Elite Offenses Set for Second-Round Duel

DES MOINES, Iowa – When the NCAA Tournament bracket was unveiled, the strength of the East Region was immediately clear. 

In addition to featuring historical powerhouses North Carolina, Kentucky and Indiana, the top five seeds in the region are all ranked in top 15 according to kenpom.com. No other region features more than three such teams.

It was a matter of time before two of them met up. Kentucky and Indiana are the unlucky pair.

The rivalry between the fourth-seeded Wildcats and fifth-seeded Hoosiers will be broken down every which way on Friday, but right now let’s take a look at the game from a statistical perspective.

Indiana offense vs. Kentucky defense

If a defensive demolition of Stony Brook is the new normal for the Cats, it couldn’t come at a better time. Indiana is likely to be the toughest test UK’s defenders will face all season.

The Hoosiers are fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and first in points per possession (1.20). They are fresh off a first-round blowout that saw them rack up 99 points on 72 possessions for an average of 1.38. For reference, UK allowed just 0.78 points per possession in its first-round win.

Kentucky, meanwhile, is the 59th-ranked defensive unit in the country in adjusted efficiency. The Cats’ performance against Stony Brook raised that ranking by 12 spots, but the Hoosiers still have the clear statistical edge here.

First and foremost, Indiana gets the job done by getting quality looks from both inside and out and hitting them. The Hoosiers are second nationally in effective field-goal percentage and fifth in both 2-point and 3-point shooting. Fortunately for UK, effective field-goal defense is its strength. The Cats rank seventh according to that measure.

Something to watch here: how effective UK limits Indiana’s 3-point tries. The Hoosiers attempt more than 40 percent of their shots from 3-point range and have three regulars who have attempted more 3s than 2s this season. If the Cats can close on shooters and force the Hoosiers into the teeth of an interior defense that blocked an NCAA Tournament-record 15 shots against Stony Brook, it will bode well. The good news is UK has been pretty good at that all season. Its opponents have attempted just 29.3 percent of their shots from 3, 17th fewest in the country.

But UK cannot rest once it has forced Indiana into a tough shot. Closing out possessions with defensive rebounds will be even more important come Saturday. The Hoosiers are 15th nationally in offensive-rebounding rate and likely to take advantage of UK’s 285th-ranked defensive-rebounding unit if the Cats aren’t ready. Indiana also rebounds from everywhere on the floor, with three players boasting offensive-rebounding percentages of .185 or better. UK has only one such player.

Elsewhere on defense, the Cats will be happy to learn the Hoosiers do not get to the free-throw line often, ranking 263rd in free-throw rate. Fouls have been a well-documented problem for a UK group that ranks 265th in defensive free-throw rate.

UK could also pick up an extra possession or two thanks to turnovers, as Indiana surprisingly – considering its led by star senior point guard Yogi Ferrell – commits turnovers on nearly a fifth of its possessions, ranking 276th in that area. The Cats typically play it more conservative, but don’t be surprised to see both Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe swarm the Hoosiers with some ball pressure.

Kentucky offense vs. Indiana defense

All the things you just read about Kentucky’s defense facing its toughest challenge against Indiana? The same can be said about IU’s defense against UK.

Not only are the Cats the top-ranked offense in terms of efficiency, they also recently surpassed the title-winning squad of 2011-12 to become the most efficient offense John Calipari has ever had. To put it simply, there isn’t a whole lot UK doesn’t do well. The Cats are the only team in America to rank in the top 45 in effective field-goal percentage, turnover percentage and offensive-rebounding rate.

Indiana, meanwhile, is ranked 69th in adjusted defensive efficiency. On the season, the Hoosiers allow more than one point per possession.

UK doesn’t shoot it quite as well as the Hoosiers do, ranking 33rd in effective field-goal percentage, but few teams do. Indiana, meanwhile, is middle-of-the-pack in effective field-goal defense, ranking 153rd. On-paper advantage: Cats.
UK also holds an advantage in turnover rate (42nd vs. 116th) and a more pronounced one in rebounding rate. The Cats snag 37.7 percent of their misses, 12th nationally, while the Hoosiers are 123rd in defensive rebounding rate. But when it comes to getting to the foul line, don’t expect the Cats to do a lot of damage. The Hoosiers are effective at avoiding fouls, with a free-throw rate ranking 37th nationally, and UK is only 137th in the corresponding offensive statistical measure.

Bottom line

Remember that Sweet 16 battle between UK and IU in 2012? The instant classic the Cats won, 102-90? Don’t be surprised if Saturday’s game is reminiscent of that one.

With the quality of the two offenses, stops are going to be at a premium. Missed shots just might not happen that often. The winner might be determined by who grabs more of those rare misses.