It’s good to be the king.
For those that follow my commenting, you’ll know that in addition to being a Texas alum, I’m a diehard Kentucky supporter. So damn, it’s nice to see my two teams on top of the world. Now that I’ve gotten over my weeklong depression from the events of January 7 (coupled with PB’s inability to churn out posts at his normal rate), I thought it would be a nice time to compare and contrast the two remaining D-1 unbeatens (Venn diagrams sold separately). Thus, I present my informal Texas Basketball Report.
First, a rundown of the major players and who I’d pick if I could.
On its face, the two players couldn’t have started their careers any differently. Patrick Patterson was long recruited by Tubby Smith, and picked Kentucky because of (in spite of?) Billy Gillispie’s last minute persuading. Damion James committed to Texas only after the
Ralph Kelvin Sampson scandal broke at OU. Patterson long dreamed of getting his college degree; Damion thought he’d be one and done. Their first few seasons couldn’t have gone more differently. While James assisted future lottery picks Kevin Durant and DJ Augustin to numerous post-season games, Patterson’s best teammate has been Jodie Meeks, a second round draft pick. Patterson has also never played in the NCAA tournament.
This season has thus far been lights out for both. James, finally comfortable with being the first option, is humming along at the double-double rate of 17/11. Patterson, finally able to be a Tonto rather than a Lone Ranger, has a very efficient 16/8 (63% from the field).
At the beginning of the season, I would have taken Patterson, no question. And while he’s improved his game (see his development with the 3 point shot and baseline J), James is in a whole ‘nother stratosphere. Give me JAMES on this one.
The running theme throughout the year has been that John Wall is the consensus POY, while Bradley has struggled to live up to his ESPN #1 ranking. No more. Bradley has very quietly upped his scoring while shooting lights out. Wall, meanwhile, has come back down to Earth (if only slightly—he’s still rather otherworldly). Still, Wall’s 17 PPG and 7 APG rank third and first in the SEC. I made the comment over at BC that "Bradley is fundamentally sound on offensive spacing, beautiful J, and tenacious D. John Wall is visually spectacular and makes about 5 "did you see that?!?" plays per game; he also makes about 5 boneheaded plays per game. Bradley seems to do neither–he’s just consistently solid." I’ll stick with that statement. Still, if you’re asking me to pick a player for the win, I’m going in guns blazing with WALL, no ifs, ands, or buts.
The BIG man: Dexter Pittman vs. DeMarcus Cousins
Pittman’s taken four years to get to where Cousins is right now. They’re both big, strong, agile, and dunk the ball pretty spectacularly. While Dex is often perceived as the gentle giant, Cousins gets labeled as immature with an attitude problem. Stats don’t lie, though. In 20 mpg, Pittman is averaging a 13/7 (72% from the field, though!). Cousins, likewise, is at 20 mpg, but pours in 15/9. Cousins has grown increasingly confident as the season progresses, and he’ll be scary good come tournament time. I love me some Sexy Dexy, but I’ll bet COUSINS runs circles around Dex.
I’m throwing J’Covan and Jai to form a super-hybrid here: the scoring creator that Barnes missed badly last year. Both stretch the floor and provide adequate ball-handling. J’Covan’s biggest plus is his ace FT%, sitting at 95%, although his recent rash of TO’s don’t help (1:1.3 AST:TO). Lucas is, well, small. J’Covan gets the pub for his long range but is currently sitting at 29%, while Lucas (small sample size) sits at 60%. Eric Bledsoe’s numbers are solid at 11/3/3, but he’s been capable of taking over a game (see: Florida). Can we count on Brown or Lucas to do that? Haven't seen it yet. So for now, BLEDSOE.
The enigma: Jordan Hamilton vs. Darius Miller
Miller was hyped up all off-season as being the perfect swingman for Calipari’s DDMO; in fact, he was supposed to gain a world of confidence for his play on Team USA. In Texas’ recruiting class, Bradley had the fundamentals, but Hamilton had the all-world talent. Both have thus far disappointed to date: Hamilton from over-confidence, Miller from a lack of confidence, and both for poor defense. Both have been shaky shooting (Hamilton at 40% and 37% from 3, Miller at 43% from both), but HAMILTON’s superior rebounding + passing skills but his otherworldly potential make selecting him a no-brainer.
