Game Preview: Connecticut vs. Kentucky

Posted by on April 7, 2014

How do UK and UConn compare to past champions?

Tonight’s championship match-up is the first one without a team seeded three or better. However, seeding doesn’t quite tell the full story. In terms of adjusted efficiency, the winner of tonight’s game will become the second worst team (on Selection Sunday) to win a national championship since 2004. Check out the graph below:
2011 UConn will remain the weakest team (by the numbers) to win six in a row. This year’s UConn and Kentucky are weaker than normal, but maybe not so surprising given the parity of this year’s field.

How did Kentucky get here?

I would be surprised if there has been a national champion that allowed more points per possession over their five tourney games than Kentucky. The Wildcats defense started out very strong against Kansas State, but has since has given up 1.23, 1.08, 1.27, and 1.19 points per possession. I recently tweeted¬†about Kentucky’s amazing run despite defensive struggles. Kentucky has been nearly perfect on offense to survive and advance.
Below is a look at win percentage this season by points per possession allowed (games from 2013-2014 only):
PPP allowed
Teams that give up 1.2 points per possession or more rarely ever have an offense as strong as Kentucky, but the graph still illustrates just how crazy UK’s run has been.
Kentucky might have the ugliest style of any elite offense in the country. Kentucky doesn’t shoot it well from outside or take particularly good care of the ball. However, they are the best offensive rebounding team in the country and among the best at getting to the foul line. Against Wisconsin, the UK player’s simply put their head down and went to the rim. Take a look below at a James Young drive from Saturday.
Wisconsin Example
Despite three (!!) Wisconsin defenders clogging the paint, Young drove in and forced up a tough shot near the rim. These kinds of shots don’t go in for Kentucky at a particularly high rate, but they more than make up for it by crashing the boards and forcing refs to blow their whistle.

How did UConn get here?

If UConn wins it all tonight, they would probably have the worst season-long rebounding percentages of any champion. On the season, UConn ranks 206th in offensive rebounding percentage and 247th in defensive rebounding percentage. Still, don’t confuse UConn’s rebounding with the rest of their interior defenses. Opponents have struggled to score inside all season against the Huskies.
UConn’s defensive rebounding has also improved of late. Michigan State rebounded just 21% of their misses in the Elite Eight, which was MSU’s lowest OR% since November. In addition, UConn followed that performance up by holding Florida just slightly below their season average.
Offensively, UConn has shot over 40% from three against Villanova, Iowa State, and Florida. Even though UConn is generally a good three point shooting team, some shooting luck has certainly been in their favor. DeAndre Daniels has been a shot creator for Kevin Ollie throughout the tournament. However, take a look at Daniels’ splits this season in UConn wins and losses:
UConn doesn’t necessarily need a high usage Daniels to win this game. While Daniels’ shot selection was generally very good against Florida, take a look at this Daniels shot below:
Florida Example
Kentucky has struggled this season with defensive rotations, especially against the pick and roll. Daniels is a tough guard for Kentucky because of his size and versatility, but UConn is much better off using him in the flow of the offense rather than in isolation. Daniels becomes significantly more dangerous with Napier and Boatright getting into the paint, forcing the Kentucky defense to make quick decisions.

Who cuts down the nets tonight?

UConn’s pick and rolls will put a lot of pressure on an inconsistent Kentucky defense. If UConn continues their hot shooting, we could be in for a high scoring affair. However, I ultimately can’t see UConn running away with this one given Kentucky’s recent style of play.
Kentucky has proven extremely tough to stop in this tournament when they choose to simply get to the basket on every play. Napier and Boatright will be able to pressure Kentucky’s backcourt in a way Wisconsin couldn’t (and chose not to). Still, Kentucky’s offense is extremely low variance by getting to the line and not forcing jump shots. In other words, the Wildcats aren’t prone to an unlucky shooting night.
It certainly feels like Kentucky’s offense is simply going to outscore you at this point regardless of how many their opponent scores. Of course we wouldn’t be thinking that if a Harrison shot rims out or Traevon Jackson’s shot rims in. Still, I think Kentucky’s recent offensive dominance is actually more sustainable than their recent defensive struggles. I wouldn’t be shocked either way, but I’ll go Kentucky 73, UConn 68.

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