Nate Oats emerging as the favorite to replace John Calipari at Kentucky

With John Calipari off to Arkansas, Kentucky may turn around and poach another SEC head coach to fill their vacancy. After Alabama's run to the Final Four, Nate Oats is the hot name connected to Lexington.
Alabama head coach Nate Oats
Alabama head coach Nate Oats / Patrick Breen/The Republic / USA TODAY

The dust has yet to settle on John Calipari’s departure and self-induced demotion from Kentucky to Arkansas, but athletic director Mitch Barnhart has to be looking to the future. That future might include poaching another SEC coach, like Arkansas just did to him. 

Since 2019, Kentucky’s last trip to the Elite Eight under John Calipari, the Wildcats have just one NCAA Tournament win. Over that same stretch, Nate Oats has won eight NCAA Tournament games at Alabama and two SEC Tournament titles to Calipari’s zero. 

Oats has emerged as the new hotshot head coach in the conference and cemented that status with a run to the Final Four that just ended with a loss to UConn on Saturday. Oats has ushered in a new era of college basketball, heavily reliant on analytics, shooting threes, and playing fast. 

For the former high school math teacher, the numbers say it’s the right way to play basketball and it’s been successfully married with a hard-nosed, blue-collared, mindset that Oats cultivated during his years coaching under Bobby Hurley at Buffalo, a program he eventually led to three conference titles between 2015-2019. 

The numbers also say that Oats is the favorite to replace John Calipari in Lexington. Oats has emerged as the betting favorite at +350 odds (implied 22.2% chance), narrowly edging out Scott Drew at +450 (18.2%). 

While Drew has a national title on his resume from 2021, his Baylor teams have not advanced past the second round in the past three NCAA Tournaments. Drew has led Baylor since 2003 when the program needed a massive overhaul, and interviewed for the Louisville opening before deciding to return to Waco.

Another number that could prevent Oats from leaving Tuscaloosa is his expensive buyout. If he were to leave Alabama for another job, he would owe the school $18 million. That drives the price up for Kentucky if the program truly is interested.

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