CONCERNED FANS FOR
COMPARE AND CONTRAST
Tubby Smith supporters often claim that Jeff Shepherd gives Tubby Smith the credit for the 1998 National Chamipionship run. Others say that Shepherd has made statements that do not support this Pro-Tubby view. Here is a direct quote attributed to Shepherd during the 1998 Final Four.
We had to straighten the coach out.
I watched Coach Pitino arrive in Lexington amidst Kentucky Shame with his positive, never give up attitude and restore UK Basketball to glory in record time. Lest we not forget from whence we came, 1989 was dismal. The first losing record at UK in basketball since Adolph arrived in 1930. The 1989 season ended with UK's offensive efficiency less than its defensive efficiency. Players were leaving the program in significant numbers, and the NCAA handed down strong sanctions against the program. Sports Illustrated widely proclaimed Kentucky's Shame to the world.
I watched as Coach Pitino left Lexington in the spring of 1997 and I watched as Tubby Smith arrived with a promise to continue the winning ways that Pitino's system had produced. Unlike the shame that prevailed upon Pitino's arrival just 8 years earlier, Tubby Smith took control of UK Basketball at a time when it was clearly the dominant program around. Back to back championship game appearances, and a group of returning veterans from those teams to provide the perfect transition for a newcomer.
Efficiency is a normalized measure of offensive and defensive effectiveness for a team. It encompasses all elements of offensive and defensive effort into a single measure of the number of points a team scores or allows its opponents to score on each possession, thus points per possession [ppp]. The graph above presents the offensive and defensive efficiencies for each UK team coached by Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith as well as the final 1989 season values.
Offensively you will note that Pitino's teams performed consistently above 0.9 ppp and averaged almost 0.94 ppp over 8 seasons. Pitino's offense was immediately better than the last Sutton team. The trend line shows a very slight trend of improvement, but in my opinion, the trend is essentially level. You will also note a similar trend in the Tubby Smith offensive efficiencies, essentially level. However, the offensive efficiency immediately dropped when Tubby Smith arrived at UK, and has never returned to the levels that Pitino's best teams achieved. Pitino's worst offensive team was better than Tubby's average offensive team at UK. Tubby's best team is no better than Pitino's average.
Defensively, the data tells a story of public misconception about both coaches. The public perception of Pitino has been a great offensive mind, and teams that gun up the threes, but few observers focus on his defensive coaching abilities and results. The public perception of Tubby Smith has been that of a great defensive coach with little focus, ability, indeed interest at the offensive end. However, the trend lines for Pitino and Smith teams tell a radically different story as each coach established their own players and system and left their personal finger prints on the UK program.
If Rick Pitino was a rocket, then Tubby Smith has been a roller coaster. Rockets use their own fuel [hard work, effort] to propel themselves to higher and higher levels, reaching for a stable orbit at the top. Roller coasters use stored energy [hard work by others] and roll down hill until all the stored energy has been wasted. This analogy enjoys support from their respective records at UK.
Net Game Efficiency [NGE] is the algebraic difference between offensive and defensive efficiencies for a team. It is a normalized average margin of victory, or loss when negative. The trend curves tell the entire story, and with the 2006-07 season on the horizon, I have little doubt that the slide downhill toward the end of Tubby's ride will continue.
Some fans have been elated by the fact that the view was breath taking as the Tubby Coaster was being pulled over that first crest in 1998 by the Pitino system and Pitino players. This elation was fueled by fan perceptions throughout that season that the team was struggling in ways that UK fans had not observed in a few years. But then things changed, UK won yet another championship, and the fans got one last glimpse of glory land just before the Tubby Coaster began to fall down that first big drop.
The drop was frightening, and most fans sensed the turmoil that the rapid descent created, but on the next ride up, the fans seemed relieved that the dropping had finally ended and it didn't seem to matter that the coaster had too little momentum left to get another glimpse of glory land. Ever since, some fans continue to defend Tubby Smith solely because he was riding in the front car of the Tubby Coaster when it was pulled over that crest 8 years ago. Other fans have finally realized that the Tubby Coaster will never have enough momentum to climb that high ever again.
The 1998 season, Tubby's first, is a tale of two seasons. The first 26 games saw UK standing at 22-4, and not very impressive in its levels of performance in reaching that point. After those 26 games, UK's NGE stood at 0.10 ppp based on offensive and defensive efficiencies of 0.89 ppp and 0.79 ppp respectively. Interestingly, after 9 full seasons, Tubby's averages are an NGE = 0.11 ppp based on offensive and defensive efficiencies of 0.90 ppp and 0.79 ppp respectively. The 1998 team was clearly playing Tubby Ball for the first 26 games. This 26 game season ended with a loss to Ole Miss at Rupp, 63-79.
Rumors abound, and opinions differ as to what happened next to the 1998 team. Some claim the team had a players only meeting and decided that the problems occurred because they refused to listen to and follow the directions of their coach, Tubby Smith. Others claim the team had a team meeting in which they decided that they would return to the winning style of play they had each learned from Pitino. What followed are stories suited for legends and movies.
UK won its last 13 games, including a 25 point pounding of Florida on the road, a 25 point pounding of Auburn on the road, and a regular season ending 12 point road win over South Carolina, probably the second best SEC team at the time. UK dominated the SEC Tournament with 11 point win over Alabama, 25 points over Arkansas, and 30 points over South Carolina. UK then waltzed through the first 3 rounds in the NCAA with 15 points over S. Carolina State, 27 points over St. Louis, and 26 points over UCLA setting up an Elite Eight grudge match against Duke.
UK defeated DUKE by 2 points, defeated Stanford in the Final Four by 1 point in OT and defeated Utah by 9 points to win the championship.
The comparative strength of schedule for the last 13 games had to be far superior to the strength of UK schedule through its first 26 games. Only one home game, three road games, and the SEC and NCAA Tournaments at neutral sites. For those last 13 games, UK''s NGE stood at 0.21 ppp based on offensive and defensive efficiencies of 0.99 ppp and 0.78 ppp respectively. Interestingly, Pitino's averages for his six NCAA eligible teams are an NGE about 0.17 ppp based on offensive and defensive efficiencies of 0.94 ppp and 0.77 ppp respectively. The 1998 team was clearly playing Pitino Ball for the last 13 games. This 13 game season ended with UK's seventh National Championship.
Submitted by Richard Cheeks