I don’t have the patience for writing about anything of substance today (politics, mass shootings, CA climate, etc.), so I’ll write about my trivial passion – UK basketball.
It’s another frustrating season as a UK fan. So much talent, so much potential, and a weak, inconsistent result. In past decades opponents feared and respected Kentucky basketball teams, but no more. This decade we’re an also-ran in a tough SEC conference. And out of the conference, against good teams? A few random wins (beat Kansas at home last year), but generally 50-50 or worse outside the SEC. Meh.
We Kentuckians take great pride in our team and its historical success, even domination of the game. It’s fun to be part of a winning tradition. Lately…not so much. The big question is why.
The answer has to start with the coach. I’ve been a huge John Calipari fan for years, but he isn’t getting it done anymore. It’s not about this year, it’s about the last decade. Let’s take an objective look at JC’s UK record. From Wikipedia:
I mean, looking at the totals, it’s a great record. Who wouldn’t want a 78% win rate? But year after year, we fall short of the big prize and the meaningful wins under JC. Let’s work our way backwards, using the latter half of the season’s year as our marker. From Wikipedia, of course.
2022 – A great team that was expected to be in the Final Four, and we took a terrible loss in the first round (!!) of the NCAA tournament. That’s still an open wound around my house.
2021 – The worst year in UK hoops history. Just an awful, awful season.
2020 – Covid. ‘Nuff said.
2016 – 2019 – Good teams, decent runs into the NCAA tourney, but no Final Fours or championships.
2015 – The team that should have gone down in history as undefeated, but didn’t. The team with Tyler Ulis, the Harrison twins, Devon Booker, Karl Anthony Towns, Willy Cauley-Stein, and Alex Poythress. lost to Wisconsin in the first game of the Final Four. Lost in UK’s most hated arena in Indianapolis (we *never* play well in that place). This game was really the beginning of JC’s slow decline. Read about it all here.
2010-2014 – A great run, other than the shitty year in 2013 when we slummed it in the NIT and got bounced in the first round by Robert Morris (?!?!?). That was embarrassing. But this period saw us in three FF’s and one National Championship, so 2013 was mostly forgiven.
Looking at the big picture, we have four seasons where JC and the team achieved what is expected – a Final Four appearance. Four of thirteen (throwing out 2020 when there was no NCAA tourney and including this year, in which I predict we won’t make the FF), or 31%. Big picture, that’s not bad. Pretty much any school would take that, a 31% rate of getting to The Big Dance.
But the problem is that all those appearances were in the first half of JC’s tenure. Since 2015, nothing. No FF appearances and a string of bad losses in big games for eight years, including the Covid year and this year. Eight years is a long time for a fan base used to winning to be patient.
For some reason, JC has lost the ability to coach teams through the big games. Last week’s Kansas game was a great example. We had them – I could have coached that win, fergawdsake. For some inexplicable reason JC disrupted a winning lineup, took out his power forward freshman Chris Livingston, who was having a breakout game, and inserted Wheeler for most of the game. It wasn’t foul trouble; there was simply no explanation. Everyone who follows the game can see the trend – we’re a better team with Wheeler as a part-time role player off the bench. Calipari insists on playing him for long stretches, over and over. It’s maddening.
This kind of coach-inflicted loss is now the norm, so JC has to go. Love the guy as a human being, he’s a good person, but he’s not what we need right now to get UK back to being respected by opponents.