How Kentucky’s Reboot Changed the Season

For much of this season UK fans lamented the lack of defense that the Wildcats played.  After getting blown out at Florida Calipari said that the Cats were going to reboot.  It is now clear that the biggest part of the reboot was in regards to defense.  In the first 24 games Kentucky gave up an average of 74.33 points per game and that includes some low scores against inferior competition in the pre-conference schedule.  Over the last 12 games the Wildcats have gotten very stingy on defense by allowing just 65.17 points per game.  Somehow this massive transformation has flown under the radar of many fans and members of the national media.  Kentucky now has the 8th ranked adjusted defensive efficiency according to the calculations by Ken Pomeroy on kenpom.com.  Since Pomeroy began his ratings system in 2002 the lowest ranked defensive efficiency to win a national championship is 21st when North Carolina won it in 2009.  In all other seasons each champion ended the year 15th or higher in defensive efficiency.  What these numbers show is that you have to at least be a very good defensive team to win a championship.  John Calipari knows a thing or two about winning basketball games in March and that is why he knew he had to change how this team played.

Sure a high-powered run and gun offense gets the fans excited but only if wins come with them.  To win the games that really matter you have to be able to get some key defensive stops.  Earlier in the season the Cats could not get that done.  A large part of it was simply due to having a young roster that had never played elite defense.  The freshmen are beginning to learn how to use their length and athleticism to their advantage on defense.  On top of that Derek Willis has begun to rebound and play defense as if the season depends on it.  Add in the increased minutes for Dominique Hawkins and Kentucky has become a team that is hard to score against.

A large reason for the success that Cal has had in tournament play over the years is that he develops teams that know how to grind out wins.  All of the grind it out style teams in the SEC have helped the Cats prepare for this time of the season.  At his core John Calipari likes to play a short rotation, play great defense, and grind out wins in the trenches.  Every roster is different and he has often adapted his style to fit his roster but those core things usually show up late in the season.  The rotation is Bam, Fox, Monk, Willis, Briscoe, and Hawkins with Gabriel, Mulder and Humphries getting a small number of minutes to rest the key players.  Of course foul trouble and other factors can force him to change the rotation from game to game but he wants those 6 guys on the floor as much as possible.  The defense continues to improve and there is no doubt that Cal will spend much of this week working with the Cats on that end of the floor in preparation for UCLA.  The Cats will welcome the chance to score in the open court a bit against the up tempo Bruins but when that is not an option look for Kentucky to be fairly deliberate when in their halfcourt offense.  Cal wants to see if UCLA knows how to win a grinder.

Call it a reboot, a tweak, or whatever you want but John Calipari is once again proving that he knows the right strings to pull to get his team to peak in March.  So for the sake of all things that are good, can people please stop freaking out in January and February?!?  Also can those same people stop declaring the team may not lose a game after they dominate their first couple games of the season??!!  Just enjoy the ride and you will not end up with egg on yourself multiple times throughout the season.  As for now figure out a way to get in that arena on Friday night in Memphis because the Cats could use your support and it will be a game to remember for years to come.

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