clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Kentucky Basketball: Time to *End* the Calipari Underachieving Narrative

Some lazy media folks have decided on a new agenda for Coach Calipari. I present empirical proof it is asinine.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional Practice Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

John Calipari has always walked to the beat of his own drum and when he came to Kentucky, that did not change and his method of operation became magnified, exponentially. Calipari is a fun interview, always great for a sound bite, and generally cordial with the media.

However, he is not going to be confused with some of the coaches who seem to always get a pass, or the benefit of the doubt. There was actually a topic on ‘Pardon the Interruption’ Monday with the title ‘Praise for Carolina, or blame for Kentucky?’

I will admit, Calipari does himself no favors with his ‘me against the world’ mentality and even going as far as saying he is fine wearing the black hat for the sport.

In fact, Calipari lives by a mantra:

“If you come after one of my players, I come after you twice as hard. If you kill one of mine, I burn your village. It’s the Italian in me. I’m not proud of that, but it’s who I am.”

Calipari takes that approach because he is unapologetic in his goal as a head coach: to change families. Calipari puts his players first, on the court and off the court; we all know about his book, titled ‘Players First.’

When you do not put your players first, something else has to be your first priority. Some coaches put themselves at the forefront of their programs, some put the players behind themselves, and even sometimes behind the university.

However, not Calipari, which opens him up for an array of people to create anti-Cal narratives to beat to death.

When Calipari came to Kentucky, the narrative was that he could not make the one and done model work. Those voices got even louder after a team full of stars (John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe) lost to West Virginia in the elite 8.

Tom Smith even went as far as calling him “Terribly Overrated”, among other things.

“Calipari likes shortcuts to "success." He seems to define success by regular season wins and the size of his contract. Statements like those will get you branded a "hater" by his supporters (UK fans), but they are true.

You cannot properly build a team in one year. You can't teach everything the kids need to know in a one-year window.

College basketball is better off when the traditional powers like UK are great. It's just too bad that Wildcat fans will have to settle for a bunch of regular season wins.”

The following year the ‘Cats would go to a Final Four, then win it all, then two more Final Fours in three years culminating in just missing out on a 40-0 season. The narrative quickly changed from the one and done does not work, to Coach Calipari was “killing college basketball”, as Michael Weinreb of the Rolling Stone so eloquently put it.

Eventually, Bill Self at Kansas, and Coach K of Duke jumped on the one and done bandwagon. Then, of course, that made it okay to accept the system. After Duke won their national title, multiple writers even put pen to paper to crow that Coach K was beating Calipari at his own game, and that Coach K was adapting to a new landscape.

While that particular agenda went away after other coaches tried copying him, it would not be long before another one came along.

For a few years now, rival fans would take potshots at the Big Blue Nation by saying that Calipari has underachieved with all that talent. Only...ONLY one national title was the rallying cry. Amazingly, this has now bled into the mainstream sports media. Before the buzzer could even finish blaring, you had Gary Parrish tweet this nonsense:

Parrish is a Memphis guy, so his bitterness is understandable, but when he tried to crab walk back on the ‘dig’ at Calipari, he was smacked with hard facts.

With credit to Jason Anderson, he tweeted the below, showing that Calipari actually has outperformed everyone based on that metric, including Duke and Kansas.

People like to pile on Calipari, so it is no surprise that the day after their excruciating loss to North Carolina, you have some mouths spewing venom. We have ESPN’s outspoken Stephen A. Smith, and noted Calipari hater, Fox Sports’ Clay Travis, along with Colin Cowherd coming out guns blazing. They are saying they expect more than one championship from Calipari at Kentucky and that he is underachieving.

While I doubt you can find anyone in America that considers them a trio of valid journalists, they are voices with a large audience, so I thought it was time to put pen to paper and really find out if there was anything to this underachieving.

I decided to take the very narrative used against Calipari by Smith, Cowherd, Travis, and pretty much any fan of any other program and see if it holds water.

What I found is that Calipari not underachieving… in fact, he is overachieving.

I used 24/7 sports composite rankings tool and went back as far as I could (2003) to start my research. The 24/7 sports composite tool brings in all of the major services rankings to get one composite ranking for each program that recruiting year.

The argument is that Calipari gets a top class each year, but he does not win as much as he should. Mind you, there is literally no predecessor to compare him to for this opinion. Nonetheless, it seems to stick, almost as if it is a law for some people.

