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Kentucky Basketball: My Favorite John Calipari Teams, Part 2

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I count down the definitive list of my favorite Cal teams at Kentucky.

NCAA Men's Final Four - Kentucky v UConn Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In the first post of this series, I listed my #8 team the NIT Team and the #7 team the Ulis and Murray Team. Both squads faltered in the postseason, therefore, weren’t high on the fun scale. But there were some great players on those teams- Nerlens Noel, Tyler Ulis, and Jamal Murray in particular- so they should be appreciated for some of the individuals.

As I look at the next two teams on my list, I think that I may run into my first bit of controversy. With that, here we go!

#6 2010/2011- The Brandon Knight Team

Record: 29-9 (10-6 SEC) SEC Tournament Champions

Roster: Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, Doron Lamb, Jon Hood, Josh Harrellson, Stacey Poole, Jarrod Polson, DeAndre Liggins, Twany Beckham, Eloy Vargas, Enes Kanter (Ineligible to play)

Postseason: Lost to UConn in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament

Signature WIns: vs. #13 Washington, vs. #23 Notre Dame, at #22 Louisville, vs. #12 Florida, vs. #1 Ohio State (NCAA Sweet 16), vs. #2 North Carolina (NCAA Elite 8)

Postseason Player Accolades: Brandon Knight- SEC All-Freshman Team, First Team All-SEC; SEC Freshman of the Year, First-Team All-SEC, SEC All-Freshman Team; Darius Miller- SEC Tournament MVP; Doron Lamb- SEC All-Freshman Team

Players Drafted: Enes Kanter- #3 to the Utah Jazz; Brandon Knight- #8 to the Detroit Pistons; Josh Harrellson- #45 to the New Orleans Hornets; DeAndre Liggins- #53 to the Orlando Magic

Why They’re Here: This was a strange season from the jump. It all started with the Terrence Jones commitment and almost immediate de-commitment from Washington ultimately in favor of Kentucky.

Then, Turkish basketball player and top recruit Enes Kanter was stuck in limbo as the NCAA debated whether or not money he received playing in Turkey was enough to declare him ineligible, which they ultimately did. While Enes was sidelined for the entire season, lowly regarded Josh Harrellson, a player that was barely retained by John Calipari when he arrived and later was almost dismissed from the team because of some critical tweets towards his coach, was suddenly thrust into the starting spot at center for the Kentucky Wildcats.

Early on, Terrence Jones was the focal point of the team and by far the best player. Brandon Knight was the top-rated point guard in the class, but things weren’t coming to him as fast as they did for John Wall the previous season.

The team was extremely up and down all season, earning quality wins at home, on the road, and on a neutral court, but when it came to SEC road games, they seriously faltered. But as the season progressed, Brandon Knight got better and better each game. There were also signs from Harrellson, Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins, and Doron Lamb that this team could be good, but it wouldn’t come together for an extended period of time.

After losing the SEC regular season crown to the Florida Gators, the Wildcats stormed through the SEC tournament and won it thanks in large part to Darius Miller, the hometown kid that had his confidence crushed by the previous coach and was now just starting to realize his potential.

Then, it all came together.

After Brandon Knight had to beat Princeton in the final seconds of their first round of the NCAA tournament, the ‘Cats then dispatched of West Virginia, and in one of the most thrilling games I have witnessed as a fan, defeated number one overall seed Ohio State in the Sweet Sixteen. Brandon Knight may have hit the shot to win, but Josh Harrellson throwing the ball off of Jared Sullinger’s chest is the lasting image from that game.

Cal’s ‘Cats then took care of North Carolina in the Elite Eight thanks in large part to DeAndre Liggins to make it to an improbable Final Four. There they would face a red hot Kemba Walker and the similarly underperforming UConn Huskies. It was an uneven game and as great as the game vs. Ohio State was, this one was terrible. Shots weren’t flowing, and both teams really couldn’t get anything going on offense. In the end, Walker and the Huskies prevailed.

For whatever reason, it was hard for me to get into this team during the regular season. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Harrellson put up a double-double in the Yum! Center and watching Knight progress was a treat, but there was an overall feeling that the team could do more. Eventually, that came to fruition during tournament time.

#5- The Fox and Monk Show

Record: 32-6 (16-2 in the SEC) SEC Regular Season and Tournament Champions

Roster: De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Isaiah Briscoe, Wenyen Gabriel, Bam Adebayo, Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, Mychal Mulder, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Isaac Humphries, Brad Calipari, Tai Wynyard, Hamidou Diallo, Dillon Pulliam, Johnny David

Postseason: Lost to North Carolina in the Elite of the NCAA Tournament

Signature Wins: vs. #13 Michigan State, vs. #7 North Carolina, at #24 South Carolina, vs. #13 Florida, vs. #19 Wichita State, vs. #8 UCLA

Players Drafted: De’Aaron Fox- #5 to the Sacramento Kings; Malik Monk- #11 to the Charlotte Hornets; Bam Adebayo- #14 to the Miami Heat

Why They’re Here: John Calipari hauled in one of his best recruiting classes with Fox, Monk, Adebayo, Killeya-Jones, and Wenyen Gabriel. This was also arguably his most athletic team as he went with a three-guard lineup, a stretch four, and 6-8 Adebayo at center. When this team was at it’s best running opponents off of the floor, they were one of the most exciting Kentucky teams to watch.

This season also gave us some individual performances of the ages as well as some of the best games we have seen as Kentucky fans during the Cal Era. Both games against North Carolina were classics, Monk going for 47 was epic, vs. UCLA and Lonzo Ball in the Sweet 16 as De’Aaron Fox dropped 39 points was amazing, and the Wichita State game preceding that was classic as well.

But two of the players that Kentucky fans will remember the most from this team are Hawkins and Willis. Both seniors had experienced their ups and downs in their time at Kentucky, and just when we all thought this team may have maxed out their potential, the seniors took over. Hawkins played his best basketball and was named the MVP of the SEC tournament. Willis finally believed that he belonged on the court at UK and took the starting job away from Gabriel.

And let’s not forget how dominant this team was. They lost only two conference games in an SEC that was much better than the critics led us to believe. They lost only six games in all, that’s fourth best in the Cal era. And some of the players that we saw are going to be absolute studs in the NBA.

There is no doubt by the end of the season that this was one of the four best teams in college basketball, and it is arguable that the Elite Eight game was a de facto national title game. The talent on the court for that game had no equal compared to the rest of the tournament.

We thought that perhaps Wall/Bledsoe or Ulis/Murray were the best guard tandems that we have seen at Kentucky, but at the end of the day, Fox/Monk may have the best argument.