In 2011, UK lost in the Maui Invitational to Connecticut before falling again at the hands of the Huskies in the Final Four. In this season's Sweet 16, Kentucky will look to exact revenge on the Indiana Hoosiers, who won a December showdown on a Christian Watford buzzer beater of which the Wildcats need no reminder.
In that game, UK trailed by as many as 10 points in the second half before Darius Miller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb scored their team's final 37 points to grab the lead with under a minute left. The Cats showed the "will to win" that John Calipari has raved about all season, but the Hoosiers would of course prevail.
The raucous crowd in Assembly Hall that December Saturday has been assigned some credit for IU's victory, and I can attest from being there that it's difficult to imagine a more intense environment for a college basketball game. Friday's matchup at 9:45 p.m. will be played in the Georgia Dome, where UK fans figure to once again prove the "Catlanta" moniker to be true, so the Hoosiers don't figure to have that kind of advantage again.
However, I'm interested in more tangible factors as I take a look at this matchup. First off, let's analyze a few of the key statistical reasons why UK lost the first time around:
1. Frontcourt production - The first UK-IU game this season is an unpleasant memory for every Wildcat on the roster, but it's a particularly salty one for Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis. The pair combined for 10 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks, and seven turnovers on Dec. 10. Their combined averages the rest of the season in those same categories are 26.9 points, 17.3 rebounds, 6.4 blocks and 2.6 turnovers.
Jones was a mysterious no-show in that game, so much so that Coach Cal opted to leave him on the bench as UK made its comeback bid. Davis, on the other hand, was productive, but limited due to foul trouble. He played just 24 minutes - eight fewer than his season average - and, since picking up four fouls against IU, Davis hasn't had more than three in any game.
Yes, Cody Zeller is among the most talented big men UK has faced all season and Watford presents matchup problems with his versatility, but it's difficult to imagine Jones and Davis contributing as little to the cause as they did the first time around.
2. 3-point shooting - IU is the second-best 3-point shooting team in the country, hitting 43.7 percent on the season, but the Hoosiers were hot even by their own lofty standards against Kentucky. They nailed 9-of-15 attempts (60 percent) from beyond the arc, some of which were contested, but many were open looks. UK showed how good it can be defending the 3 this season in games against dead-eye opponents like Vanderbilt, Florida and Iowa State, but statistics show that 3-point defense is subject to a great deal of randomness. Nonetheless, Kentucky will need to do a much better job contesting shots from deep in the Sweet 16.
3. Offensive rebounding - A bunch of IU's 3-point looks came as a result of second chances. UK gave up 14 offensive rebounds to Indiana, five of which were grabbed by Zeller. The Hoosiers are an above average rebounding team, but Kentucky has been better on the season. The battle on the boards was even at 30 last time around, but UK will look to grab an advantage this time.
4. Turnovers - Jones was the primary offender here. The sophomore forward has seen double teams for much of the season, but he did not respond well to the ones IU threw at him, committing six of his team's 17 turnovers. As a team, UK has committed that many turnovers just once since the beginning of conference play. Those turnovers led to 23 Indiana points.
With that out of the way, we turn our attention to how these two teams match up three months later. The personnel remains the same - other than guard Verdell Jones III, who is out for the season with a knee injury - but these two squads are different from the ones that faced off in Bloomington, Ind.
Kentucky offense vs. Indiana defense
This end of the floor is where UK should expect to have an advantage. The Cats are elite offensively, ranking second nationally in offensive efficiency according to kenpom.com. The Hoosiers are solid defensively, but not overwhelming, ranking No. 46 in defensive efficiency.
Indiana is sound across the board, but not spectacular. In effective field-goal percentage defense, turnover percentage, defensive rebounding percentage and free-throw rate, IU ranks between 110th and 155th nationally, while Kentucky ranks 14th, 20th, 19th and 73rd in those four corresponding categories.
In the first matchup, UK was effective on offense when not turning the ball over, shooting 55.6 percent for the game and a ridiculous 68 percent in the second half. The Wildcats have a quickness advantage at nearly every position, especially in the backcourt. Teague, after struggling in the first half, was a perfect 6 for 6 from the field in the second, driving to the basket at will. Expect Kentucky to attack on the dribble from the opening tip.
Indiana, recognizing the matchup, could adjust by clogging the lane in an effort to close down drives more than it did in December. UK attempted just seven 3-pointers in the first matchup, hitting two, but don't be surprised if IU tries to force Kentucky to attempt more shots from deep even though the Cats are fresh off a 10-for-20 3-point effort against Iowa State. On the season, Indiana is 188th nationally in 3-point defense at 34.6 percent.
Kentucky defense vs. Indiana offense
This will be a matchup between two exceptional units. IU ranks fourth in the NCAA in offensive efficiency, while UK checks in at ninth in defensive efficiency.
The Hoosiers' excellence in two areas is what drives their success. First, and most simply, they know how to get good looks at the basket and make them. Indiana is seventh nationally in effective field-goal percentage at 55.1, driven largely by its aforementioned 3-point shooting. Though IU can knock down outside shots with the best, the Hoosiers are not over-reliant on the 3. Just 27.6 percent of their field-goal attempts come from beyond the arc, the 53rd-lowest rate among 345 Division I teams.
Second, Indiana gets to the free-throw line frequently and, more often than not, converts. IU is 12th in the nation in both free-throw rate (45.2) and free-throw percentage (76.3). Consequently, the Hoosiers score 23.8 percent of their points from the line, 25th-most in the country.
Indiana is also above average in terms of offensive rebounding, ranking 60th, but towards the middle of the pack when it comes to turnovers, committing miscues on nearly a fifth of its possessions. UK took advantage of that relative weakness in the first matchup, forcing 18 turnovers. Kentucky has not forced more than 15 in any game since.
On defense, UK's goal will likely be to make things as difficult as possible on the Hoosiers, not shut them down altogether, simply because Indiana is that good on offense.
Style of play
The first UK-IU game featured 70 possessions, well above the season average for both squads. Kentucky has played an average of 66.2 possessions per game on the season, while Indiana averages 66.9.
At least for Kentucky, those season averages are somewhat misleading though. In Southeastern Conference play (including both the regular season and tournament), UK played an average of just 62.6 possessions per game. However, Coach Cal has turned up the tempo in the NCAA Tournament. In spite of grinding it out the final 10 minutes of wins over Western Kentucky and Iowa State, an unleashed UK team has averaged 68.5 possessions per game.
In other words, expect Kentucky to push the ball when opportunities are there and, unless the Wildcats begin to do too much damage, the Hoosiers will likely do the same.