Kentucky Basketball: Ranking Calipari’s UK Teams

NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 02: Anthony Davis
NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 02: Anthony Davis /

John Calipari has recruited countless talented players to the Kentucky basketball program during his time in Lexington. How do Calipari’s teams rank, not just in terms of talent, but also in terms of success?

8) 2012-13

This was the first season of the Coach Cal Era that Big Blue Nation would like to forget. Coming off a National Championship the year before, expectations were high for Kentucky basketball and coach Calipari. Freshman center Nerlens Noel was expected to fill the void left by the previous season’s National Player of the Year, Anthony Davis.

Freshman guard Archie Goodwin, while talented, was not the best fit for John Calipari’s system. Noel injured his knee midway through the season and fellow freshmen Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress were not ready for the spotlight.

Most of all, Marquise Teague left for the NBA, leaving North Carolina State transfer Ryan Harrow as the starting point guard. Ketucky would finish the season 21-12 and lost to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT.

7) 2015-16

The 2015-16 Wildcats started the season well, including a 74-63 victory over No. 5 Duke in the Champions Classic. That win was UK’s first over the Blue Devils since the 1998 NCAA Tournament victory.

The Kentucky back-court of Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray were relied upon heavily to carry the Wildcats throughout the season. Ulis was a first-team All American and the SEC Player of the Year. The lack of an inside presence was a huge detriment to Kentucky all season long. And while UK won yet another SEC Tournament Championship, that good fortune would not carry into the NCAA Tournament as Kentucky fell to Indiana in the second round.

6) 2010-11

Calipari’s second season would prove to be much more trying than his first. Kentucky finished the regular season 22-8, going 10-6 in the SEC. Brandon Knight, the No.1 rated point guard from the 2010 class, was the unquestioned leader on the team. Fellow freshmen Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones were also key contributors on this team.

Josh Harrellson was the biggest surprise on the 2010-11 team. Harrellson averaged a career-high in points (7.6), rebounds (8.7) and blocks (1.5). The Wildcats drew a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which didn’t sit well with Big Blue Nation. The Wildcats outplayed their seed and made it to their first Final Four since 1998. They would lose to eventual NCAA Champion Connecticut.

5) 2016-17

Last season Calipari brought a ton of talent to Lexington. De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo and Malik Monk joined sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe and homegrown seniors Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis.

Malik Monk was a dominant scorer throughout the season and earned second team All-America status. De’Aaron Fox drew comparisons to former Cats John Wall, as he used his speed and quickness to blow by defenders. Fox’s NBA potential was on full display during their Elite Eight contest with UCLA. Fox dominated the Bruins’ Lonzo Ball, who was thought to be a future No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.

The Wildcats came up just short of another Final Four appearance with a 75-73 loss to North Carolina. Fox, Adebayo, Briscoe and Monk would all declare for the NBA draft shortly after Kentucky’s loss.

4) 2013-14

Calipari’s fifth season may have been his best coaching job during his tenure at Kentucky. After a disappointing season the year before, Cal brought in the No.1 recruiting class again. Julius Randle, James Young and the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, highlighted a highly-touted group of freshmen. UK also returned sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress.

Kentucky played an up-and-down regular season and finished with nine losses. Julius Randle averaged a double-double with 15 points and 10.4 rebounds. The Cats would fall in the SEC Championship game to the Florida Gators 61-60.

Kentucky drew a No. 8 seed in the Midwest bracket of the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky had a run in the NCAA Tournament that few had ever seen. The Wildcats knocked off No. 1 seed Wichita State, setting up a match up with cross-state rival Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen.

Kentucky defeated UofL, bounced Michigan and knocked out Wisconsin. Andrew Harrison knocked down big, clutch shots at the end of each of those games. The magic ran out in the National Championship when the Cats fell to Connecticut 60-54.

3) 2009-10

In Calipari’s first season as head coach at Kentucky he had the number one recruiting class in the nation. With the likes of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe it’s easy to see how the Wildcats finished the regular season with only 2 losses. Patrick Patterson brought a veteran presence to the team and increased his ability to shoot the outside shot. Patterson shot 35% from behind the arc after hitting no three-pointers the previous two seasons.

The 2009-10 team was part of the program’s 2,000 win. This team also won the SEC Tournament Championship in dramatic fashion with a 75-74 overtime win over Mississippi State. When all the dust settles, Calipari may look back at this season as the year he let one get away. Kentucky, the NCAA Tournament’s No.1 seed in the East, would fall in the Elite 8 to West Virginia.

2) 2014-15

This team may have been the most talented squad that Calipari has had at Kentucky. The Harrison twins, Willie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress (who would only play 8 games due to an injured his knee) all returned from the National runner-up team of 2014. Add to that Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis and Trey Lyles, and Calipari had the most loaded roster during his UK tenure.

The 2014-15 Kentucky basketball team employed a platoon system, so as to divide playing time evenly between all of UK’s players. That system, though tweaked from time to time, helped guide the Wildcats to an undefeated regular season.

Cauley-Stein (1st team) and Towns (2nd team) were consensus All-Americans. Kentucky was the unquestioned No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky survived a scare in the Elite 8 game against Notre Dame, but couldn’t overcome Wisconsin in the Final Four. UK lost 71-64 and finished the season 38-1.

1) 2011-12

The 2011-12 UK basketball team was perhaps the best team Kentucky fans have seen since the 1995-96 team cut down the nets. Not only did Calipari bring in five-star high school recruits Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but for the first time in his coaching career at UK, Cal returned some valuable pieces. Both Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones returned for their sophomore seasons.

The unsung hero for this team was senior forward Darius Miller. Miller, who started 37 games the previous season, took a backseat to Kidd-Gilchrist. Miller would eclipse Wayne Turner’s mark of games played when Miller suited up for the National Championship. He finished his Wildcat career with 152 games.

This team lost only one regular-season game, a buzzer-beating defeat at Indiana. UK would go on to win the National Championship for the first time since 1998. Anthony Davis was first-team All American, NABC Defensive Player of the Year, National Player of the Year and the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament.

This season…

Where will this season’s Kentucky squad fall on the list? We’ll let the season play out before we answer that question. The amount of talent that Cal has recruited to Kentucky during his tenure is nothing short of impressive. So long as Calipari is the coach at Kentucky, Big Blue Nation can continue to expect big things from their Wildcats and maybe add a ninth banner to the rafters in Rupp Arena sooner rather than later.