Going into the NCAA tournament, where do we stand numbers wise compared to last season? Our record after 34 games is only one win better than the 2011 season, where we were 23-10 heading into the NCAA tournament – we were a 5 seed last season, if that is any guide, and we’ve actually played a tougher schedule this season (about a third of which was without Festus). So despite a better resume overall we were given the same placement as last season.
Note: I’m using a lot of Kenpom.com’s numbers, as they are a great snapshot of the team on a single page. You can get those numbers elsewhere (such as Statsheet) without a subscription, but you have to go across several pages to get the same information.
We have played this entire season at a much slower pace that we did last year – almost two possessions slower per game (65.5 to 67.3) – and as we moved into league play we were even slower, playing the average league game at around 63 possession (this is a B1G pace). On offense, we are currently ranked 17th in adjusted efficiency, which is pretty impressive considering the season that Festus has had.
But overall, our offense is very similar to last season, we’re just scoring less because we are playing games at a much slower pace.
On defense our adjusted efficiency has greatly improved, going from 88th last season to 31st right now. Looking at the raw numbers our defense actually looks amazingly similar to last season – we’ve allowed teams to shoot as accurately as they did last season, and grab about as many offensive rebounds while getting to the line at a similar rate. The main difference is our opponents turnovers have gone from “almost never” to “somewhat below average”. This uptick in turnovers forced has resulted in a defense that went from relatively porous to somewhat stingy.
The rest of the numbers on defensive are also very similar – we’ve allowed a similar number of threes per FGA and the scoring distribution is also nearly identical. It has to be stressed that these numbers are for the entire season and include 10 games without Festus, though in truth our defense wasn’t horrible without him. But it is interesting how this difference did not translate into extra wins – though we might have actually had a worse record this season in games decided by two possessions than we did last season – when we won, it was generally by double digits. The UK win was only the 2nd single digit win against SEC foes. We had 11 double digit victories against the SEC, and the 12th victory was a 9 point victory against UGA. OTOH all the losses were by single digits – in fact the only two double digit losses occurred early in the season without Festus.
Individually, the main difference from last season are the offensive ratings put up by Jeff Taylor and Festus Ezeli. Basically their efficiencies have swapped, as Jeff stepped up his offensive game tremendously while Festus took a step back as he struggled coming back from his multiple knee injuries. Brad, John and Lance are doing about what they did last season as are Rod and Steve. The main difference is that the minutes that went to Kyle Fuller last season are now going to Kedren Johnson, who has been far more effective in pretty much every offensive category despite struggling overall.
So while we are a similar team statistically, subtle differences on defense have made us a significantly better team. Our defense will be what sustains us – hopefully we continue what we started in New Orleans. Also anybody who has watched the team play this season knows that this is a significantly better defensive team even though the overall numbers look very similar. We see that John Jenkins and Lance Goulboune have stepped up their defensive games big time this season and both guards off the bench are better than the players they replace on defense. If Festus can somehow turn it on, we become very dangerous as he is currently playing well below his capabilities (the UK game notwithstanding).