No. 1 Kentucky Vs. No. 8 Florida: Wildcats Face Toughest Test Of 2012

Top-ranked Kentucky hasn't faced a ranked opponent since New Year's Eve, but that changes Tuesday night when No. 8 Florida comes to Rupp Arena.

College basketball's Rivalry Week™ features all sorts of different matchups -- battles for conference titles, NCAA tournament eligibility, etc. Technically Florida could tie Kentucky in the loss column with a win tonight at Rupp Arena, but that is at least reasonably unlikely. (Ken Pomeroy currently gives the Wildcats an 85-percent chance of winning.) Instead, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of tonight's game will be watching Florida probe Kentucky for weaknesses. Despite extreme youth, Kentucky currently looks like the most well-rounded team in the country; they have lost just once and played only two other games decided by six points or less, and as March approaches, it seems a pretty good time to figure out what, and who, might be capable of knocking off the Wildcats when it counts the most.

Florida Gators (19-4) at Kentucky Wildcats (23-1)


UF
Opp. UK
Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions)
66.6
66.8
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.20
0.98
1.19
0.88
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.36
1.14
1.38
0.99
2-PT FG% 52.8%
45.7%
52.8%
37.6%
3-PT FG% 40.2%
34.0%
36.9%
31.6%
FT% 68.4%
70.2%
71.6%
67.8%
True Shooting % 59.0%
50.9%
58.0%
44.2%






UF Opp. UK Opp.
Assists/Gm 16.3
12.0
13.3
10.3
Steals/Gm 7.2
5.1
6.7
5.6
Turnovers/Gm 11.0
14.0
12.1
13.1
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
2.13
1.21
1.65
1.21






UF Opp. UK Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 11.9
12.4
11.5
14.2
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 11.9
10.8
12.8
12.1
Difference +0.0
-1.6
+1.3
-2.1
Net Rebounds/Gm
+1.6
+3.4

Kentucky coach John Calipari plays a relatively dangerous game, aiming to pull in the absolute most young talent possible each year, losing most of it to the NBA, then bringing in a fresh new batch the next year. In 2009-10, the Wildcats were led by freshmen DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Eric Bledsoe. In 2010-11, it was Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones. This year, it is Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague. While other schools follow cycles of experience, Calipari just presses the reset button each winter. And though he has yet to bring a national title to Lexington following this recipe, it is difficult to argue with the record; in the three years referenced above (2009-12), the Wildcats have won 87 games and lost just 13.

This year's top two UK freshmen are big and (of course) talented, and the Wildcats' identity has followed suit. They are a strong rebounding team, and thanks to Davis, they are the No. 1 shot-blocking team in the country. To beat them, you probably have to catch fire from long-range and battle incredibly hard on the glass; so far, only Indiana (9-for-15 on 3-pointers, 12 offensive rebounds) has managed to pull off that feat.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

UF Offense vs UK Defense Ranks

UF Offense UK Defense Advantage
Efficiency 2
7
Push
Effective FG% 4
2
Push
Turnover % 9
229
UF Big
Off. Reb. % 96
77
Push
FTA/FGA 223
9
UK Big
UK Offense vs UF Defense Ranks

UK Offense UF Defense Advantage
Efficiency 4
100
UK
Effective FG% 32
114
UK
Turnover % 38
158
UK Big
Off. Reb. % 20
105
UK
FTA/FGA 29
20
Push

Top Five Players

  • Florida
    Kenny Boynton (6'2, 189, Jr.) -- 31.5 MPG, 17.6 PPG (53% 2PT, 44% 3PT), 2.8 APG
    Bradley Beal (6'3, 207, Fr.) -- 33.4 MPG, 14.3 PPG (53% 2PT, 35% 3PT), 6.1 RPG
    Erving Walker (5'8, 177, Sr.) -- 30.7 MPG, 12.6 PPG (44% 2PT, 39% 3PT), 5.1 APG, 2.9 RPG
    Patric Young (6'9, 247, So.) -- 25.9 MPG, 10.7 PPG (62% 2PT), 6.5 RPG
    Erik Murphy (6'10, 230, Jr.) -- 24.6 MPG, 10.2 PPG (55% 2PT, 46% 3PT), 4.2 RPG
  • Kentucky
    Anthony Davis (6'10, 220, Fr.) -- 30.7 MPG, 13.9 PPG (69% 2PT), 10.1 RPG, 4.8 BPG
    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (6'7, 232, Fr.) -- 31.0 MPG, 12.6 PPG (52% 2PT, 29% 3PT), 7.5 RPG
    Terrence Jones (6'9, 252, So.) -- 28.6 MPG, 12.5 PPG (52% 2PT, 37% 3PT), 6.4 RPG
    Doron Lamb (6'4, 210, So.) -- 30.3 MPG, 13.5 PPG (46% 2PT, 48% 3PT), 3.3 RPG
    Darius Miller (6'8, 235, Sr.) -- 25.5 MPG, 10.0 PPG (57% 2PT, 38% 3PT), 2.9 RPG

Florida's Biggest Advantages

Kentucky is only solid on the perimeter, not fantastic. They do still rank 58th in Def. 3PT%, but they struggle to force turnovers. Florida, meanwhile, is incredibly efficient on offense, in part because they never turn the ball over. Ball control is an aspect the Gators will absolutely have to exploit if they are to steal the upset in Lexington. If they can control the ball, they may be able to generate some open looks from long-range. They rank 11th in the country in Off. 3PT%, and they are sixth in the country in 3-point attempts per field goal attempt. That is good versus Kentucky, against whom it is semi-pointless to shoot too close to the basket unless you are simply interested in padding Davis' block stats.

