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Never Before Has Parity Played This Role
| Says Sutton: 'I've Never Seen It Like This'
Several hours before his Wildcats were scheduled to tangle with Auburn, Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton sat outside his hotel room, glancing at the conference standings in USA Today. He was amazed with the print before his eyes.
Tourney-bound teams, plenty in this case, are on the verge of carrying double digit losses.
Cats' Pause Columnist
All of this with less than a month between the NCAA tournament and the Wildcats and 63 other teams' invitations.
"Parity in college basketball. . .I've never seen it like this before," said Sutton. "There are going to be teams get in the NCAA tournament, and it's happened before on occasions, that have got defeats in double figures." Examples?
"As far as independents, Notre Dame and DePaul have the best chance, yet both could end up being in double figures (losses)," he added. "In the Big Ten, Purdue and Michigan are 8-1 and 7-2 (conference play) 19-2 and 18-4 (overall) and then Iowa is 6-3 and 16-6. But these teams still have to play each other. Indiana is next at 5-4, 13-6. Ohio State is 5-5, 13-7. Illinois is 4-5, 14-8."
'My point is, here is the Big Ten which is probably going to get six teams in the NCAAs, five for sure, well, some of those teams will end up with losses in double figures." More examples?
"LOOK AT OUR LEAGUE," SUTTON SUGGESTED. "LSU, which is probably going to get into the NCAA Tournament, they're going to be in double figures. Auburn is
12-7 and they'll probably be in the NCAA. Let's turn to the Big Eight. There's Kansas
13- 8, they might not get in. Oklahoma (2 losses), K-State ( 5) and Missouri (5). . .that's what I mean when I say there's parity in college basketball."
Sutton, wanting to make sure I got the point, then instructed, "Let's look at the Big East and see what they've got.
'Pittsburgh and Villanova have six losses, Syracuse has five and Georgetown has six, St. John's six. They're all going to be in the NCAA Tournament and some of those teams may be in double figures."
Last season 24 teams entered NCAA play with 10 or more losses, compared to 21 with the same distinction in 1985-86. And if things keep going like they have so far then look for an increasing amount of double-digit losers in the 50th Anniversary of the NCAA tournament.
Now, try and pick four teams which will wind up in Kansas City. Just try. "I told the group over here (Auburn Tipoff Club) that if everybody in the room picked four teams to be in Kansas City, a very small percentage of them would have one right," said the UK coach. "I believe that.
"Certainly, you have some teams with a better chance of getting there. But when you look at team that has to win four games in two consecutive weekends I don't think anybody is a cinch to get to Kansas City."
Sutton's three keys in the tournament are rebounding, solid defense and smart play at the offensive end. To be one of the elite four, the third-year Wildcat coach is hoping his boys can excel in all three areas, providing intensity is a part of each.
SHOT SELECTION USED TO BE THE 'CATS' NO. 1 BUGABOO. Sutton notes the former problem has improved to his satisfaction. Meanwhile, another concern has risen to the top of Sutton's complaint list.
"We're looking to get better in all areas," he admitted. "If you're really going to pinpoint one area I'd like to see us improve it would be rebounding, especially defensive rebounding. We've been very good at times and we have been horrendous at times in the number of opportunities we've given other ballclubs on missed shots.
"Even the game we win against Ole Miss the other night (94-65) they get 21 offensive rebounds. But in the next game against Mississippi State they only have seven. Against Russia, which is the best rebounding ballclub we faced, we did a good job (nine offensive boards). We've done a good job at times but we've been inconsistent. I think it probably shows up more there than anywhere else."
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Numbers, if they could converse, would tell a coach a lot about his team. Obviously, at the end of a 40-minute session we know that if one bunch taillies more points than another group then we come to the conclusion of a winner and a loser. (Brilliant, Nick).
Well, to come up with a final score we must subject ourselves to more numbers. Get the picture?
For instance, let's weigh Kentucky's foul ratio to its opponents, say, through 19 games. The scales easily favor the teaiii l Blue. Did you know prior to UK's vicioiy af Auburn, the Wildcats had committed just 315 ......................
fouls compared to 411 by the opposition? Only in the 53-52 loss to Auburn in Lexington were the 'Cats guilty of more personal fouls (15 to 11).
So, if that's the case, then Kentucky must be shooting more free throws than its opposition.
Albeit man-to-man defense is Eddie Sutton's bread-n-butter, the Wildcats, however, committed less fouls, thus, outshooting the opposition 492 to 296 from the charity stripe. While in one year the 'Cats, 16-3 at this writing, had made great strides from the line (386 of 492 for 78.5 percent). The amount of freebies helped, too.
You then ask, 'Doesn't UK shoot more free throws, especially toward the end of the ballgame, because the other team has to play catch-up?'
Yes and no.
In the first stanza of 19 games, the Wildcats fired 219 attempts while opponents have combined for 119 tries. Hawaii (14 to 11) and Mississippi State (at Starkville, three to two) were the only teams to shoot more free throws than the Wildcats in the first 20 minutes.
BOTH INDIANA AND NOTRE DAME shot the same amount as the 'Cats in the first half of their respective meetings. Next, you'll probably want to know how the numbers, in relation to fouls, stack up on
Since Kentucky faced Indiana (at Indianapolis) and Georgia (at Atlanta) on different courts other than their home gyms we'll strike those two games from this category.
Jaunts to Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge, Nashville and Starkville, through the heart of the Southeastern Conference, paved way to three UK wins and one defeat. In those four 'true' road encounters, the numbers again favored the 'Cats.
Inside Improvement Has Given Eddie's Club Advantage At Stripe
The Crimson Tide, Tigers, Commodores and Bulldogs combined for only 49 attempts. Yes, that's a small amount compared to the 'Cats, who were credited with 107 tries.
How 'bout at halftime? Try 35 free throws by the Wildcats compared to 19 by the home team.
Overall, do these numbers reveal anything? Probably.
"We've made the players very conscious about not fouling as much," said Sutton. "I'm not so sure that at times that hasn't hurt us a little bit because we're maybe not as aggressive as we need to be.
"One reason we're shooting more free throws is that we're jamming the ball inside better and maybe we're driving with the ball better. The way to get fouled is by either to get the ball inside or penetrate.
"If you're a perimeter shooting ballclub then you're not going to get fouled very much. Last year we were pretty much a perimeter shooting ballclub."
Let's look back at last season's statistics. By gosh, the UK coach's assumption is correct. The 1986-87 Wildcats committed 531 fouls, just one less than the cumulative mark set by the 27 opponents. From the charity stripe? Kentucky 509 attempts, Opponents 545. Of course, hampered with a 62.7 percent accuracy from the stripe UK lost plenty of bonus opportunities.
Through 19 games Kentucky had improved to 78.5 percent (386 of 492). More free throws, along with a nice touch, mean more points. And we already know what that can do for a club.
Discussed ir the outset, a coach can learn a variety of things by looking at statistics. So. . .improvement in UK's inside game has caused more attention underneath, giving its guards more space to operate. Meaning? A balanced attack.
If numbers ccnld talk that's what they might be telling us:-'