Tennessee-Kentucky: the four factors

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Hey, have you heard that there’s a huge game between No. 1 Tennessee and No. 5 Kentucky in Rupp Arena Saturday night at 8:00? You have? Well, okay then.

Will’s already posted his regular preview of the Tennessee-Kentucky game, which you should go read right now. But I wanted to also take another look at the game from a four factors perspective.

If you’re not familiar with the four factors, it’s essentially an analytical framework that boils the game of basketball down to four key categories:

  1. Shooting
  2. Turnovers
  3. Offensive Rebounding
  4. Getting to the foul line

Of these, shooting matters the most by far and is defined as a formula that results in a number known as effective field goal percentage. The remaining categories are in order of importance, but are only marginally more important than the one below them and are all much less important than shooting. That’s quite a dramatic oversimplification, so if you want the full explanation, check out the Dean Oliver four factors page. Even KenPom uses these four factors.

So, let’s take a look at Tennessee’s and Kentucky’s numbers in these all-important categories, first as a straight-up comparison and then in the context of offense vs. defense.

Four Factors: Straight-Up

Effective FG%

  • Tennessee 56.9 (No. 7)
  • Kentucky 52.8 (No. 93)

Turnover %

  • Tennessee 15.9 (No. 25)
  • Kentucky 18.5 (No. 158)

Offensive Rebound %

  • Tennessee 32.3 (No. 58)
  • Kentucky 38.3 (No. 3)

Free Throw Rate

  • Tennessee 36.3 (No. 102)
  • Kentucky 41 (No. 22)

Straight-up conclusions

So, the Vols are much better at shooting and protecting the ball than are the Wildcats, but the Big Blue are much better at getting offensive rebounds and getting to the foul line than are the Big Orange. Fortunately for the Vols, their advantages are in the two most-important categories.

Those are the straight-up comparisons of the teams’ respective averages in the four factors, but what about the fact that those numbers are impacted in any given game by the opponent?

Four Factors: Opponent impact

Effective FG%

When Tennessee has the ball

Tennessee’s EFG% is 56.9 (No. 7), while Kentucky’s defense against that is 47.5 (No. 45).

Head-to-head, Tennessee’s shooting offense still ranks higher than Kentucky’s shooting defense, but it’s probably safe to say that the Wildcats are going to be one of the toughest outs of the season for the Vols in this category. Kentucky’s number here (No. 45) is most similar to those of Kansas (No. 40), Louisville (No. 32), and Florida (No. 57). Tennessee rarely struggles shooting the ball, but it will be more difficult than usual Saturday night.

When Kentucky has the ball

Kentucky’s shooting offense is 52.8 (No. 93), while Tennessee’s shooting defense is 46.7 (No. 27). They’re not terrible, but they’re not great, either, and they’ll be going against a very good defense.

Conclusions

Tennessee will likely struggle more than usual shooting the ball, but Kentucky should have even more trouble than Tennessee in this area.

Turnover %

When Tennessee has the ball

Tennessee’s turnover % is 15.9 (No. 25), while Kentucky’s ability to generate turnovers (I’m going to call this “turnover defense” even though that sounds weird) is 20.4 (No. 86). That’s most similar to South Carolina.

When Kentucky has the ball

Kentucky’s turnover % is 18.5 (No. 158), while Tennessee’s turnover defense is 19.1 (No. 151).

Conclusions

Tennessee protects the ball pretty well, and Kentucky doesn’t present a particular threat on this front. On the other side of the ball, the Vols don’t do a great job of creating turnovers, but the Wildcats are fairly generous on their own. My guess is that turnovers won’t really be much of a factor Saturday.

Offensive Rebounding %

When Tennessee has the ball

Tennessee’s OR% is 32.3 (No. 58), while Kentucky’s defense in that category is 25.8 (No. 61), which is most similar to Louisville.

When Kentucky has the ball

Here’s where is gets scary for Vols fans. Kentucky’s OR% is 38.3 (No. 3), while Tennessee’s defense in that category is 30.4 (No. 259). The Wildcats are great at getting their own misses, and — being generous here — the Vols aren’t especially well-equipped to prevent them from doing so.

Conclusions

The biggest advantage in this game appears to be on the offensive glass for the Wildcats. Get ready to go nuts every time we play good defense only to see them get an easy rebound and putback.

Free Throw Rate

When Tennessee has the ball

Tennessee’s FT Rate is 36.3 (No. 102), while Kentucky’s defense against that is 27.1 (No. 34). What that means is that the Vols aren’t especially good at drawing fouls as a team, and the Wildcats are quite good at playing defense without fouling.

When Kentucky has the ball

Kentucky’s FT Rate is 41 (No. 22), while Tennessee’s defense is 32.8 (No. 164). So, the mirror image of the foregoing is also true: The Wildcats are good at drawing fouls, and the Vols aren’t especially good at avoiding them.

Conclusions

We’re going to want to blame this on CoRuppt Arena and the Rupparees, but it would be in keeping with both teams’ respective resumes if Kentucky ends up with a huge advantage in getting to the foul line Saturday night.

Score Prediction

KenPom has Kentucky winning this one 74-72. I suspect that this is just about right.

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Dawn
Dawn
1 year ago

They’re dirty rotten cheaters. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it! 😉

Gavin Driskill
Gavin Driskill
1 year ago

All the metrics suggest a close game.

If that’s true, it may come down to execution of one or two plays at the end, and that’s a situation that you think would favor the more mature team.

The only thing that would surprise me is if this is a blowout one way or the other.