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Statistically comparing Coach Cal’s first four UK teams

Numbers might not tell the whole story, but they also never lie in a sport like basketball.

Just from a pure curiosity standpoint, I decided to take a look at the season-ending numbers from John Calipari’s first four teams at Kentucky and see how they compare. Taking the most basic measures of a team – everything from scoring offense to field-goal percentage, blocked shots, etc. – I compared each team’s final statistics with one another.

If we can all agree that this year was Coach Cal’s least successful team at UK, would the numbers show it as well?

Take a look at the graph below.

Green indicates the best mark of the four teams
Red indicates the worst mark of the four teams
(National rankings are in parentheses)

  2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13
Scoring offense 79.3 (15) 74.9 (38) 77.4 (15) 72.6 (55)
Scoring defense 64.9( 81) 63.5 (54) 60.6 (25) 64.5 (116)
FG percentage 47.8 (17) 45.9 (59) 48.8 (9) 47.5 (16)
FG percentage defense 37.8 (3) 39.4 (15) 37.4 (1) 39.2 (31)
3-point field goals per game 6.1 (177) 7.4 (72) 5.6 (213) 5.6 (235)
3-point percentage 33.1 (209) 39.7 (9) 37.8 (37) 34.6 (136)
3-point percentage defense 31.3 (47) 32.4 (59) 31.8 (67) 32.4 (105)
FT percentage 66.8 (237) 71.0 (110) 72.3 (65) 64.2 (313)
Rebound margin +8.1 (4) +3.6 (60) +6.8 (12) +4.3 (49)
Steals per game 7.3 (102) 5.6 (259) 6.1 (215) 5.6 (272)
Blocks per game 7.2 (4) 6.3 (3) 8.6 (1) 6.6 (3)
Assists per game 15.1 (39) 12.7 (172) 13.3 (131) 13.4 (130)
Turnover margin -0.4 (204) +1.4 (87) +0.3 (166) -1.2 (255)
Assist/turnover margin 1.05 (97) 1.19 (52) 1.17 (42) 1.03 (129)

What did the graph tell us? A couple things.

First of all, that 2011-12 team with Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones was really, really good. Of the 14 statistical measures I used, the 2011-12 national championship team was the best of the four teams in six categories, not to mention it didn’t rank last in a single measure.

On the flip side, the 2012-13 team was the weakest of Coach Cal’s first four squads at UK in terms of numbers. This past year’s team ranked last among Calipari’s four teams in seven of the 14 categories while failing to beat out any of the other three teams in any of the measures.

Comparing stats from year to year isn’t exactly the best way to measure a team’s worth given that the competition is different from year to year, but looking at the national rankings for each year gives us some better insight.

The 2012-13 team is the only one of Calipari’s four teams to rank 200 or worse nationally in more than two of those 14 statistical measures above (four total), and it ranked in the top 100 of those categories the fewest of any team.

Just for comparison’s sake, the 2009-10 team ranked in the top 100 in nine of the categories, the 2010-11 team was top 100 in 11 measures, the 2011-12 team was top 100 in 10 categories and last year’s team was top 100 in only five measures.

An unintended but interesting result of the comparison was the consistency of Coach Cal’s teams. While 2012-13 was certainly the worst of the four years, just about all of Calipari’s four teams model each other in their strengths.

Every one of Calipari’s teams at UK have stressed defense (good defensive field-goal percentage numbers) that were built on strong interior presences (high blocked shots and rebounding margin numbers) rather than taking  defensive chances (low steal numbers). Also, they were all incredibly efficient on offense in terms of scoring numbers and field-goal percentage.

Ultimately, none of the comparisons are an exact science or explain this year’s problems, but they do help tell the story of this year’s struggles in a little more detail.

And for those of you who prefer numbers with a little more juice, consider Ken Pomeroy’s statistics below of the four teams. Again, while the numbers show patterns in the way Calipari’s teams play, 2012-13 was consistently the weakest of the four years and 2011-12 was consistently the strongest.

Green indicates the best mark of the four teams
Red indicates the worst mark of the four teams
(National rankings are in parentheses)

  2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13
Offensive efficiency 116.1 (15) 118.7 (7) 122.9 (2) 110.6 (33)
Defensive efficiency 86.3 (6) 90.4 (15) 88.2 (9) 95.2 (72)
Tempo 69.7 (65 65.9 (210) 66.2 (161) 66.7 (130)
Effective FG percentage 53.1 (32) 52.3 (41) 53.8 (14) 52.6 (37)
Effective FG percentage defense 43.1 (3) 44.2 (9) 42.0 (1) 43.9 (15)
Turnover percentage 20.3 (164) 16.1 (10) 17.0 (21) 19.4 (138)
Offensive rebound percentage 40.5 (5) 33.6 (127) 37.5 (21) 34.7 (74)
Defensive rebound percentage 68.8 (108) 70.5 (63) 69.2 (111) 68.8 (145)