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UK tops Pomeroy's stat-based college basketball ratings

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John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats are the nation's top-ranked team entering the 2011-12 season according to Ken Pomeroy's ratings. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats are the nation's top-ranked team entering the 2011-12 season according to Ken Pomeroy's ratings. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Let me go ahead and warn Cat Scratches readers right now: this is going to be the first of many times Ken Pomeroy and his rankings are mentioned throughout this college basketball season. I'm a big believer Pomeroy's analysis of the game and will regularly employ his system and his statistics as I talk about Kentucky basketball.

And it's not just because he ranks the Wildcats No. 1 in the land in his preseason rankings.

On Thursday, his long-awaited (by me especially) rankings entering the 2011-12 were released and, unlike the human polls, John Calipari's Cats are ranked first. Ohio State sits at No. 2 while consensus preseason No. 1 North Carolina is third. Here is the entire top 15, which features two other Southeastern Conference schools and three more teams UK will face during non-conference play.

1. Kentucky
2. Ohio St.
3. North Carolina
4. Duke
5. Syracuse
6. Connecticut
7. Pittsburgh
8. Louisville
9. Vanderbilt
10. Wisconsin
11. Kansas
12. Florida
13. Temple
14. Missouri
15. Baylor

Since no games have yet been played, Pomeroy bases his rankings on the data he has for returning players and projections for newcomers. Pomeroy rates teams based on efficiency on a per possession basis. Instead of evaluating teams and players on per game statistics, pace is removed from the equation, meaning a fast-paced team like North Carolina or Missouri can be compared on a level playing field with a slower-paced team like Wisconsin or Pittsburgh. Rankings are also adjusted for strength of schedule.

It's not the rankings themselves I find most interesting though; it's the numbers behind them.

Looking at Kentucky's profile on KenPom.com, the Cats are projected as the second-best offensive team in college basketball, with an adjusted offensive rating of 119.7. The number can be thought of as the amount of points UK is projected to score per 100 possessions. Only Ohio State has a more highly rated offense.

Defensively, the Cats are just as good. Pomeroy rates UK as the second-best defensive team, trailing Florida State. UK is projected to allow 88.5 points per 100 possessions.

Based on those numbers, Pomeroy also analyzes UK's schedule, predicting the Wildcats to have a regular season record of 27-3 (14-2 SEC). Interestingly, he gives the Cats no worse than a 59-percent chance of winning any game this season with the toughest game coming on the road against Vanderbilt on Feb. 11. Pomeroy also gives UK a 1.9-percent chance of going through the regular season unbeaten and a 7.3-percent chance of running the table in the SEC.

I don't disagree with Pomeroy or his statistics too often, but I do have a bone to pick with his preseason numbers, though there really isn't anything he can do about it on this occasion. He projects UK will play an average of 65.9 possessions per game in 2011-2012, placing the Cats in the bottom half of the nation in pace of play. He pulled those numbers for each team directly from last year, but I expect Kentucky to play a significantly more up-tempo style this season.

Out of necessity, UK played more of a half-court style in 2010-11 due to a short bench and a point guard in Brandon Knight who was better suited for it than the fast break. However, Marquis Teague seems poised to push the ball much more in transition with a deeper roster featuring players like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis who look deadly in the fast break.

The good news is that it won't take but a few games for the numbers to adjust if I indeed am right.

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