Kentucky’s 85-Point Win — Is It Meaningful?

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 8th, 2011

While the 2011-12 college basketball season tipped off for real elsewhere around the country, the Kentucky Wildcats won their final exhibition game against Division II Morehouse to the tune of 125-40. Just in case you don’t excel in math, that’s an 85-point rout. The Cats were impressive, dominating in every aspect of the game. I mean, that somewhat goes without saying in an 85-point win, right? We all know exhibition games don’t count in the official record books, but similar to John Calipari’s 500th win last year — we still know it happened. You can’t take away the memory and experience of the game. So what, if anything, does this dominating effort against an overmatched opponent mean? Is there anything we can take away from Kentucky’s amazing performance last night? Or is it just a great night against weak competition?

John Calipari didn't have much to scream about in Kentucky's 125-40 win over DII Morehouse

To determine if margin of victory matters in an exhibition game, I looked at Kentucky’s last five years of exhibition results as compared to their win/loss record, average scoring margin during the season and final result. For what it’s worth, here is how the Wildcats fared in exhibition games, and the results of that season:

2011-12

  • vs. Transylvania W 97-53 – 44
  • vs. Morehouse W 125-40 – 85

Average margin of victory in exhibitions: 64.5

2010-11

  • @ Windsor W 95-62 – 33
  • @ W Ontario W 96-68 – 28
  • @ Windsor W 104-75 – 29
  • vs. Pikeville W 97-66 – 31
  • vs. Dillard W 122-54 – 68

Average margin of victory in exhibitions: 37.8

Average margin of victory in season: 11.4

Final record: 29-9 (10-6); Final Four

2009-10

  • vs. Campbellsville W 74-38 – 36
  • vs. Clarion W 117-52 – 65

Average margin of victory in exhibitions: 50.5

Average margin of victory in season: 14.3

Final record: 35-3 (14-2); Elite Eight

2008-09

  • vs. Missouri-St. Louis W 111-53; 58
  • vs. Ouachita Baptist W 94-72; 22

Average margin of victory in exhibitions: 40

Average margin of victory in season: 7.9

Final record: 21-13 (8-8); NIT

2007-08

  • vs. Pikeville W 99-64; 35
  • vs. Seattle W 82-63; 19

Average margin of victory in exhibitions: 27

Average margin of victory in season: 0.6

Final record: 18-13 (12-4); NCAA round of 64

What can we tell from this data? Well, probably not a whole lot. Calipari’s freshman-loaded roster of 2009-10 had an average scoring margin of 50.5 points during exhibition games, and continued routing many opponents during the season. Last year’s squad only (well, in comparison!) averaged a 37.8 point win margin over exhibition opponents, yet got rolling at the end of the season and marched all the way to the Final Four. Even the Billy Gillispie-coached NIT team of 2008-09 averaged a 40-point win margin against Missouri-St. Louis and Ouachita Baptist. And we all know how that whole Gillispie thing turned out.

When we are talking about numbers as large as 50.5 and 64.5, I am not sure we can extrapolate much from the data. Overall, I think we just have to utilize the old sniff test, and no I’m not talking ice cream.  Watching Kentucky’s team last night, you could just tell you were watching the start of something special. They probably could have won by 100. I know, I know… No, it doesn’t matter, and no, it doesn’t count. What matters is how this team progresses throughout the season, and how they fare against the toughest competition.

Every team has to start somewhere. If we can take away anything from last night, though, it’s that this team is starting out pretty darn good. They look like a team primed to win a National Championship. And it’s a scary thought for the rest of the nation to think that for this Kentucky team, an 85-point win may just be the beginning of their dominating play.

Brian Joyce (285 Posts)

Brian Joyce is an advanced metrics enthusiast, college hoops junkie, and writer for the SEC basketball microsite for Rush the Court.


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