Just wanted to give a quick plug to these two players. Both came in lightly recruited: Mason was the ffourth best player on a star-studded class; Ramon Harris joined the team in mid-season from Alaska, of all places. Yet both have done an amazing job of being team players and providing hustle plays when needed. Being a homer, I’ll take MASON.
The X-factor: Doge Balbay vs. Darnell Dodson
I didn’t really have a good place to stick these two, so let’s just call them the X-factors. PB loves the Doge, as do I. In a Kentucky vs. Texas matchup, I see Rick having Balbay stick to Wall like glue. His 2.8:1 AST:TO ratio and All-NBA D are stellar, but his utter inability to shoot is not. Dodson, meanwhile, has a silky smooth shot. He’s far bigger than any of Texas’ guards, and trying to stick Damion or Hamilton on him would be just unfair. Still, there’s a reason Doge is a starter (and a reason why PB gives him serious guy love. BALBAY all the way.
Including Johnson on this list is probably unfair; he may be Texas’ fourth or fifth best player. His inclusion alone points me to TEXAS.
As you can see, the two teams match up well. Let’s run through some stats:
Adjusted Ken Pom Efficiency Stats:
Tempo/Pace. Texas 76.5 (5) / Kentucky 70.7 (71)
Offensive Efficiency. Texas 116.1 (14) / Kentucky 117.2 (10)
Defensive Efficiency. Texas 84.5 (5) / Kentucky 90.6 (37)
Raw Four Factors (Offense):
Effective FG%. Texas 55.0 (15) / Kentucky 55.2 (14)
TO%. Texas 18.5 (59) / Kentucky 21.0 (173)
Off Rebounding%. Texas 40.3 (15) / Kentucky 38.3 (32)
FTA/FGA. Texas 42.4 (69) / Kentucky 40.3 (102)
Raw Four Factors (Defense):
Effective FG%. Texas 41.3 (5) / Kentucky 44.7 (48)
TO%. Texas 22.8 (78) / Kentucky 21.0 (161)
Off Rebounding%. Texas 29.3 (48) / Kentucky 30.7 (89)
FTA/FGA. Texas 30.9 (52) / Kentucky 27.1 (16)
I know, it’s a pipe dream right now, but I thought I’d do it anyway.
How Texas can Stop Kentucky
1. Stop John Wall. Simple, right? Texas can do this better than most. Barnes will more than likely start with Balbay, but even behind him, Barnes can use Mason and, dare I dream it, Bradley. Stopping Wall is a pipe dream anyway; what I really mean is contain Wall. As in, Kentucky has a problem with turnovers. Limit Wall’s penetration and turn him into a jump shooter, and, whenever possible, make Bledsoe the primary ballhandler.
2. Pound the glass. Kentucky has some skilled big men up front, but so does Texas. Look at those offensive rebounding percentages. We’ve seen Texas bludgeon teams on the glass, and there’s no reason why they can’t do it against Kentucky. Patterson, as big as he is, likes to play in the mid-range. Cousins is talented but raw. The guards like to run. Use the offensive boards to your advantage.
3. Slow the tempo. I know, this is counter-intuitive from the numbers, and even from performance. It’s just a gut feeling. Texas loves to run and hates the half court sets. But John Wall goes up and down the court faster than humanly possible. He’ll take a running game any day of the week and twice on Sundays.
How Kentucky can Stop Texas
1. Sag and zone. If Barnes is going to keep stubbornly playing Doge and Mason (which he might have to going up against Wall and Bledsoe), you’ll see a lot of inside help to preserve Cousins’ and Patterson’s fouls. See: Iowa State. If Texas counters with Brown or Lucas, Wall may have a field day. That’s a positive in Kentucky’s favor.
2. Make it a 3 point game. Force Texas to shoot three’s, and they’re a lot less efficient. Kentucky shoots 39% from long distance; Texas shoots 35%. Plus, long shots mean long rebounds, and we already covered how good Wall is coast to coast.
3. Depth to foul. Free throw shooting (like Kentucky’s turnovers) is Texas’ Achilles heel. Available bodies (like Texas’ depth) is one of Kentucky’s strengths. Take advantage and send Texas to the line. Besides Brown, Texas has no ball-handlers it trusts to shoot free throws. So play smothering on-ball defense, prevent the easy entry to Dex, and don’t be afraid to get some hands in there.
These are two of the best teams (if not the two best teams) in the nation. While it’s early yet, I would love to see these two go head-to-head. And yes, I realize I just jinxed both into getting their first losses. Whatever, it builds character.
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