Kentucky basketball seems to be back to the point where it’s fun to think about where they belong in the national standings. I know I feel like UK can be competitive with almost anybody, and over the coming weeks, I believe that Kentucky’s rankings will begin to reflect that.
By far the most visible national rankings are those that appear on the ESPN Bottom Line and in the newspapers: the ESPN/USA Today and AP Polls. With UK and Jodie Meeks occupying center stage nationally after the mid-week shellacking of Tennessee on the road, there seemed to be some momentum behind the notion that the ‘Cats would enter these two rankings today after receiving no votes the previous week. It proved to be too big of a leap, though, as UK came in at 28th in the AP Poll and 34th in the Coaches Poll.
Now, there certainly is a case to be made for UK to be included in each of these rankings, but honestly, does it really matter? I don’t think I could name 25 (or maybe even 10 or 15) teams that I would say are “better” than this edition of the Kentucky Wildcats, but I, unlike a lot of UK fans, really don’t care if we are nationally recognized, at least not yet. Over the next two weeks, UK plays four very winnable games, and if they win those, they will be 18-4, they will have won 18 of 20 games, and they will be 7-0 in the SEC. UK will not be able to be ignored at that point. Until then, I say “let the pollsters rank us where they may”. It won’t do anything but give UK an extra chip on their shoulder and another piece of motivation. Besides, if you think that the Selection Committee is failing to take notice of UK just because a few writers and coaches are, you are sorely mistaken.
There are two non-subjective rankings that I pay attention to, and I pay attention to the two for very different reasons. The first is the RPI. I don’t see the RPI as any kind of judge of the way UK or any other team is playing, but unfortunately, they matter to the people who tell UK where and who they play come Selection Sunday. The bad news regarding the RPI is that UK comes in at only 57th right now (right behind Boise State and Evansville, really?), the good news is that UK’s standing has been trending upward in these rankings since the loss to VMI (according to RealTimeRPI.com).
UK won’t play a team rated higher than 26th in the RPI the rest of the way (Florida twice), but if UK plays the way I think they will the rest of the way, I see the ‘Cats moving to around 25th-35th in the RPI. If UK can get to this level with 26-28 wins after the SEC Tournament (I don’t think 30 wins is out of the question, and wow is that fun to write), I would think UK’s seed would fall around 3-5, and in this position, I really like their chances to advance in March. All I know is that it would be really nice to be out of the 8-11 range.
The other set of rankings that I look to is Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. If you don’t already consult these ratings to judge where UK stands in relation to the rest of the county, you need to start. The application of statistics to sports is something that you pretty much can’t avoid anymore. From Moneyball to Jon Hollinger’s PER, stat nerds are taking a more and more prominent place in the world of sports, and the counterpart in college basketball is Ken Pomeroy ((http://kenpom.com/blog/).
He looks at basketball from a perspective of offensive and defensive efficiency, judging each based on the amount of points allowed or scored per 100 possessions (do you think it’s a coincidence that Dino Gaudio, the coach of #1 Wake Forest, is a KenPom disciple?).
I don’t know if Billy Gillispie pays any attention to these ratings, but his Kentucky team certainly plays like he does. Thus far, UK scores 111.2 points per 100 possessions on offense (35th in the country) and allows only 87.7 points per 100 possessions on defense (15th in the country)-note: both are adjusted for strength of opponents, the site of the game, and when it took place (recent games are more heavily weighted). Pomeroy averages the two, and UK’s national ranking comes out at 19, significantly higher than their standing in the human polls and the RPI.
What should this tell you? I think you should conclude that there is a pretty good chance that UK is going to play well the rest of the SEC season, and that their rankings in the RPI and human should keep going up.
Another cool feature of Pomeroy’s ratings (and there are plenty) is the scouting report it does for each team (here’s UK’s). It breaks down individual efficiency for each player as well as some additional team stats, and even predicts outcomes of future games based on the ratings and home court advantage. In case you were wondering, UK is forecasted to win all but one of their remaining games in conference (last game of the season @Florida, and even that game Pomeroy gives UK a 50/50 shot at winning).
Say all you want about the SEC being down, but a 15-1 conference record would speak for itself in my mind. I’m not saying that this is going to happen, but what I am saying is that there will not be one game the rest of the season that I will not expect Kentucky to win and be disappointed if they do not.
Kentucky is much more than Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks. They are team that plays smart offense (and getting smarter as they take care of the ball better) and stellar defense. There is a lot of work to be done and improvement to be made, but I am really, REALLY excited about this team. Getting presumptuous is dangerous, but I think we have reason to be excited.