Kentucky’s Loss to Seton Hall Leaves Wildcats With Significant Work to do in Non-Conference Schedule

    Kentucky freshman Keldon Johnson's buzzer-beating heave forced overtime against Seton Hall on Saturday but the Wildcats had their seven-game winning

    December 8, 2018

    Kentucky freshman Keldon Johnson’s buzzer-beating heave forced overtime against Seton Hall on Saturday but the Wildcats had their seven-game winning streak snapped after the extra five-minute period in an 84-83 loss at Madison Square Garden. Seton Hall’s Myles Cale hit the game-winning 3-pointer with nine seconds left and Johnson’s second attempt at another buzzer-beating three fell short. It was a fitting end for a Kentucky team that has struggled shooting behind, and defending, the three-point line this season.

    The Wildcats have now lost to the two best teams they’ve played — Duke and Seton Hall. Both games were played on a neutral floor and they’re the only games Kentucky has played away from home so far this season.

    The month-long stretch between Kentucky’s season-opening loss to Duke on November 6 and its latest defeat on December 8 featured seven home wins. None came against surefire NCAA tournament teams. Its best win this season was either Southern Illinois or UNC Greensboro, depending on which team finishes the season stronger. The four other victories came against teams ranked worse than No. 275 on kenpom.com.

    Kentucky’s opportunities for marquee non-conference wins aren’t over but it only has four non-conference games left, meaning there’s significant urgency for the Wildcats to add wins to their resume that will positively impact their seeding in March.

    They don’t play for another week, when they host Utah on Saturday. But the Utes (4-4) are ranked No. 127 on kenpom.com and a win over Utah might carry less weight than Kentucky’s wins over Southern Illinois and UNC Greensboro.

    After that, Kentucky will face North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic followed by a trip to Louisville on December 29.

    Kentucky’s final — and biggest — remaining non-conference game is at home against Kansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on January 26.

    The Wildcats are projected to lose to Louisville, North Carolina and Kansas, according to kenpom.com. If that happens, Kentucky wouldn’t have a marquee non-conference win or a single win away from home before it enters conference play in an improved SEC that currently has six teams ranked in the top 50 on kenpom.com and 12 in the top 100.

    The SEC provides opportunities for wins that would go down in the “Good Wins” column on television screens in March but about half of the teams in the conference are as good as, if not better than, Seton Hall. That means more losses could come too, and potentially with some regularity if Kentucky doesn’t make improvements.

    As referenced earlier, the Wildcats’ biggest ailments are related to their 3-point shooting and 3-point defense. They’re quite literally average in three-point shooting (34 percent, which ranks 172 out of 353 Division I teams) and they’re among the 25 worst teams nationally at defending the three-point line. Kentucky’s opponents are shooting 40 percent from outside.

    Sophomore guard Quade Green is the team’s only consistent 3-point threat in terms of both percentage and volume. He’s 11-of-26 (42.3 percent) this season. PJ Washington (8-of-15, 53.3 percent) has been accurate from behind the arc but he’s averaging slightly less than one attempt per game.

    Tyler Herro (12-of-44, 27.3 percent), Keldon Johnson (8-of-25, 32 percent) and Immanuel Quickley (6-of-21, 28.6 percent) are willing, but inconsistent, outside shooters.

    Just 19.8 percent of Kentucky’s points have come from 3s. That ranks 343rd in the country.

    In six of Kentucky’s nine games, its opponents have made more threes and made them at a higher percentage. There has been a complete overlap in terms of games in which its opponents made at least 10 threes and games in which its opponents shot at least 40 percent from behind the arc.

    Here’s the full breakdown of Kentucky’s three-point shooting compared to its opponents this season.

    Opponent Opponent’s 3PM Opponent’s 3P% Kentucky’s 3PM Kentucky’s 3P%
    Duke 12 46.2 4 23.5
    Southern Illinois 5 31.2 4 28.6
    North Dakota 7 36.8 6 46.2
    VMI 19 50.0 5 35.7
    Winthrop 13 46.4 7 38.9
    Tennessee State 6 37.5 4 26.7
    Monmouth 2 12.5 10 41.7
    UNC Greensboro 7 35.0 5 41.7
    Seton Hall 11 42.3 5 25.0

    Duke, VMI, Winthrop and Seton Hall made at least 11 threes against Kentucky while shooting at least 42 percent from 3-point range. Another big concern is that Winthrop (38.8 3P%, 38th nationally) is the only one of those four teams that has proven to be a good outside shooting team through the first month of the season.

    Duke (34.1 3P%, 171st), VMI (32.3 3P%, 225th) and Seton Hall (31.6 3P%, 241st) are at Kentucky’s level of 3-point shooting — or significantly worse.

    Kentucky has often been a mediocre 3-point shooting team under Coach John Calipari. In seven of his 10 seasons in Lexington, including the current season, the Wildcats have shot between 33 and 36 percent from behind the arc.

    But a Calipari-coached team has never defended the 3-point line this poorly, at least dating back to the start of kenpom.com’s archives in 2002. Kentucky’s opponents shot just 30.1 percent from three last season — a full 10 percent better than this season — and that was the fourth-best mark in the country. The Wildcats led the country with a 27.1 percent 3-point defense in 2015.

    VMI’s 19 3-pointers on 50 percent shooting from behind the arc was an outlier performance but Duke, Winthrop and now Seton Hall have shown it may not have been that much of an outlier.

    In a one-and-done scenario in the NCAA tournament, surrendering 10-plus 3s at above a 40 percent rate could be enough to end Kentucky’s season earlier than expected for a preseason top-five team, especially if the Wildcats’ seeding leads to challenging path to the second weekend.

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