ready (15) went under Kentucky Wildcats forward Alex Poythress (22) for a late basket as Kentucky defeated Mississippi State 80-74 on Tuesday January 12, 2016 in Lexington, Ky.
Mississippi State Bulldogs guard I.J. Ready (15) went under Kentucky Wildcats forward Alex Poythress (22) for a late basket as Kentucky defeated Mississippi State 80-74 on Tuesday January 12, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Lexington Herald-Leader

After Kentucky had to hold on for dear life to survive Mississippi State 80-74 on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena, the newest numbers came churning out of Ken Pomeroy’s computer. As you might expect, the UK’s defensive efficiency numbers are uncharacteristic of a John Calipari-coached team.

According to Pomeroy’s adjusted numbers, The Cats have dropped to 46th in defensive efficiency. That would make this 2015-16 edition the second-worst defensive team, by ranking, in the Calipari Era, ahead of only the 2013 NIT team -- you guessed that, right? -- which ranked 129th in efficiency.

Last year’s team, the one that finished 38-1, ranked second in defensive efficiency, allowing just 86.5 points per 100 possessions. The 2014 team, which reached the NCAA final before losing to Connecticut,, ranked 41st at 96.9 points per 100 possessions.

Calipari’s national title team of 2012 was ranked eighth after allowing 89.9 points per 100 possessions. The 2011 team, which reached the Final Four, ranked 15th at 92.0 points per 100. And Cal’s first team ranked fifth at 88 points per 100.

The current team is giving up 95.9 points per 100 possessions. (The 2013 team gave up 99.1 points per 100.) That number wasn’t helped by the fact that Mississippi State shot 52.9 percent from the floor, the highest percentage against Kentucky since Wichita State’s 55.1 in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Mississippi State’s lack of offensive rebounding -- just three offensive rebounds for the night -- held the Bulldogs’ raw points per 100 possessions number down to 99.2, but it still was hardly a stellar defensive effort from the Cats.

Here are the teams that have shot 52 percent or better against UK in the Calipari Era:

▪ 11-24-10 vs. Connecticut (Maui Invitational) 57.7

▪ 3-23-12 vs. Indiana (NCAAs) 52.2

▪ 1-12-13 Texas A&M 52.5

▪ 2-6-13 @Tennessee 58.0

▪ 2-1-14 @Missouri 52.9

▪ 3-8-14 @Florida 59.6

▪ 3-23-14 vs. Wichita State (NCAAs) 55.1

▪ 12-3-15 @UCLA 52.8

▪ 1-12-16 Mississippi State 52.9

One aspect you have to wonder about is Kentucky’s lack of rim protectors on this team. Since arriving at UK, Calipari has always had guys around the rim who could block shots, be it DeMarcus Cousins, Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein or Karl-Anthony Towns.

In fact, this year’s team is averaging just 5.38 blocked shots per game, the lowest number in the Calipari Era. By comparison, last year’s team averaged 6.87 blocked shots per game. The 2012 title team, with Davis holding a block party nearly every game, blocked 8.6 shots per game.

Marcus Lee leads this year’s team with an average of 1.8 blocked shots per game. Lee’s problem is that foul trouble often keeps him off the floor. He’s played just 358 minutes, sixth-most on the team. Same for Skal Labissiere, who is averaging 1.6 blocks per game. Labissiere has played 295 minutes.

Back in 2012, Davis averaged 4.7 blocks per game. In 2013, Noel averaged 4.4 blocks. In 2014, Cauley-Stein averaged 2.9. Last year, Towns averaged 2.3 while Cauley-Stein averaged 1.7.

An underrated shot blocker was Jones, who swatted 1.9 shots per game as a freshman in 2011, then 1.8 as a sophomore in 2012.

Kentucky blocked shots per game in Calipari Era

Year

G

Blocks

Avg

2010

38

273

7.18

2011

38

239

6.29

2012

40

344

8.60

2013

33

217

6.58

2014

40

236

5.90

2015

39

268

6.87

2016

16

86

5.38

Ken Pomeroy’s Top 20 defensive teams

  • 1. Valpariso 88.8
  • 2. West Virginia 89.5
  • 3. Purdue 89.5
  • 4. Kansas 89.6
  • 5. Villanova 89.7
  • 6. Florida 90.5
  • 7. Louisville 90.8
  • 8. South Carolina 91.8
  • 9. Oklahoma 91.9
  • 10. Xavier 92.0
  • 11. UNLV 92.2
  • 12. Michigan State 92.5
  • 13. San Diego State 92.5
  • 14. Providence 92.8
  • 15. Miami 93.0
  • 16. Arkansas-Little Rock 93.0
  • 17. Kansas State 93.4
  • 18. Vanderbilt 93.4
  • 19. Ohio State 93.5
  • 20. Wichita State 94.1

Source: kenpom.com based on points per 100 possessions

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