Kentucky Basketball: 3 Things We Have Learned After The First Two Rounds Of The NCAA Tournament

The No. 24 Florida Gators dominated the No. 7 Kentucky Wildcats, 88-66, in Gainesville on Saturday night. It was a fitting conclusion to a day that had already seen five of the top 10 teams in the country fall.

Florida was led by senior point guard Kasey Hill who finished with 21 points, six assists and five rebounds. Devin Robinson added 16 points and nine rebounds for the Gators. De’Aaron Fox led Kentucky in scoring with 19 points.

The win raises new questions about both the Gators and the Wildcats, so here’s a look at what we learned.


1. Maybe the Florida Gators are for real

Florida entered its matchup with Kentucky ranked No. 24 in the AP poll but No. 7 in >KenPom and No. 13 in the Sagarin Ratings. That discrepancy between the media’s perception of the Gators and the computers’ reading of their performances to date is about as large as you’ll find in the country. Saturday’s result made the computers look awfully smart.

The Gators absolutely smothered Kentucky, holding the Wildcats to 0.84 points per possession. It was the Wildcats’ worst offensive performance of the season. Florida used its length to force them into tough shots, kept them off the offensive boards and limited their opportunities in transition. Despite the occasional offensive struggles, the Gators’ defense ranks 7th nationally in adjusted efficiency. Saturday’s performance wasn’t an anomaly. This defense has stifled opponents all season.

And yet, there are still questions about the Gators. They played a formidable non-conference schedule, but lost to their three toughest opponents — Duke, Florida State and Gonzaga. This win over Kentucky is really the first marquee victory on the team’s resume, but it might be enough to justify giving the computers a little more credence.

2. Kentucky’s jump shooting is still a problem

Coming into the season, the most glaring weakness for the Kentucky Wildcats was an obvious lack of shooting. Outside of Malik Monk and the occasional contribution from Derek Willis or Mychal Mulder, the Wildcats have done little to address those concerns.

Against the Gators, Kentucky shot 11-of-45 (24.4 percent) on field goal attempts away from the rim. Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox — two notedly poor shooters — fired up 12 of those attempts and converted just three of them.

Some of these numbers are of course the result of good Florida defense, but much of this is a more systemic problem for the Wildcats. In the NCAA Tournament where games are typically slower and guard play in the halfcourt in emphasized, Kentucky’s inability to shoot may well come back to haunt them. Saturday’s failure against Florida is just the latest reminder.

3. Defensive rebounding is another Kentucky problem to watch

If you’re looking for another concern for the Wildcats coming out of this one, take a look at Florida’s second chance points. The Gators scored 17 of them after grabbing 17 offensive rebounds or 42.5 percent of their own misses. Kentucky’s defensive rebounding simply didn’t pass the test against a long and athletic Florida frontline.

There are a couple of explanations. The easiest one is that the Wildcats simply didn’t compete hard enough, but it’s also the one that’s the most difficult to prove because there isn’t a great measure for “effort” on the floor beyond the eye test.

The statistical explanations are more interesting. Kentucky center Bam Adebayo is an incredibly poor rebounder for a player with his size and athleticism. This season, Adebayo has a defensive rebound rate of 14.7 percent which is just half a percentage point higher than the 6-foot-3 Briscoe. Add in the fact that the Wildcats play a trio of 6-foot-3 guards — Briscoe, Fox and Monk — together for the majority of their minutes and it’s a little easier to see how a big team like Florida could cause them some trouble.

Giving up extra possessions is a dangerous game to play when you’re a more talented team than most of your opponents. Kentucky showed why against the Gators.

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