It's been long established that John Calipari's program philosophy centers around recruiting young freshman talent, getting them drafted to the NBA, and then rebuilding with another crop of freshman talent.
When Cal first adopted this model, the college basketball purists and his critics announced its failure. It was too difficult to get young guys to buy into the program. You needed veteran juniors and seniors in order to succeed in college basketball because that had been the model for years.
But Calipari's run as the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats has been nothing short of exceptional. A national title thrown in with three Final Fours and another title appearance shows that he can win doing it.
And then all of a sudden his way became the en vogue trend. Duke and Coach K adopted Cal's method. The paragons of college basketball were all of a sudden copying crazy Cal, and they were succeeding. But there were some bumps in the road for K. He flamed out in the tournament with Kyrie Irving and Jabari Parker, his first two major one-and-done stars.
It wasn't until after a few tries that he finally got over the hump. Now Duke and Kentucky are synonymous when you talk college basketball success coupled with NBA player success, though Kentucky does have a significant edge when it comes to drafted players.
Tuesday night, we saw how difficult it is when an old school coach adopts a new school method. When one thinks of Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartan teams, you think of veteran-laden teams that defend, rebound, and play sound, fundamental basketball. He gets guys that stay around for three or four years and develop. That's not what we saw that night.
Izzo brought in his best class ever in 2016, which was a top-five class. Freshman Miles Bridges was one of the most coveted members of that class. Kentucky held him 2-11 from the field and six points. At one point the Spartans had four freshmen players on the floor. When has Izzo ever had that many freshmen on the floor at the same time?
There were stretches when the Spartans looked lost on defense, lost on offense, and they were getting out-hustled to loose balls left and right. They were in no man's land against the Wildcats at times, especially when UK was ramping up the defensive pressure.
Michigan State will improve as the year progresses, they are still extremely talented, but the notion that these freshmen players come in ready to play right away is ludicrous.
This is what makes what Cal does even more amazing. His young players buy in on defense, they play hard, and they don't shrink before the moment. Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox were two of the three best players on the court, the other being Sophomore Isaiah Briscoe. Monk and Fox had 35 points between them, as well as a combined 10 rebounds, seven assists, two steals, and only five turnovers. Both are freshmen, and both have already bought into what Cal preaches.
The greatest example of this happened in the postgame interview with Malik Monk. He was asked a question about his play before the Champions Classic, and he said he was being too casual on the court. What was Cal's one criticism about Monk? He was being too casual. When a player repeats his coach word for word, you already know he bought in.
As college basketball evolves and we see more and more coaches follow the path of John Calipari, it is important to realize that not every young team is created equal, it's all about who is coaching.