Final Four Fact Sheet: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 3rd, 2015


After a week of hype surrounding the most highly-anticipated Final Four in years, let’s do a reset on each of the four teams still standing. Today’s victims: Duke (published this morning) and Kentucky. Wisconsin and Michigan State were published yesterday.

How Kentucky Got Here

Kentucky Stayed Perfect To Reach Indianapolis (Getty Images)

Kentucky Survived Notre Dame To Stay Perfect. Next Stop: Indianapolis. (Getty Images)

Midwest Region Champions. Kentucky opened the NCAA Tournament with a closer-than-expected 23-point victory over #16 seed Hampton, then followed it up with a third-round defeat of plucky #8 seed Cincinnati. The Wildcats had to prove at least one prognosticator wrong to reach the Elite Eight, but did so convincingly against #5 seed West Virginia, improving to 37-0 in a 39-point demolition. Their last hurdle before the Final Four proved to be the toughest. #3 seed Notre Dame did everything it could to end Kentucky’s perfect season, but in an all-time classic quarterfinal matchup, the Wildcats did just enough to squeak by the Irish and into another Final Four.

The Coach

John Calipari. There’s little more to say about Calipari at this point. He’s led a 38-0 team into the Final Four (his fourth appearance in five years), has won multiple National Coach of the Year honors (including our own), and is undeniably atop the profession as his team enters a Final Four that includes three other coaches with a combined 1,866 wins. Coach Cal is dominating college basketball.


Let’s face it: No matter what happens in Indianapolis this weekend, the Wildcats have already put together an historic season. And when you think back on this Kentucky team, the first thing that you will remember will be its defense. The Wildcats rank first in adjusted defensive efficiency (and before Saturday, they were the most efficient defense of the 13-year KenPom era), first in three-point percentage defense, second in two-point percentage defense and second in block percentage. With shot-blockers Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns (among others) protecting the rim, Calipari’s guards have been able to extend their man-to-man defense well beyond the three-point line. You could say that the defensive scheme has worked out pretty well. The Kentucky efficiency bonanza has not been limited to the defensive end, however, as the Wildcats also rank fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Their aggressive attacking of the offensive glass and frequent trips to the free throw line have paid dividends all season long, while the developing post games of Towns and Cauley-Stein have led to a greater focus on interior touches as the season has progressed. Notre Dame can attest that Towns has developed into a go-to player for the ‘Cats.


  • Length, Size, Athleticism. You may have heard that Kentucky has a few tall fellows who happen to be pretty good athletes. Their length has been much discussed, but it remains the single-biggest obstacle to an opponent defeating the Wildcats. There is no bigger or longer team in the country this year (and maybe any other); finding a way to neutralize the athleticism of the Kentucky frontcourt will be of as much concern to Bo Ryan as it was for the 38 coaches who faced it before him. Cauley-Stein, Towns and the rest have the potential to overwhelm very good teams on both ends of the floor.
  • Balanced Offense. In what should come as no surprise when discussing a team with nine former McDonald’s All-Americans, Kentucky has incredible offensive balance. Aaron Harrison is the team’s leader scorer at just 11.0 points per game, while eight different Wildcats average at least 5.6 points per contest. Towns may have developed into the Wildcats’ go-to player (more on that later), but they get points from a variety of sources on a nightly basis.
  • Confidence. Beyond Kentucky’s copious on-court strengths, there’s an undeniable confidence fueling this team’s parade of victories. Calipari should get much of the credit for building the swagger, and the unexpected NCAA Tournament run to the championship game of a season ago hasn’t hurt the comfort level of the returnees. The Wildcats’ poise and confidence in this season’s tensest moments – and those include far more than just the final few minutes of Saturday’s regional final – are a huge reason for the zero that remains in Kentucky’s loss column.
Karl-Anthony Towns Was Virtually Unstoppable In Saturday's Regional Final. (USA Today Sports)

Karl-Anthony Towns Was Virtually Unstoppable In Saturday’s Midwest Regional Final. (USA Today Sports)


  • Three-Point Shooting. The Wildcats may not take enough threes to sink the entire ship (it helps when you do almost everything else well), but recent bouts of long-range inaccuracy has to call into question their ability to make three-point shots when needed. Kentucky has made only 31 percent of its three-point attempts in the NCAA Tournament over four games, and last year’s Tournament hero, Aaron Harrison, is shooting a paltry 32 percent on the season. Given the Wildcats’ dominance in the paint, encouraging Kentucky to shoot a high number of three-point field goal attempts has to be a priority for Wisconsin.
  • Defensive Rebounding. Lost amid the Kentucky block party has been a somewhat surprising neglect of the defensive backboards: Kentucky is just 204th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage this season. The shot-blocking pursuits of the Kentucky big men has much to do with this pedestrian figure, but we have seen several Wildcats’ opponents with athletic frontcourts (Texas, North Carolina) find some degree of success when crashing the offensive glass. If there’s a team in this year’ Final Four capable of exploiting this weakness, it’s most likely a Monday night opponent: Wisconsin ranks just 129th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.
  • The Undefeated Quest. It will be impossible to know just how heavy the pursuit of perfection weighed on Kentucky if it does in fact find defeat this weekend in Indianapolis. But for a team that is an overwhelming favorite to cut down the nets on Monday night and has little by way of weaknesses, the increasing proximity to perfection lurks as a possible performance-reducer.

Go-To Scorer

Karl-Anthony Towns (10.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG). When the season began, any analysis of the Wildcats couldn’t last 10 words without the inclusion of words like “platoon” or “balance.” There are still plenty of Wildcat weapons scattered across the roster, but Towns has emerged from this talented bunch as the team’s true go-to guy. He scored 25 points in the epic Elite Eight victory, including 17 important ones in the second half. That performance along with many others has earned him plenty of buzz as a potential #1 pick in June’s NBA draft; more subtly, it finalized the progression we have been witnessing for a few months now: Towns is officially Kentucky’s go-to player.


Devin Booker (10.1 PPG, 41% 3FG). Kentucky has proven capable of winning games without making many three-point shots in this NCAA Tournament. Those buckets clearly serve as a mere bonus for the ‘Cats, but if Kentucky is to receive that unexpected boost, Booker is the guy most likely to supply it. The SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year has uncharacteristically struggled to make shots during much of March; if he bounces back with a steady effort for two nights in April, the Wildcats could be pretty close to unbeatable.


Well, we are here. Five months of endless chatter will find its resolution by Monday night, as Kentucky looks to complete college basketball’s first perfect season in nearly four decades. Wisconsin is the team many have championed as the ideal Cat-killer for some time now; the Badgers, still solidly situated as underdogs, will get their shot on Saturday. If Kentucky passes test #39, the 40th would look to be slightly easier. With apologies to March magician Tom Izzo, Duke is clearly the tougher potential opponent. Even so, the Blue Devils are unlikely to threaten Kentucky in the ways that Wisconsin can. Saturday night is the best bet for Kentucky-haters to get their wish, but the better bet is one that’s felt fated for some time now: Kentucky fans going wild as their team cuts down the nets on Monday night.

BHayes (244 Posts)

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