They are then two most winningest teams in NCAA basketball history. They played for the national title two years ago. And they will play in the State Farm Champions Classic in November of this year. So the comparisons between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Kansas Jayhawks basketball program will be inevitable.
Coming into this season, both teams relied heavily on a large freshman base and the two teams have 17 losses between them. However Kansas, with their eight losses remain firmly entrenched in the top ten and until last weekend were considered to be a top seed. Kentucky with nine losses is now out of the Top 25 and are projected anywhere from a 5-7 seed. What gives?
Gary Parrish may not be the right person to compare and contrast the teams, but he does so anyway in praising Bill Self.
No doubt, Self has spent this season coaching talented freshmen — most notably Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden. But those are the only three Jayhawks currently listed as top-100 NBA prospects by DraftExpress.com. Meantime, Kentucky has six top-100 NBA prospects, according to the same site; that’s twice as many as KU. And yet the Wildcats are currently unranked, point being that enrolling elite prospects doesn’t guarantee success … or, at least, it hasn’t proved successful for John Calipari this season.
Exactly what’s gone wrong at UK is a conversation for another day.
That’s not the point.
The point is that Kansas is essentially just as young as Kentucky and arguably less talented, but you’d never know it by looking at the Jayhawks’ body of work, which is why it’s ridiculous to take what Self has done this season for granted. How he’ll do from this point forward will be interesting to watch, of course, because, suddenly, he’s coaching a team without its top post player, and it’s possible Embiid won’t return at all; time will tell, I guess. But regardless of what happens over the next month, what Bill Self did with this young and inexperienced roster from November to now is absolutely worthy of recognition.
Fair or not, it has become the latest trend to take potshots at John Calipari and his “one and done” culture. And if Kentucky flames out in the NCAA, some will say that Calipari’s system is a failure and will come under heavy fire.
That isn’t fair, of course. Kentucky is 22-9 and the #2 seed in the SEC Tournament. Yes, 22-9 is enough to make spoiled Wildcat fans yelp for Coach Cal’s scalp on Twitter and messageboards, but to most fans 22-9 would be a pretty good year. Especially for a team loaded down with freshmen. Any other big-time program going 22-9 with an inexperienced line-up would be described as “rebuilding” by the press. But we won’t give Calipari that kind of break.
The reality is that a flameout in the NCAA tourney won’t at all prove Calipari’s system doesn’t work. It will only prove that fielding teams made up of one-and-doners makes things more difficult for the coach himself. Each year he has to learn a new group of starters. Each year has to coax them into buying into a “team first” mentality. And each year he has to pray that one of his rookies doesn’t go down with an injury.
Since he started pushing Kentucky as an NBA stepladder, Calpari has reached an Elite Eight, two Final Fours, a national title game (which UK won), the NIT, and now another NCAA tourney. (The NIT bid came in a year in which Kentucky went 4-5 down the stretch after an injury to dominating big man Nerlens Noel.) Most coaches, schools and fans would take that five-year record and smile.
In fact, isn’t it possible that we in the media overhyped this particular Wildcat recruiting class in the first place? This was about the fourth year in a row in which America’s best-known basketball gurus declared that Kentucky had landed “The Greatest Class Of All-Time.” (Pause for trumpets, fanfare.) And if we in the press — along with rabid Big Blue fans — called it the best class ever, well, by gosh it has to be the coach’s fault he’s only gone 22-9. To hell with chemistry.