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Offensive versatility could pay dividends for Cats come March

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Marquis Teague has 25 assists and just nine turnovers over his last five games. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Marquis Teague has 25 assists and just nine turnovers over his last five games. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
With weapons all over the floor, balance is what has made Kentucky's offense so deadly in 2011-12.

Marquis Teague, with his increasing focus on running his team, has recently seen his scoring average dip to 9.6 points, meaning the Wildcats no longer have six players in double figures.

Whether or not Teague bumps his average back over 10 and gives UK six double-figure scorers in a season, John Calipari has an historically versatile team.

Offensive balance is normally measured by the way points and field goal attempts are spread among players, but it's the way this Kentucky team is scoring that is catching my eye.

As I often do, I was perusing Ken Pomeroy's rankings and statistics when I noticed something interesting. Pomeroy uses four main factors to measure efficiency and in each of the categories, this year's Wildcats rank among the top 40 nationally:

Kentucky 2011-12 offense

Effective field goal percentage (eFG%) - 53.5 (32nd)
Turnover percentage (TO%) - 17.0 (38th)
Offensive rebounding percentage (OR%) - 38.4 (20th)
Free throw rate (FTR) - 43.5 (29th)

That struck me as rare, so I began to do some research.

Looking at some of the other most efficient offensive teams in the country (UK ranks fourth), most rely on excellence in one or two of the four factors to get the job done. Missouri and Florida, the first and second-ranked teams in offensive efficiency, are both in the top 10 of eFG% and TO%, but no higher than 96th in the other two.

Duke is the only other team in the country to even approach UK's balance across the four factors. Here's what the Blue Devils' profile looks like:

Duke 2011-12 offense

eFG% - 55.4 (eighth)
TO% - 18.3 (48th)
ORR - 35.6 (59th)
FTR - 46.8 (eighth)

Initially, I was a little discouraged to see that another team ranked in the top 60 in all four factors, thinking the Wildcats' versatility wasn't as rare as I thought.  I soldiered on anyway, going through Pomeroy's data (which dates back to the 2002-03 season) to see how many teams matched this year's UK group.

The answer: none.

Dating back to the 2002-03 season, no team in the country has ever ranked in the top 40 of each of the four factors for an entire season. In fact, the only other team to even rank in the top 50 of all four offensive factors was Duke in 2004-05.

Duke 2004-05 offense

eFG% - 52.1 (49th)
TO% - 18.9 (49th)
ORR - 37.3 (42nd)
FTR - 42.9 (34th)

So, UK's offense this season is somewhat of a statistical anomaly in recent college basketball history, but what does it mean?

As simplistic and obvious as it may seem, I think it proves the Wildcats can win games in a number of different ways.

Just as UK can survive an off-night in terms of scoring from any of its main contributors due to an even scoring load, so too can the Cats overcome a subpar performance in one particular offensive area.

There will be (and have been already) nights when Kentucky simply isn't hitting shots. However, with the way UK takes care of the ball, attacks the offensive glass and gets to the foul line, they can overcome a poor shooting night.

Think back to UK's win over Louisville. The Cats eFG% on New Year's Eve was just 32.5, but Kentucky grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and got to the foul line 43 times to allow them to overcome poor shooting and win anyway.

In the same way, the Wildcats had an uncharacteristic 19 turnovers against Kansas in the second game of the season. However, UK attempted 29 free throws and had an eFG% of 57.8.

Cal's Cats will run across opponents that play a variety of styles in NCAA Tournament play. Some will excel in contesting shots, while others refuse to allow offensive rebounds. With how many different things this Kentucky team is good at on offense, they will be well-positioned to deal with whoever they run across.

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