It didn’t last long, but the message sent was indelible. Security guards at Rupp Arena asked the fan holding a sign that said “Please go to Texas” to leave the Kentucky Wildcats game against South Carolina, but those four words and everything contained within them could not be unseen. Especially when the pictures were posted all over the internet.
That banner was not an advertisement for the Texas Bureau of Tourism. It was a suggestion from a Kentucky fan that John Calipari bag his Hall of Fame plaque and his Coach of the Year awards and memorabilia associated with the 2012 NCAA Tournament, the other four he’s reached in the UK and compiled 377 wins since becoming Wildcats coach in 2009. And ship it all out on a long trip to any other willing program with a vacancy for a men’s basketball coach.
At least the wording was printable in a family publication!
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“I’ve been here for 13 years, and it’s unlike anywhere I’ve been before in terms of college basketball,” Lexington sports talk host Matthew Lawrence told Sporting News. “The amount of scrutiny is unlike anything I’ve experienced with a sports team. Except maybe the Yankees. Those of us who are Yankees fans, we get like that sometimes.”
Understanding, Lawrence moved to Kentucky after living in North Carolina’s Research Triangle area for over a decade and working as part of the Duke basketball radio team. So it’s not like he was never surrounded by basketball-mad people in college.
– TheCatsPause247 (@TheCatsPause247) January 11, 2023
The past few years have reminded us, though Kentucky is different, from the reaction to the team’s massive failure during the COVID-affected 2020-21 season, to the first-ever run under John Calipari at the hands of St. Peter’s in 2022, to the early struggles The current Wildcats to complete expulsion of the Cats Who Never Were, a 2019-20 team that finished 25-6, won the Southeastern Conference by three games but never had a chance to see how it would fare in the NCAAs due to the cancellation of March Madness.
We’re reminded that it’s been nearly 1,400 days since Calipari’s Kentucky won an NCAA Tournament game, but not explained in that searing fact that when the 2021 edition of March Madness began, it had been 719 days since anyone had won a game. NCAA Tournament.
|year||Register||SEC record||NCAA score|
|2022-23||12-6||3-3||to be announced later on|
|2021-22||26-8||14-4||Lost in the first round|
|2019-20||25-6||15-3||Seed #2 expected*|
* – Tournament canceled
He began the season with the Wildcats, led by unanimous Player of the Year Oscar Cheppui, who were ranked fifth in the Associated Press poll and ranked number one by The Sporting News. Nothing that has happened since has indicated that they are that kind of team.
“We were all right in thinking: You have the most dominant player in the game who’s coming back, and we’ve all jumped on the leading assist return number, and then you have the healthy CJ Frederick who was two years ago,” said Jimmy Dykes, ESPN and SEC analyst. for TSN.
“But we can’t always drop. How good will he (Casson Wallace) be? He’s solid, but he’s not John Wall or Shay Gilgios Alexander. Chris Livingston is a good freshman. He’s not an elite freshman. So we’re kind of lost.”
It hasn’t been an entirely smooth ride in the season for the Wildcats. Chipuiyi, who the UK relied on almost entirely to work in defense last season, injured his knee in early October, requiring an operation to repair it and missing the first two matches. Time was lost developing chemistry within the team, and there wasn’t enough talent to replace that.
Flaws in player assembly — defensive shortcomings for guard Sahvir Wheeler from 5 to 9 points, Tobin’s aversion to contact in a power forward, Frederik’s search for confidence after a year lost to injury, the same for Antonio Reeves after moving from mid-major — have been exploited by Opponents have more than their strength highlighted. They stood 10-6 after a stunning, near-disastrous home loss to South Carolina in early January.
Lawrence said, “I’ve never seen, since I’ve been here, the level of vitriol leveled at Cal.” “So that part of it was very surprising. In many ways, as someone who talks about them every day, I was frustrated, too. Because we weren’t seeing any kind of progress. People talked about: We don’t know what to do when attacking. And we didn’t. And then it happened. South Carolina, and I was dreading waking up the next morning and looking at Twitter or any of the websites.”
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Since many of Kentucky’s teams in Calipari were dominated by freshmen, it took some time for some of them to unite. The most famous example of this was in 2013-14, when the team led by Julius Randle lost three of its last four games of the regular season to go 22-9, but was revitalized when he started singles play and lost by just one point. Florida is ranked first in the SEC title game and six in the NCAA Championship game.
This is a more experienced team, with only Wallace and Livingston checking out the rotation as freshmen, but it has struggled to find a winning formula. Even with back-to-back wins over top 5 teams in Tennessee and a Georgia team that has come to Rupp Arena with six wins in seven games and a 3-1 SEC record, there’s no reason to think all of the issues are resolved.
