Kentucky Could Hold Value
by T.O Whenham - 01/09/2008
Kentucky basketball fans are known for many things, but patience and understanding are not two of them. It goes without saying, then, that the pathetic start by the Wildcats this year is not sitting well with their fans and backers. Things weren't supposed to go this way in Lexington. Tubby Smith had been blamed for all the recent woes, but he had been banished to a basketball wasteland, and the savior had arrived in the form of Billy Gillispie. All was supposed to be right with the world. Instead, the team is at 6-7, and a pitiful 2-7-1 ATS. To rub salt in the wounds, Tubby has everything clicking in Minnesota, and Texas A&M, Gillispie's former team, is among the elite in the country with just one loss in 14 games.
The worse things get for Kentucky, the more the media piles on them. That, in turn, means that the public gets more and more negative about the prospects for the team. That pessimism hasn't been unjustified so far, but the more attached the public gets to the idea that this is a bad team, the more they will impact the teams' lines, and the better the chance that there will be value in betting on Kentucky. If, that is, the team isn't as bad as people think they are. But are they? Here's a look:
The teams that beat them - This doesn't do a lot to boost their cause. The team has a truly hideous RPI of 212, which is by far the worst in the SEC. They have been the victim of some truly incredible upsets. Gardner-Webb's win as 26-point underdogs was perhaps the biggest story of the early part of the season. Add in a loss to San Diego as 13-point favorites and it gets ugly. They also should have beat UAB, and they lost to Houston by more than they should have. It hasn't been all bad, though - they came within half a point of covering against North Carolina. There's also nothing wrong with losing to Indiana or Louisville, though it definitely would have been better if both games were closer than they ended up being.
The teams they beat - If the teams they lost to do little to build your confidence, the you really aren't going to like this list of losers - Central Arkansas, Liberty, Texas Southern, Stony Brook, Tennessee Tech, Florida International. Not only is there not a signature win there, but there isn't a team that even counts as a particular challenge. If the team had played even a marginally stronger schedule then 6-7 would be the record that they wished they had. As far as the record is concerned, the public is right - this is a pretty lousy team.
Their conference - This could provide a bright spot for the future. As a Big Ten fan I am naturally inclined to dislike this conference, but you can't accuse me of being biased or unfair when I say that the SEC isn't particularly strong this year. The conference RPI is only the sixth best, and I'm really only willing to say that one team, Tennessee, is among the true elite. Defending champs Florida have played well, but haven't been challenged and are too young and unproven to believe in yet. There are two undefeated teams, but Vanderbilt is a bit suspect, and Ole Miss is a total illusion. The rest of the league is populated by mostly decent but flawed teams. The team will have to play better than they have to post a decent conference record, but they won't be facing a lot of top teams in conference play, so a little improvement could go a long way.
Youth and inexperience - All you really need to know about this team is that Patrick Patterson leads them in points, rebounds and blocks. Don't get me wrong, Patterson is a nice player. The point is, though, that he is only a freshman, he's a step below the top freshmen in the country, and his numbers are good but not great (16.8 points, 8.1 boards). Patterson is the best player on a team full of either raw youth (Meeks, Harris, Stewart, Stevenson, Jasper, Porter, Coury Benson), or veterans that are solid but not stars (Crawford, Bradley). In other words, Tubby Smith didn't exactly leave the cupboards full to overflowing when he left. It doesn't help, either, that Alex Legion turned into a big baby and left the program. Given the flaws in the roster, the team can't help but get better as the team grows and matures. They won't turn into stars overnight, but they should be better than they are given some time. Gilispie hasn't done very well with this team, but it's doubtful that John Wooden could do much better with what Gillispie has had to work with.
Stats - This is where the lights get a little brighter. The results have been dismal, and the roster is lacking, but the team is surprisingly solid in several statistical categories. They have a positive rebounding margin - they are better off than two-thirds of the teams in the country. They are 32nd in field goal percentage, just behind UCLA and ahead of teams like Memphis and Dayton. They're a top 10 team at defending the field goal. In other words, despite the problems the team has, there are clear signs that they are doing some things right, and that there are positives to build on.