Kentucky Wildcats Basketball fans need to prepare for the inevitable – life after John Calipari

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Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

It’s going to happen one day. And Kentucky Wildcats basketball fans will have to deal with it.

John Calipari will leave Kentucky. Just like Nick Saban will leave Alabama. It’s a fact of life.  It probably won’t happen with Cal taking the Knicks job, but it eventually will happen.

 

Calipari dismissed the speculation of going to the Knicks. He’d worked 20 years to get a job like Kentucky’s, he said.

Of course, Calipari won’t be Kentucky’s coach forever. In an interview with Bill Raftery that will air on Fox Sports 1 Monday at 7:30 p.m., he spoke of the need to prepare “for the inevitable.”

That process takes time. It includes input from family and friends.

“What would my wife and I — where would we want to live?” he told Raftery. “That is my thoughts more than, all right, I want this job. No, I got the job I want.

Calipari called leaving Memphis in 2009 “the hardest decision of his life.” Kentucky represented an opportunity that if not taken could lead to gnawing regret.

It’s wearing effect requires a coach who can deal with scrutiny.

“You had to have been fired,” Calipari of the prerequisites needed to be UK coach. “You have had to experience the media ripping the crap out of you, and not (be) the golden boy — never questioned. Nothing ever happened to you. Never coached a high-level player. And then the last part of it is you had the weakest schedules in the world (at previous coaching stops). You are going to fail here. You are not going to make it.”

 

Of course Calipari states in the interview that he is still having fun at Kentucky.  But that day is going to happen.  And as long as he does not head to Louisville, I can deal with it.

 

Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

At this point, the Kentucky loss to Baylor has been dissected to death and if you read my midnight piece, you will see I think that it is not time to panic. Glenn Logan over at a Sea of Blue is a bit more upset about the loss and he thinks that Kentucky is in danger of possibly losing a number one seed. He gives some of his reasons.

 

Here are the fundamental arguments I am making:

The selection committee is already biased against young teams (I believe this is why 2010-11 Kentucky got a #4 seed instead of a 2 or 3).

Baylor, while a definite NCAA Tournament team and a very good squad, doesn’t look to me to be good enough to get to the Final Four. They are not much more experienced than Kentucky, and rather less talented in sum.

The combination of losses to MSU and Baylor leave Kentucky halfway through the non-conference schedule without a single quality win, defined in this case as a top 25 team at the time. No doubt there are other definitions of quality wins, but when you are talking #1 seeds, those are the ones that matter.

There is currently only one top 25 team in the SEC other than Kentucky, and that is Florida. Florida is injured, and also I don’t think they are going to stay in the top 25. That means in conference, UK will have to beat Florida all both times to pick up two quality wins, and that assumes that Florida is actually good enough to stay there, which I doubt.

Kentucky has exactly two more “quality” teams on its schedule, other than the aforementioned Florida.

Taking all this together, and where UK is likely to fall in the polls, the Wildcats are going to need a lot of help to get into position to claim a #1 seed. Teams like North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, and Syracuse all have schedules where there are multiple opportunities to claim quality wins. Kentucky doesn’t. This isn’t the fault of Calipari, I think the non-conference schedule is plenty tough enough, but only if you win most of the quality games on there. The weak teams fielded by the SEC are more to blame than anything else, but this seems to be a trend unlikely to reverse itself anytime soon.

So where this all puts UK is essentially in a “must win” position at UNC and versus Louisville. Win those two games, and they have a chance at getting a top seed with a reasonable bit of help from the field. Lose them, and they will be in the same dark place they were last season coming out of the non-conference portion of the schedule.

 

I have to say that the one thing I agree on is that Kentucky can not stumble any more in December.  It is true that Florida is the only SEC team that is ranked right now, but there are chances for more quality wins on UK’s schedule.  Missouri at 9-0 should be ranked today and Boise State may even be in the top 25.  Plus Belmont is a RPI darling at the moment.

Also keep in mind that Florida could hang a third loss on Kansas on Tuesday and both UNC and Duke have two losses already.  Kentucky may find it tough to be a #1 seed, but the #2 seed is just as important and sometimes is an even better path to the regional finals.  And Kentucky still has plenty of time to sweep through December and put together a 20 game winning streak and earn one of those two seeds.  But the margin of error is very low.

 

Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Booker played his first game in the Bluegrass State this weekend as part of the Marshall County Hoop Fest. Kentucky fans were impressed with Booker’s ability to score, but even more so with the way he gets to the free throw line and knocks them down. Booker knows that skill is going to be big at the next level.

 

The UK signee attacked the basket all night in Saturday’s loss to Ballard, earning 24 free throws and making 20 of them. At one point, he knocked down 12 in a row.

“It’s big,” he said. “We’re seeing that right now with the young team at Kentucky. Free throws are big. My dad’s been stressing them. You just have to get up there and knock them down.”

Booker has been drawing double and triple teams against opposing defenses all season, and Ballard ran at least one extra defender at him every time he touched the ball Saturday night.

When that happens, Booker turns the aggressiveness up a notch. And it usually means a couple of freebies.

Racking up points from the line might not make for the most exciting basketball in the world, but it’s certainly effective.

“Free throws are part of the game,” said Moss Point Coach Micoe Cotton. “Allen Iverson didn’t (make) everything from out there, but he averaged 30 points a game because of his ability to get to the bucket, get fouled and hit those free throws. You have nobody defending you, nobody in your face. Knock ‘em down.”

 

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