Here is Part II of my commentary on ol' Con Man Cal. The new piece isn't quite as deep as the first, since it's only covering this passed season, and Part I chronicled several. In light of the news of Cal trying to snub Elisha Justice away from Pitino and the Ville, it's my pleasure to bring another analysis on this sack of (expletive). Hope you guys enjoy it.
Analytical View On John Calipari - Part II
Alright, so last year I offered a factual perspective along with personal opinions woven in about John Calipari's track record and exposed that despite the bloated sports media whoring, consistently overrating him and his teams, he's never brought home the Big One and hasn't proven he's worthy of the accolades he gets these days. Here we are after his first season as the head coach of the University of Kentucky. Let's take a look at what the year has taught us.
As expected, Calipari made an immediate impact at UK, bringing in the best recruits he could get his hands (or cash-stuffed envelops) on. Despite his second collegiate program (Memphis, with UMass the first) being forced to vacate their season (2007-08) and subsequent Final Four due to rules violations, the media (both locally and nationally) had verbal orgasms on a daily basis, and the Wildcats were seemingly right back in the thick of things with a top 5 pre-season ranking. Landing freshmen-sensations John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, along with other highly touted prospects like Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton, promised UK would be ready to not only contend for the National Title during Cal's first year, but jargon of going undefeated actually began to swirl. Calipari himself was seemingly caught up in the hype when he uttered the words "We will be UN-BEAT-ABLE!" during the annual Big Blue Madness season kick off event in Lexington. HA! Although the Wildcats cobbled together a 29-2 regular season record and went on to win both the SEC outright and tournament titles, I was one of the (very) few spectators doubting the Cats' chances of reaching the Final Four. How did I have the nerve? Let's take a look....
Let's take a peek at the prominent names on UK's OOC schedule as we did with Memphis last year:
First up, we had the annual rivalry matchup with usual-powerhouse North Carolina. UNC were blasted in the 1st half, but clawed their way back in the 2nd before narrowly losing 68-66. The Tar Heels went on to a 16-15 regular season record and found themselves in the NIT for the first time since 2003. Oops.
Second, the Cats went up against the mighty UConn Huskies, who just last year were a #1 seed going into the Big Dance, reaching the Final Four. Result - another narrow victory for UK, 64-61, and the Huskies, now without star players Hasheem Thabeet and AJ Price, wound up 17-14 and back in the NIT for the first time since 2001. Ouch.
Next up, was the legendary Indiana. Unfortunately though for Tom Crean and the Hoosiers, the days of Bobby Knight's dominance are just a distant memory. Indiana is still rebuilding in the wake of the nuclear explosion left by Kelvin Sampson and his many NCAA violations that set the program back 15 years. Needless to say, UK won easily, and Indiana finished up 10-20 before getting blasted out of the Big Ten Tournament by Northwestern, effectively putting the dagger into their season. Damn!
Finally, it was the Louisville Cardinals who just one year ago ended the season with the Big East outright and tournament titles, the #1 AP ranking, and the #1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. But, without NBA lottery picks Terrence Williams and Earl Clark, the Cards uncharacteristically spent the majority of the season unranked and struggled all year to find consistency in every aspect of the game, dealing with several lopsided upsets. They lost to Kentucky 71-62 for the first time in three seasons, barely avoiding the NIT by making the NCAA Tournament by the skin of their teeth. See where this is going?
It was easy for anyone not caught up in the hype to conclude that UK's non-conference schedule was extremely weak. The road ahead: The broken-down SEC. Undoubtedly a far cry from the power league of old, the Southeastern conference boasted just two other prominent teams besides the resurrected Wildcats. The Vanderbilt Commodores & the Tennessee Volunteers seemed to be the lone threats in a sea of mediocrity that awaited Kentucky. But then, as fate would have it, the Vols would suffer what many thought of as a crushing blow on the night of New Year's 2010 when players Tyler Smith, Cameron Tatum, Brian Williams and Melvin Goins were all arrested and subsequently suspended from the team. Although three returned, only one saw significant minutes in the first meeting with UK which ended with a 73-62 loss for the Vols.
When UK suffered their first loss at the hands of South Carolina (who didn't even make the NIT) and blew their #1 ranking within hours of getting it, the Big Blue Nation's pain could be felt from miles around. Their dream of an undefeated season shattered which prompted the usual fan backlash that the Wildcat program is sorely accustomed to. Calipari and Co. responded with an easy thrashing of Vanderbilt, a win against Tennessee, and smacked around a handful of cupcakes until the rematch with the Vols. Result - 2nd loss.
By the end of the season things were looking like the usual Calipari song and dance. Inflated record, cupcake conference championship, & bloated NCAA seeding. The media was all over it. "Kentucky may have the toughest road in this tournament." Um, what? E. Tenn St, Wake Forest, Cornell? You kiddin' me? In my bracket, Calipari had his usual easy stroll all the way to the Elite Eight where they'd meet the one team in the region to fear -- West Virginia. Even I was surprised at some of the smack talk I was reading when sharing my Cat-less Final Four prediction. "The Big Least! UK will steamroll West Virginia and whoever is in the Final Four, etc." Really? The Big Least? "So, what you're saying is Kentucky has had their season ended three out of the last four years by a team from what you call the worst league (that is what 'least' means, right?). Ok.......well, the joke's on me I guess?" Make that four out of five. The Mountaineers, whose starting five consist of two seniors and a junior, exposed the one thing John Cal's supergroup lacked -- experience. And I'm not the kind of guy to say I told you so, but g*dd*mn it, I told everyone who'd listen at the beginning of the season that a freshmen team isn't gonna win a National Championship. I got laughed at.......
And this is the result of a program's actions when they agreed to shell out an asinine $4,000,000 a year to lure Calipari away from Memphis. Sure, he can recruit (at what cost). But, can he get his one-and-dones to stay in school? If not, this problem will continue to recur at Kentucky. A consistent rotation of freshmen, no matter how touted, will not pack the mentality required to go all the way (as the UK-WV game clearly showed). 'Superman' John Wall looked like Clark Kent out there in the 2nd half, mentally rattled by the Mountaineers' relentless offensive surge and poised consistency. Eric Bledsoe, who buried eight 3-pointers in the opening round against East Tennessee St, went 0-5 that night. And Cal's Kryptonite, the free-throw shooting.........not one Wildcat was over 50%. All these things are why West Virginia was in my Final Four from the start.
Media hype, money, and a rabid fanbase doesn't win championships. It takes a special coach who can take every aspect of this great game and put it all together. Thus far, John Calipari hasn't shown me he has what it takes. There are those (including myself) who would say and have said: NIT-to-Elite Eight in one year is awesome! True. But, if I'm inside the head of UK's athletic director, Mitch Barnhart, I'm thinking I didn't blow this kind of cash on yet another season without a Final Four, much less a National Title. Calipari is expected to bring home the gold. That's the only reason he's there. And if he ever pulls it off, I'll be the first to congratulate him and give him kudos for making these commentaries of mine look foolish, all the while keeping an eye open for the NCAA to uncover yet another dirty scandal and force him to vacate the season.