Current record: 8-0
Current RPI: 7 (IU is #59)
Current Sagarin: 3 (IU is #17)
Current Pomeroy: 2 (IU is #15)
2010-11 record: 29-9 (10-6), lost to Connecticut in Final Four
2010-11 RPI: 7
2010-11 Sagarin: 5
2010-11 Pomeroy: 6
Pomeroy scouting report
Series: Kentucky leads 31-23
TV: 5:15 Saturday, ESPN
Blog:A Sea of Blue
After a week of buildup, gameday is nearly here: on Saturday, the Kentucky Wildcats will visit Assembly Hall for the most anticipated IU basketball game in years. While Kentucky hasn't recently faced a rebuilding job as daunting as what IU has done in the last few years, the Wildcats were in a bit of a rut late in the Tubby Smith era and certainly under the unsuccessful tenure of Billy Gillispie. John Calipari came to Kentucky before the 2009-10 season, and has been very successful both on the court and as a recruiter. As everyone knows, Calipari is a controversial figure. He has taken both UMass and Memphis to the Final Four, but both of those appearances were vacated because players on the teams had received improper benefits. Calipari was not implicated in either of the NCAA reports, but at the very least, he has been unable to prevent corruption in programs under his leadership. Despite the history of Calipari's programs and Kentucky's long history of corruption, things appear to be going well, and nothing major has yet arisen.
Calipari has recruited extremely well at UK, and really at every other job. This year, Kentucky typically goes 7 deep. Here are the top seven's Rivals rankings in parentheses: Terrence Jones (13), Doron Lamb (21), Anthony Davis (2), Mike Kidd-Gilchrist (3), Marquis Teague (5), Darius Miller (42), Kyle Wiltjer (22). Cody Zeller, who was ranked 15 in his final class, was considered, with substantial justification, a program-changing recruit for IU, but his ranking would place him only fifth if he were plugged into Kentucky's top 7. Kentucky is young, of course. Four of the top seven (Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Teague, and Wiltjer) are freshmen, but Miller is a senior, and the top two scorers, Lamb and Jones, are holdovers from Kentucky's Final Four team of a year ago.
(For the record, UK has a walk-on guard named Sam Malone. From Massachusetts, no less. That doesn't matter but I couldn't not mention it). As would be expected, these guys are matchup nightmares. Jones is a 6-9 forward and a able rebounder, but is capable of hitting the three (50 percent on the season). Lamb is a 6-4 guard who is deadly from behind the arc and the line and has 22 assists to only 8 turnovers. Anthony Davis (6-10) has transitioned very well to the college game. He is averaging 12.3 points per game, is shooting a Zeller-esque 67 percent from the field, and averages 9 boards and 4.5 (!) blocks per game. Marquis Teague, from Pike High School in Indianapolis, isn't setting the world on fire as a shooter (although his numbers are fine, but he leads UK in assists. Everyone in UK's seven-man rotation except Davis is a threat from the perimeter.
As would be expected of a team that is ranked so highly by all of the human and computer polls, UK's Pomeroy numbers are great. The Wildcats are in the top 4 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and they particularly have excelled at field goal defense. UK is holding opponents to a 37.5 EFG (#3), 33 percent from two point range (#2), and 31 percent from deep (#102--not as intimidating, but well below IU's average). For a young team, they are taking very good care of the ball (17.8 turnover percentage). UK ranks #1 in the nation with a block percentage of 25.8. Chew on that one for a while. Just over one in four shot attempts against UK is rejected. The Wildcats are not below the median in any meaningful tempo-free category. These guys are really, really good. Only Cody Zeller and Christian Watford can match the recruiting rankings of UK's rotation, and Watford only barely. Solid, four star, borderline top 100 recruits such as Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston wouldn't get a sniff from UK these days, and underrated three stars such as Will Sheehey and Victor Oladipo may as well not exist. This game is, from a talent perspective, a serious mismatch.
All that said, I'm not pessimistic about this game. This still is a young team. Three of Kentucky's top seven players have Final Four experience, but the four freshmen have never faced an atmosphere remotely as hostile as what they will see and hear on Saturday. Kentucky has played a tougher schedule than IU, with games against Kansas and North Carolina, but the Wildcats have not played a true road game yet. Pomeroy's formula has significantly underestimated our margin of victory in every single game this season, even though IU's rating has gone up with every game. Pom gives Kentucky a 6 point edge in this game (75-69) and gives IU a 31 percent chance of winning. That would make a win an upset on paper, but not a crazy upset. Stranger things happen every single day at this point of the college basketball season. Lots of things have to go well for IU. We have to shoot well from outside. Zeller has to handle the double team well. We have to improve, even if not in terms of raw numbers, on the defensive boards. We have to hope that IU's excellent defensive turnover numbers are not fool's gold and will translate to this game. Most importantly, we need to get these guys into foul trouble, particularly Davis and Jones. Again, Calipari has used very little of his bench. Forcing little-used players into a game in such a hostile environment would be a good thing. IU has excelled at drawing fouls and getting to the line this year, and this is a game where that could make an enormous difference.
So, there it is. Will IU win? I don't know. Should IU win? No. Can IU win? Yes, and it doesn't take a crazy scenario to imagine it happening. It's important not to get down on the team if this one goes south. Any one of us would have taken an 8-1 record with 11 points as the closest margin of victory. Kentucky and a few other teams are playing a different game this year. Pomeroy rates this game as IU's fourth-toughest of the season. Only the two games against Ohio State and the trip to Wisconsin are more daunting based on Pom's formula. Still, this game presents a wonderful opportunity for Tom Crean and the Hoosiers. With the right breaks, it can happen.