I decided to take the top two programs whose recruiting classes ranked #1 and #2 from 2003 up until Calipari arrived at UK in 2009. Then from 2009 until 2016, Calipari has had either the #1 or the #2 class, so I took the program that was ranked #1 or #2 along with Calipari and UK.

This gave me 8 seasons of Calipari at UK, and 20 seasons of other programs with #1 or #2 recruiting classes to compare. The results were eye opening, I will admit I went into this thinking I would be able to argue in Cal’s favor, but I did not expect the results to be so overwhelming.

As you can see from the summary below, the notion that Calipari is somehow underachieving is so absolutely ludicrous it is almost laughable. Those that make that claim should either be embarrassed or immediately discredited.

  • In 8 seasons at UK, Calipari has only 1 National title…in 20 seasons by the other programs, only Duke (2015) has a national title.
  • In 8 seasons at UK, Calipari has DOUBLE the amount of Final Fours as the other programs over 20 seasons. Only Duke (2015) and Ohio State (2007) reached the Final 4.
  • In 8 seasons at UK, Calipari has 6 Elite 8 appearance… in 20 seasons by other programs, only 5 programs made the elite 8. Duke (2015), Ohio State (2007), UNC (2007), Kentucky (2005), and Kansas (2003).
  • In 8 seasons at UK, Cal has a tournament record of 27-6 (82%)…in TWENTY seasons by the other programs, they are 31-16 (66%).
  • In 6 NCAA Tournament losses under Calipari, they have lost to a better seed three times, an equal seed once, and a worse seed only twice. The two worse seed losses were also only 1 slot worse than UK.

To make these numbers even more impressive, consider this: Calipari has to almost completely start over, every season. For the vast majority of those other 20 seasons by various programs, they added a #1 or #2 recruiting class to a base of a team. It could have been the cherry on top for them...but overwhelmingly it was not.

What has happened when Calipari has had some semblance of his freshman studs come back to school, you ask? Well, he won a national title in 2012 and nearly ran to a 40-0 record in 2015. Imagine if Calipari would have been hired at UK years ago, it is very easy to see him with 3+ titles and 7 or 8 more final fours.

When I hear people say that Calipari is underachieving, not the ratings mouthpieces or the haters, the genuine people, I really do want to know why they think this, and I have come to a few conclusions.

  • Some people hate UK/Cal and will cling to anything they can to try and drag Calipari down to their level. This is where you will find the Clay Travis’ of the world and the fan base on Floyd Street.
  • Some people just want to say anything that will move the needle. No legitimate or original thoughts, just trying to shuttle viewers and listeners in their direction. That is where Stephen A Smith and Cowherd fit in.
  • However, some people genuinely believe that Calipari is underachieving, and on the surface, it makes some sense. Calipari does get the top talent every year, so he should win more than most, solid logic.

The problem for those who genuinely think Calipari underachieves is a thing called the Gambler’s Fallacy. I connected this after reading about some friends on a UK message board arguing this in regards to roulette. The fallacy is that you start to believe that a certain outcome is bound to happen soon based on past outcomes.

If you flip a coin 5 times and it comes up heads all 5 times what are you picking for the 6th flip…tails, right? It is bound to happen sometime because heads has come up so much. The failure in that thinking is that on each and every coin flip, the odds are the exact same: 50/50.

The same applies to roulette when black or red is going to hit. It does not matter that heads, or black, or red has hit 5 straight times; it is still 50/50 it will come up on the next flip.

People are human, and they tend to be caught up in what is right in front of them. You see John Calipari and Kentucky at the forefront of every single college basketball season. You start to think they should be winning more national titles than they have, but it is simply not true.

Numbers do not lie, and the stone cold hard facts are that, compared to other programs that bring in the #1 or #2 class each year, for the past 14 years and 20 separate seasons, Calipari is actually overachieving, whether you like it or not.

You may not like Calipari, and that is fine. UK fans are used to the hate. Calipari is also used to the hate and has even said when he stops getting booed, it is time to quit.

However, please find something that holds water and stop clinging to these agendas that reek of bitterness, and self-serving ignorance. I’m looking at you Stephen, Clay, Colin, Gary, and many others.

  • You Can’t Win With The One-and-Done
  • Kentucky is Ruining College Basketball
  • Anybody Can Recruit One-and-Done and be Successful
  • Calipari is Actually Underachieving
  • What’s Next???