Hacker's First Law of Roundball

All Wildcat fans fancy themselves experts on the game of basketball. I am no exception. That said 50 years playing the game and of listening, watching live and watching on TV the winningest team in history does I think, qualify one at least an educated ,amateur expert. Some things about this team are so obvious they are overlooked. In other areas the stats tell an interesting story.

Kentucky’s problems this year are not – despite CBG’s assertions - toughness or defensive rebounding. Nor is want of talent the issue. The turnover problem, while troublesome is merely symptomatic of the coaching style employed by coach G. That we lack talent when possessing a lottery pick center and a guard who makes 44% of his threes and is the fourth leading scorer in America is akin to bemoaning that one’s ten-thousand square foot home has only eight bedrooms.

First the obvious, basketball teams make turnovers for three primary reasons, timidity with the ball, inability to make jump-shots [which increases timidity] and lack of unit cohesiveness.

With the exception of Jodie Meeks and Pat Patterson, no Wildcat player appears offensively aggressive or seems comfortable with the basketball. In the case of Darius Miller, it is painful to watch him start and stop, start and stop and then pass up an open jumper for a bad pass.

With three of the five players on the floor routinely passing up open shots early and midway through the shot clock opponents are able to surround Patterson and face guard Meeks. As the clock approaches zero, passes [and individual offensive efforts] become panicked and forced, resulting in miscues. The plain reason UK commits so many errors is so obvious it goes without scrutiny. Efficient, crisp, offense requires cohesiveness and hopefully a bit of chemistry, cohesiveness alone though is sufficient to limit turnovers to a manageable number. Gillispie’s purposely-erratic substitutions, two minute playing stints and practice of “disappearing” players for games at a time categorically precludes any sort of unit cohesion and obliterates the chance of team chemistry. The ‘system” breeds uncertainty, indecision and constant “bench checking” by players on the court. These are qualities that demand large numbers of mistakes.

Too many turnovers is an easy target for blame in losses. However, turnovers are only one factor – and not the greatest – limiting this team to mediocrity. For a long time I have instinctively suspected that [despite coaches’ reflexive denials] the 3pt shot is the most important element in the game. I posit the secret to winning college basketball games is “make the 3 – stop the 3”. The value of a good big man is as a rebounder and inside scoring threat requiring “double downs” to open up the perimeter. Even PPat is not strong enough [too little time for enough 2’s] to carry the team without outside help.

After the S. Carolina game, I did a little statistical analysis of the season so far. Kentucky has only one player making at least one 3pt field goal per game. By contrast, every team in the current top five has at least three and two have four players. In the sixteen wins, this year UK makes on average seven 3pt shots in 16 attempts while opponents go six for 19. In its six losses, Kentucky has averaged only four 3pt goals in 17 tries. Winning opponents are making nearly 10 in 22. When losing the Wildcats give up four more 3’s on three more attempts than when winning. In losing vs winning efforts UK is making three less per game on the same number of shots. For the season Kentucky commits an average 18 turnovers a game, 21 in the losses. Only in the S. Carolina game was rebounding [offensive or defensive] a statistical factor. In fact UK out-rebounded all six opponents.

Summarizing, in the six losing games the ‘Cats have scored on average three less 3pt goals, and given up four more per game than when winning, an astonishing negative 21 point per game turnaround. Clearly this stat explains the difference in winning and losing for UK this year. Soon I will undertake a more exhaustive analysis of this phenomenon including the perennial top teams. If this investigation supports my premise as well as the current data does the “make the 3 – stop the 3” hypothesis must soon become Hacker’s First Law of Roundball.

If I am correct, employing a stubborn coach who values “length”, athleticism and head games over unit cohesiveness and making and defending the three does not bode well for UK, which may well be bearing down on its fifth straight 10 loss season.