“There are a lot of problems with Kentucky. Every team has problems. At the time of the South Carolina game, they were the worst defensive team in the league, points per possession and all that stuff,” said Dykes. Be in the doldrums. You can criticize Cal for continuing to run a lot of the same things they did 12 years ago – well, a lot of coaches still do. But the issue for them was defense.”
Dykes pointed to Chipui’s problems defending the ball screens and Wheeler’s struggles in the same position.
In some ways, if the United Kingdom was going to stop its slide and gain some confidence—and assuage many of its critics—Tennessee was an ideal opponent. It’ll take extraordinary performance to beat the Vols, no doubt, but they’re just the kind of great team that stands a chance against the Wildcats.
“Tennessee isn’t a ball-heavy screen team. They are a pass-and-screen team—pass, pass, pass, jump or pass, pass, pass and throw it in. Kentucky has been built defensively to defend the pass better than the rebound.” “It was kind of the perfect storm for them to get in there, play a bigger lineup, shrink the field a little bit, guard passes… It’s a Tennessee team that, while good, can still struggle to score. It’s a perfect fit for where they’re at.” Kentucky was supposed to get in.”
There was also the matter of Weller missing that game due to a shoulder injury, which forced Calipari to play Wallace at guard and led him to play Frederick and Reeves more often together on the wings. He seemed to solve many of the Wildcats’ problems on defense and didn’t hurt offense, so this became the starting lineup in the home win over Georgia. It became difficult to see Wheeler get his first job back.
And there was another element to this UGa win: the day before, Calipari had told reporters that he was, in so many words, disappointed at the time Chibui was investing in improving his game. Oscar responded with an Oscar-worthy performance: 37 points, 24 rebounds, 3 steals. Kentucky will at least have a chance every game they dominate this way.
And when he doesn’t, we’ve seen what can happen. People bring references to games.
Those who expect Calipari to withdraw due to pressure have not watched him as a coach for the past four decades. He’s 63 years old, and he’s as stubborn as ever. He also has what has been described as a “lifetime contract”, with a northern acquisition value of $40 million. Those who know him well will tell you that he’s not the type to quit the competition, and he certainly wouldn’t walk away with that much cash.
Nor is he one who would be comfortable being anyone’s support act. Remember the absurdity of last summer when many became outraged that Calipari, in its campaign for a new Wildcats basketball training facility, accurately described the UK as a “basketball school” in contrast to the Alabama and Georgia soccer schools? Well, Texas is definitely a football school.
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The weirdest thing is that Kentucky fans are pushing the “Cal out” agenda—there are four GoFundMe accounts to raise money for the takeover; They’ve collected $10 so far – and they wish their future away because they’re angry about the past. And we mean the recent past. During the 2010s decade, Calipari’s Wildcats have reached the Final Four four times, made the Elite Eight twice more and have won more NCAA Tournament games than any other program. They moved across the All-Americans from John Wall to Anthony Davis to Carl Anthony Towns to Tyler Ulis to PJ Washington.
And while the past three seasons haven’t been as dreamy, Kentucky has assembled the No. 1 recruiting class in college basketball—three of the four top prospects in the 2023 class, including famed guard DJ Wagner (above)—before next season. Begging Calipari to take another school job is, well, telling him to take all that talent from the elite.
“It’s an impatient fan base, sometimes, but it’s also what makes Kentucky one of the best two or three jobs in college ball,” Dykes said. “Because they raise this program to a high, elite level, year after year after year.
“For me, the Cal talks going back to Texas got really heated last week, so that all started with the momentum: He lost his swagger as a coach, the game overtook him, and then they went and beat Tennessee and thought: Hey, wait a minute. Do we really want this breakup, for a guy who’s got First recruiting class, he just went to Tennessee and beat Rick Barnes? The brakes were pumped like that with 90 percent of the fanbase ready to get rid of him.”
Barnes was a good fit for this discussion because the contention when Texas fired him in 2015 was that, well, the game had gotten over him. After Tennessee was wise enough to hire him, Vols won the SEC regular season in his third year. In its fourth year, they won 31 games and reached the Sweet 16. In 2022, they won the SEC Championship.
It’s pretty ironic to say Calipari hasn’t kept up with the game. Every coach has a difficult course. Remember Duke and the VCU? Remember the PJ Hairston years in North Carolina? It’s not fun for fans, and maybe even less so for coaches.
However, it can be useful for talk show hosts.
“The most boring year I’ve had was the year they went 38-0. Everything I did, every show and every show before and after the game was like, ‘Is this the best team ever? That’s all I talked about,'” Lawrence said. For me, it was really – it wasn’t fun – but it was really fun because this happens day in and day out and we see what happens.
“There are all these other things that go along with being a Kentucky fan, and that’s what makes it so different from anywhere else.”