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Kentucky Wildcats
UK marches on in the NCAA Tournament, with a 2nd round clash against mid-major success story Wofford. In this edition of Hoops Insight, I've got a few notes of interest on the first round rout of Abilene Christian as well as some info to consider about the matchup against Wofford.

UK pieces together a blowout win without PJ Washington
Stats Profile for UK vs Abilene Christian

It has become a tradition late in this season for UK's big man rotation to be thrown into upheaval. Whether it's injury to Reid Travis, or foul trouble or injury for PJ Washington, UK has rarely had their starting big men healthy and available as much as they'd want. That's given an opportunity to see how UK manages these tough situations. So, how'd it go in this win?

Well, things obviously went pretty well since UK got the blowout win. But, UK did perform a bit better with 2 big men as opposed to 1:
  • With 2 big men, UK outscored ACU by +22 points in 38 possessions for an adjusted margin of 59 points per 100 possessions. UK grabbed 50% of their own misses and 96% of Abilene Christian's.
  • With 1 big man, UK outscored ACU by +11 points in 24 possessions for an adjusted margin of 47 points per 100 possessions. UK grabbed 38% of their own misses and 85% of Abilene Christian's
Obviously, UK's big men outclassed their opponents, but it's interesting that typical 2 big man lineups performed noticeably better. But, not all 2 man combos performed equally well:
  • Reid Travis and EJ Montgomery were +15 in 17 possessions, for an adjusted margin of 89 points per 100 possessions. They grabbed 55% of UK's misses and 100% of their opponents'.
  • Reid Travis and Nick Richards were +5 in 12 possessions, for an adjusted margin of 43 points per 100 possessions. They grabbed 50% of UK's misses and 100% of their opponents'. 
  • Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery were +2 in 9 possessions, for an adjusted margin of 23 points per 100 possessions. They grabbed 40% of UK's misses and 83% of their opponents'.
The Reid/EJ combo started, played the most, and performed the best. Clearly, Reid was huge for UK's rebounding in this game, and UK saw a dropoff when he sat. Not enough to make a difference in the outcome, but enough that it's worth noting. Of note, the Reid/EJ combo had been outstanding when paired with Immanuel Quickley this season. They only shared 3 possessions together, but were +5 in these 3 and did not allow Abilene Christian to score a point. That group has been consistently excellent together and deserves more time if PJ isn't available.

Lineups with 1 big man also saw their performance vary, depending on which big man was in:
  • With Reid Travis as the lone big, UK was outscored by 1 point in 11 possessions, for an adjusted margin of -8 points per 100 possessions. They grabbed 33% of their own misses and 100% of the opponents'. Abiliene Christian had an effective Fg% of 69% against this group. Interestingly, Reid Travis had only played 4 possessions all year as the lone big, so this was nearly triple his prior workload as the only big man.
  • With Nick Richards as the lone big,  UK outscored their opponents by 4 points in 6 possessions, for an adjusted margin of 68 points per 100. UK gathered 50% of their own misses and 67% of their opponents'. Abilene Christian had an eFG% of 50% against this group.
  • With EJ Montgomery as the lone big, UK outscored their opponents by 8 points in 7 possessions, for an adjusted margin of 115 points per 100. UK didn't miss any shots, so no offensive rebounds, but they gathered 86% of their opponents' misses. Abilene Christian had an eFG% of 17% against this group.
UK still clearly has some kinks to work out when playing Reid Travis as the only big man. He missed many of the games where UK began using that lineup, so he hasn't had as much time with them. Travis also is more of a classic low-post player, so UK doesn't quite have as many driving lanes for their perimeter players even when he's the only big man. He also provides less rim protection than other UK bigs, and the defense struggled even against an overmatched opponent. 

