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How has Kentucky fared against high-volume shooters like Louisville’s Russ Smith?


One of few questions surrounding Kentucky’s merits in the suffocating buildup to this season was who would be The Lockdown Defender as the Wildcats chased an undefeated season. The undefeated season never panned out, and among other things, neither did a single person as the unquestioned man on the ball in the lineage on DeAndre Liggins and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
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On John Calipari’s previous two Final Four teams at Kentucky, he had that player he could put on the other team’s top scorer, and he wouldn’t have to worry. This year’s team does not have that, though its defense has still improved steadily without it.

 

Will a solid unit without a standout defender be enough Friday against Russ Smith and Louisville?

 

Louisville's Russ Smith (KyForward file photo)

Louisville’s Russ Smith (KyForward file photo)

One way to offer a prediction is to look at other offenses Kentucky has played that feature one player who takes an inordinate amount of shots. Smith is 142nd in Division I in percentage of teams shots taken. He’s taken 29.0 percent of Louisville’s shots. Kentucky has played against 11 players this season who rank higher than Smith in percentage of team shots taken, and in 10 of those games, the opposing team only had one player in that category (Kentucky’s only opponent with two players who rank higher than Smith in shot percentage was Auburn).

 

Offensive rating is a metric that measures a player’s personal offensive efficiency. According to KenPom.com, the formula is “very complicated but very accurate.” Dean Oliver created it, and in his words: “Individual offensive rating is the number of points produced by a player per hundred total individual possessions. In other words, ‘How many points is a player likely to generate when he tries?’ ”

 

Reger Dowell of UT Arlington, 35.8 shot percentage (sixth in Division I)

Offensive rating in 105-76 Kentucky win on Nov. 19: 100 (20 points, 8 of 21 shooting)

 

Marshall Henderson of Ole Miss, 34.8 shot percentage (10th)

Offensive rating in 80-64 Kentucky win on Feb. 4: 85 (16 points, 6 of 18 shooting)

Offensive rating in 84-70 Kentucky win on Feb. 22: 101 (18 points, 5 of 17 shooting)

 

Jamal Jones of Texas A&M, 32.4 shot percentage (39th)

Offensive rating in 68-51 Kentucky win on Jan. 21: 60 (eight points, 3 of 12 shooting)

 

Karvel Anderson of Robert Morris, 31.4 shot percentage (54th)

Offensive rating in 87-49 Kentucky win on Nov. 17: 101 (16 points, 5 of 17 shooting)

 

Jordan McRae of Tennessee, 31.4 shot percentage (55th)

Offensive rating in 74-66 Kentucky win on Jan. 18: 98 (17 points, 5 of 14 shooting)

 

Marcus Foster of Kansas State, 31.3 shot percentage (56th)

Offensive rating in 56-49 Kentucky win on March 21: 103 (15 points, 7 of 18 shooting)

 

Ray Lee of Eastern Michigan, 30.8 shot percentage (67th)

Offensive rating in 81-63 Kentucky win on Nov. 27: 27 (2 points, 1 of 9 shooting)

 

Chris Denson of Auburn, 30.7 shot percentage (70th)

Offensive rating in 64-56 Kentucky win on Feb. 12: 116 (26 points, 8 of 18 shooting)

 

Jordan Clarkson of Missouri, 29.9 shot percentage (98th)

Offensive rating in 84-79 Kentucky win on Feb. 1: 137 (28 points, 11 of 17 shooting)

 

K.T. Harrell of Auburn, 29.7 shot percentage (104th)

Offensive rating in 64-56 Kentucky win on Feb. 12: 52 (7 points, 2 of 15 shooting)

 

Derrick Marks of Boise State, 29.3 shot percentage (132nd)

Offensive rating in 70-55 Kentucky win on Dec. 10: 81 (14 points on 6 of 18 shooting)

 

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All 11 of those players are considered perimeter players, and most have a varied game instead of one that hovers exclusively around the three-point line (Ole Miss’ Henderson is an exception here), and nine of those players had offensive ratings below their season average in their game(s) against Kentucky. As you’ll also notice, the Wildcats were 11-0 in games against teams with players that had shot percentages higher than Louisville’s Smith.

 

So even though James Young nor Aaron Harrison nor Andrew Harrison has emerged as the go-to defensive specialist as Liggins and Kidd-Gilchrist before them—and Calipari predicted in the preseason that Young would follow in those footsteps—Kentucky has matured into an offense that has done a satisfactory job of taking gunners and frustrating them to below-average performances.

 

In the Wildcats’ 73-66 win over Louisville on Dec. 28, Smith finished with an offensive rating of 80. He scored 19 points on 7 of 20 shooting, making none of his five threes and finishing 5 of 10 from the free-throw line.


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