A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky’s defensive transition struggles
will be challenged Friday vs. Cardinals

INDIANAPOLIS — Much noise has been made of Kentucky’s weak transition defense leading up to Friday’s Sweet 16 match-up against Louisville, a running-and-gunning team that is 35th in all of Division I (and second to Michigan State among teams in the Sweet 16) with 26.9 of its total field goals attempted in the first 10 seconds of possessions.
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It’s valid noise to be made. Kentucky has been ripe to be had in transition this season. Kentucky’s defensive effective field-goal percentage in transition is 55.0, 211th out of 351 Division I teams (effective field-goal percentage is like normal field-goal percentage, except made threes are weighted to reflect that, yes, three points are better than two points).


Transitions start in three different ways: rebounds, made shots and steals. Kentucky has been the weakest in transition defense after its own made baskets, but that’s not an area in which Louisville thrives.


Transition defense


transition defense 2


Data courtesy of hoop-math.com.


If Kentucky is able to prevent Chris Jones—fifth in the country in steal percentage—Russ Smith and the rest of the Cardinals from getting many steals, that would go a long way in stopping Louisville from running away with easy baskets in transition. Louisville is second in the country in steal percentage, and Kentucky’s offense ranks 131st in that same category.


Given the Wildcats’ athleticism, their struggles getting back in transition have been baffling this season. But the area in which they struggle most—getting back after made baskets—is not Louisville’s strong suit in transition. The Cardinals prefer to run after rebounds and steals, and Kentucky has only had success this season keeping teams from starting too many fast breaks off rebounds—a lot of that has to do with Kentucky’s dominance on the offensive glass.


When looking for a defensive match-up crucial to Friday’s game, starting at the top of the key, Chris Jones guarding Andrew Harrison, is a good place to start.

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