One other interesting note is that UK's 4 guard lineups were outstanding when Jemarl Baker was in the game. UK was +15 in 19 possessions when he was part of a 4 guard lineup, and they hit both of their 3 point shots while putting up an eFg% of 76%. Prior to this game, UK was +5 in 21 possessions when Jemarl Baker is part of a 4 guard lineup, with an adjusted margin of 46 points per 100. However, their eFG% was only 43% before the hot shooting against ACU. It's probably worth trying to find more time for him in 4 guard lineups, especially against opponent bench lineups when he wouldn't have as tough of a defensive matchup. Given that UK gave him a heavy workload last game, I wouldn't be surprised if they tried it again next round.

UK has had success against teams like Wofford this year

The Wofford Terriers are known for their 3 point marksmanship, led by all-time NCAA marksman Fletcher Magee. They rank 15th nationally in the percentage of their offense generated from threes. Previously this season UK played 5 other games against teams in the top 40 in this stat: VMI, Winthrop, Utah, and 2 matchups against Auburn. What do those games tell us about what to expect against Wofford?

Stat Profile for UK against 3 point-heavy teams

As the stat profile shows, UK was amazing offensively against these teams, and did a solid job defensively. Overall, UK had an adjusted margin of 28 points per 100 possessions against these teams, right in line with UK's season performance. Although fans may still have bad memories of UK struggling against VMI and Winthrop, the Wildcats were very good against Utah and Auburn. During these games, UK's offense stepped up with an eFg% of 62% and 45% shooting on 3 pointers. While these opponents shot 41% on 3 pointers and took nearly half of their shots from deep, UK allowed fewer free throws to help compensate. None of these opponents drew free throws at a high rate during the season, and neither does Wofford. The Wildcats did force turnovers at a high rate in those games, but most of these opponents were turnover-prone during the season; Wofford is not, so UK probably won't have the same success forcing turnovers.

Unfortunately, UK didn't play much time without PJ Washington in these games, so it's difficult to project how they might play without him against Wofford. During these 5 games, UK outscored their opponents by 5 points in 80 possessions with PJ Washington sitting.However, a good portion of this came when Quade Green was on the team; when PJ and Quade were out, UK was +7 in 51 possessions for an adjusted margin of +25 per 100. When looking at effective lineups and combos, a few things stand out:
  • UK had some success with Nick Richards in these games. UK was +5 in 30 possessions, with an adjusted margin of +29 per 100. Opponents did take 64% of their shots from deep, but hit only 31%. This was even inflated by some issues against VMI and Winthrop when Richards and Hagans were guarding the pick and roll; when Richards played without Hagans opponents shot only 27% from deep.
  • UK struggled in these games when Reid Travis played without Pj Washington. During this time UK outscored their opponents by 3 points in 26 possessions for an adjusted margin of +15 per 100. Opponents only took threes on 38% of their shots, but hit 67% of them as well as 88% of their two pointers.
  • Lineups with Quickley and Hagans together played very little but were effective at snuffing out shots from deep. They only played 9 possessions, but opponent took 50% of their shots from deep and hit none.
  • UK only played a 4 guard lineup for 6 possessions in these games and were outscored by 1 point. There's not much evidence as to how effective that type of lineup would be in limiting opponents from deep.
It;s encouraging that UK has played several teams who live by the three as much as Wofford, and have performed pretty well against them. Unfortunately there's little to go on about how they might play without PJ, but there have been some bright spots without him. Nick Richards has been effective, as has the backcourt combo of Quickley and Hagans. If UK can carry their strong play from the first round, and if their experience in prior games is useful against Wofford's three point attack, then the Wildcats can survive this round. 
I want to thank you for subscribing to my newsletter. At Hoops Insight, I hope to use data to find insights that reveal things you didn't realize about the Kentucky Wildcats. I'm using play-by-play data to track what's happening, who's doing it, and who is in the game, in order to show you things the box score can't. Check out my past newsletters in the Hoops Insight Archive, and read about the stats I like to use in my stats glossary.

If you have any questions about things I'm saying, the data behind it, or if you just want to debate a point, feel free to contact me on Twitter at @hoopsinsights or email at sean@hoopsinsight.com. I'd love your feedback on the newsletter and how I can improve. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy my work.
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