Has John Calipari Lost his Touch?

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If you ask most college basketball fans across the country, most will agree that John Calipari is a legend of the game. While there are many criticisms on Cal, he’s been one of the most successful coaches in the NCAA Tournament for the better part of a decade. Coming into his 11th season at Kentucky, Calipari has been to two Final Fours, five Elite Eights, and has won a National Championship.

Unfortunately, the last few years have been a little rough for the Wildcats. While having elite recruiting classes and multiple NBA players on his rosters, Calipari and Kentucky have not been as dominant in the tournament. It all seemed to go downhill after UK’s heartbreaking loss to Wisconsin in 2015’s Final Four. That 2015 team was arguably the most exceptional college basketball roster ever assembled, with 6+ future NBA players on the squad. That team still managed to lose to a Frank Kaminsky-led Badgers team, and it seems like the program hasn’t recovered since.

Despite bringing in a top-ranked recruiting class every year, it seems like Kentucky has been less and less of a threat across the nation. While being ranked #1 this season, the Cats lost a stunning upset at home against Evansville and have been the joke of the internet ever since. Some may say that Duke is in the same boat as Kentucky, with multiple disappointing seasons in a row and their embarrassing upset loss to Stephen F. Austin this year. Still, Kentucky and Calipari have been struggling a little bit more, in my opinion. Once tournament time rolls around, the Freshmen seem to be out of their element, while experienced teams like Virginia and Villanova have found resounding success.

So Why Is Kentucky Struggling?

Picture by Stephen Dunn/Hartford Courant

The point I’m making here is that the rest of the country’s coaches have caught up with Calipari. He started the “one-and-done” era of college basketball. When he was the only one doing it, he found success. Once the rest of the country started catching on, elite five stars were spreading out across the nation, going to an array of other schools. After Calipari and Kentucky began to doing “Pro Days,” Duke and almost every other school started doing them too, to make themselves more desirable as possible NBA bridge schools for elite recruits. Combine 5-stars with experience, and you get teams that win in the tournament.

Kentucky and Calipari continue to pump out draft picks every year and completely reload their roster at the start of every new season. Kentucky rarely has experienced leaders or senior starters. This is the main reason behind Kentucky’s lack of success in the tournament. Other teams have combined talent with experience, while Calipari continues to focus on pumping out as many lottery players as possible.

I love Coach Calipari. He has done so much for this program. Unfortunately, his refusal to sign 3-4 year players is the reason why we haven’t been very successful. In the past, guys like Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, and Alex Poythress have been valuable to the team due to their experience. If Kentucky had more of that, I think they would have over ten championships by now. There are many fantastic teams that Kentucky has had that have fallen short of a banner, and I believe it’s because John Calipari will not change his philosophy on roster building.


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2 COMMENTS

  1. UK has been to 4 Final Fours under Coach Cal. Also, during the 10 years Coach Cal has been at UK the Cats have more NCAA Tournament wins than any other team. As for UK struggling more than Duke, you are wrong. Duke’s recent classes have been ranked higher than UK’s and the Blue Devils have not had more success than UK since the 2015 season ended. UK maybe should have a couple more titles, but it takes a little luck to win 6 in a row. The Cats have been a contender every season except 2013 when their season was derailed by the injury to Nerlens Noel. 99 percent of the college basketball programs would love have the “struggles” that UK has had during the Calipari era.

    • wait, so we’re not allowed to want improvements? There’s ways we can be even more dominant than we already are, and that’s by balancing out talent with experience. In-state recruits are the answer here.

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