The Gators have made 40.2 percent of their 3-pointers on the year, and the shots can come from as many as five different primary contributors. Erik Murphy (46.1 percent), Kenny Boynton (43.8 percent), Erving Walker (39.3 percent), Mike Rosario (39.0 percent) and freshman Bradley Beal (34.5 percent) have all taken at least 76 3-balls this season, and four of the five have made a beautifully high percentage of them. If the shots are falling, Florida will stick around. If they aren't, however, it is unlikely the Gators will get a ton of second chances.

Kentucky's Biggest Advantages

As would be expected from the No. 1 team in the country, Kentucky has quite a few advantages of which they should be able to exploit. They do a beautiful job of playing stellar FG% defense without fouling, and the jump-shooting Gators don't draw fouls very well. Without any free points of which to speak, they should be able to make the Gators completely one-dimensional on offense. And their well-rounded offense (Top 40 in all of the categories listed above) should be able to poke plenty of holes in an iffy Gator defense.

From the perspective of Usage Rates, Kentucky has a balanced (almost too balanced) offense. Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist dominate the most possessions of any starter, and Kyle Wiltjer (5.9 PPG) is a boost off of the bench, but Calipari's Dribble Drive offense doesn't exactly produce massive quantities of assists, seemingly relying mostly on either baskets by the man doing the driving, or offensive rebound opportunities. If Florida can stay in front of Kentucky's guards on offense, they might be able to slow the Wildcats down a bit, but that goes for everybody Kentucky has played this year, and almost nobody has actually stopped them with any regularity.

Florida's Season to Date

  • Wins Versus Top 200 (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    No. 17 Florida State, 82-64
    No. 31 Vanderbilt, 73-65
    No. 36 Arizona, 78-72 (OT)
    No. 70 Mississippi State, 69-57
    No. 89 LSU, 76-64
    at No. 104 Ole Miss, 64-60
    vs No. 109 Texas A&M, 84-64
    No. 136 South Carolina, 74-66
    at No. 136 South Carolina, 79-65
    No. 150 UAB, 79-61
    No. 152 Georgia, 70-48
    No. 180 Yale, 90-70
    No. 187 North Florida, 91-55
  • Losses
    at No. 1 Ohio State, 74-81
    at No. 6 Syracuse, 68-72
    at No. 101 Rutgers, 83-85 (2OT)
    at No. 105 Tennessee, 56-67

The Gators have repelled all visitors to Gainesville this season, but they have been confusing on the road. They stayed within seven points of Ohio State in Columbus and nearly knocked off Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, but their slip-ups to Rutgers and Tennessee were a bit alarming. The rims in Knoxville were unkind (Florida shot 36 percent from the field, 32 percent on 3-pointers) and revealed the downside to reliance on jump shots. If you find your shooting rhythm, you can hang with anybody. And if you don't, then you might not have a reliable Plan B. Of course, that was a month ago, and the Gators haven't lost since then.

Kentucky's Season to Date

  • Wins Versus Top 200
    vs No. 3 Kansas, 75-65
    No. 8 North Carolina, 73-72
    No. 24 Alabama, 77-71
    No. 75 Arkansas, 86-63
    at No. 89 LSU, 74-50
    No. 105 Tennessee, 69-44
    at No. 105 Tennessee, 65-62
    No. 112 Lamar, 86-64
    vs No. 114 Old Dominion, 62-52
    No. 116 Loyola (Md.), 87-63
    vs No. 130 Penn State, 85-47
    at No. 136 South Carolina, 86-52
    No. 136 South Carolina, 79-64
    No. 140 St. John's, 81-59
    at No. 152 Georgia, 57-44
    at No. 162 Auburn, 68-53
    vs No. 189 Arkansas-Little Rock, 73-51
  • Losses
    at No. 9 Indiana, 72-73

Granted, the Wildcats have only played one truly strong team on the road (Indiana), and they lost that game, but they have still passed almost every test offered to them so far, and ... well, this game isn't on the road. It is in Lexington, where they have already taken out North Carolina and Alabama.

Keys to the Game

  1. The 3-Pointer. Obviously. If Florida is nailing 40-50 percent of their 3-pointers, they will be in this game until the end. Make 30 percent, and things will get out of hand by halftime.

  2. Force The Pass. Kentucky averages just 13.3 assists per game and ranks 292nd in Assists Per Field Goal Made; they are a one-on-one team, either through driving or posting up. It will be imperative for Florida defenders to hold their ground and force passes or longer jumpers. If Kentucky is successfully attacking the rim either from inside (Kidd-Gilchrist, Jones) or out (Lamb), then because of both their scoring and offensive rebounding ability, they will score at will.

  3. Young And Murphy. Florida will live and die by the 3-pointer, but they will need to get something from their primary bigs, Patric Young and Erik Murphy, be it blocked shots (they combine to average 2.3 per game), sturdy post defense or some putbacks. Kentucky is good but not impenetrable on the defensive glass, and if Young and Murphy are pulling in some missed 3-pointers, that's one more way to keep up.

Prediction

Pomeroy's projection says Kentucky 79, Florida 67. I think Florida can find some open 3's against the Wildcats, however, and if they do, they'll stick around. They won't win, but they can post a single-digit showing at the very least. I'll say Kentucky 82, Florida 75.

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