Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, March 11, 2017 at 6:00 PM
It seems like everyone’s forgotten the Kentucky Wildcats. They’re usually on the short list of national championship hopefuls. Some years you get the idea they’re the ONLY team on the media’s short list! This season, though, Kentucky has dropped into a kind of purgatory…they’re not good enough to be a #1 seed, but they’re not disappointing enough to be labelled a bust.
Sunday’s SEC Championship matchup with Arkansas will give us one last look at John Calipari’s team heading into the Big Dance. Some pundits were suggesting that Kentucky had a shot to storm to a #1 seed after both Kansas and North Carolina lost earlier than expected in their conference tournaments. But, a five-point win over Alabama in Saturday’s SEC semifinals popped that balloon. If you have to sweat ‘Bama on a neutral court, you’re not making any sort of statements about the national picture.
Let’s see if Kentucky can get back on the selection committee’s good side in Sunday’s SEC title tilt. We’ll start by reviewing Saturday’s boxscores…then we’ll work our way through JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats.
Kentucky 79, Alabama 74
2-point Shooting: Alabama 52%, Kentucky 57%
Three Pointers: Alabama 3/14, Kentucky 6/14
Free Throws: Alabama 15/20, Kentucky 27/39
Rebounds: Alabama 33, Kentucky 28
Turnovers: Alabama 11, Kentucky 13
Phantom Score: Alabama 83, Kentucky 62
As we reminded you yesterday, Phantom Score is a homegrown Hurley stat that estimates what a final score “should” have been based on key fundamentals. It’s simply the sum of two-point scoring plus total rebounds. It typically gives you a great idea about who was more impressive where it mattered. Here, it shows Kentucky getting squashed!
The Wildcats were outrebounded, which is a horrible sign if you believe in hustle stats. They also allowed well over 50% shooting inside the arc. Their own attacking offense helped make up for that with a big free throw advantage. But, Kentucky isn’t likely to get such friendly whistles against bigger name opposition. Also, most Dance opponents won’t be as bad as 3 of 14 on three-pointers. Phantom Score is showing you that Kentucky will be vulnerable vs. quality from this point forward. They won. They didn’t impress.
Arkansas 76, Vanderbilt 62
2-point Shooting: Vanderbilt 36%, Arkansas 54%
Three Pointers: Vanderbilt 8/31, Arkansas 5/17
Free Throws: Vanderbilt 20/22, Arkansas 7/9
Rebounds: Vanderbilt 36, Arkansas 39
Turnovers: Vanderbilt 15, Arkansas 12
Phantom Score: Vanderbilt 54, Arkansas 83
Wow! Arkansas made 27 two-point baskets, compared to just nine for Vanderbilt. Clearly Vandy had no energy left after going overtime the prior night vs. Florida. Even playing in their home city, the Commodores were a virtual no-show inside defensively until garbage time helped tighten a blowout margin. They barely took the time to even foul Arkansas! If you didn’t watch the game, that Phantom Score stat gives you a sense of what it felt like when the Hogs were pulling away.
There are still some weaknesses for Arkansas that will matter down the road. But, they sure locked in their dance bona-fides with this result. Let’s see what’s up in computer rankings, and the efficiency stats from Ken Pomeroy’s landmark college basketball site…
Kentucky is #5 at Kenpom, #5 at Sagarin, projected for a #2 seed
Arkansas is #41 at Kenpom, #41 at Sagarin, projected for a #9 seed
Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin of USA Today are in lockstep as we go to press. Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology is mostly in agreement. Though, we have to tell you that our own proprietary numbers don’t have Kentucky that high. The computers have Arkansas as more like a #11 seed rather than a #9…which could matter once the Dance brackets are set.
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
Kentucky: 118.8 per 100 possessions (#16 in the nation)
Arkansas: 117.3 per 100 possessions (#22 in the nation)
Two excellent offenses here. So, we’re likely to see a good show. If everyone’s too tired to play defense, it could be an even better show! Teensy edge to Kentucky on this side of the floor.
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
Kentucky: 91.7 per 100 possessions (#11 in the nation)
Arkansas: 102.1 per 100 possessions (#116 in the nation)
Big edge to Kentucky here. Though, it has to be said that the Wildcats haven’t been this good down the stretch…and clearly had some issues at stopping two-pointers vs. Alabama on Saturday. John Calipari is a great defensive coach. The stats bear that out over the years at this program. This particular team will go stretches where they don’t back each other up…and they don’t battle as hard as they should on the boards. Edge to Kentucky…but probably not as big as those rankings suggest. Arkansas is looking a bit too much like UCLA for our taste to like them in the Dance. When you combine the computers having Arkansas worse off than Lunardi does with this poor defensive grading…it’s hard to see the Hogs fitting into Cinderella’s slippers.
More indicators for an exciting game. Kentucky is flying up and down the floor this year. Arkansas is well above average in tempo. Should be a fun show with both teams putting together scoring spurts at this pace. Will this be a double whammy that wears BOTH out just before the Dance? If Kentucky players are worrying too much about their NBA contracts…that could definitely happen. We wouldn’t be shocked if both of these teams show up on our “go against” list in the round of 64 next week.
Against the Spread
Arkansas: 17-14 1
It’s tough for Kentucky to cover consistently because they’re always priced to play at perfection. The wagering public sees them as a superpower. That means the Wildcats have to be better than a superpower to cover spreads! Arkansas is barely on the right side of breakeven (after you factor in the 10% vigorish) even with Saturday’s romp over Vandy.
With the relatively limited Sunday slate heading into the bracket announcements, there’s a good chance this game will show up on the release card for JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK. That means we can’t post a pick here! We’ll see where the overnight line settles before making a final call. You can always purchase game day selections keyed by our exclusive TEAM HANDICAPPING approach right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 Sunday morning before the action gets started.
Back with you Tuesday to run stat previews for the first two play-in games in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. We’re just hours away from the start of the championship tournament. When championships are on the line, you need WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!