The Kentucky Wildcats learned their NCAA Tournament fate on Sunday, and John Calipari wasn’t a happy camper.
You can’t really blame the UK head coach after his team ended up in easily the toughest path just to get to the Elite Eight of any 4/5 seed. First, UK will play Davidson in a game that KenPom projects to be a just a 73-70 win for the Cats.
If UK wins that, they’ll likely face the Arizona Wildcats and superstar freshman Deandre Ayton. Beat them, and the Cats probably get a Sweet 16 matchup with the No. 1 overall seed Virginia Cavaliers.
Needless to say, Calipari wasn’t too happy, mostly because this is what seems to happen to UK every year.
“I was just in the car and someone called me and said ‘You’re on murderer’s row again. They absolutely threw the hatchet at ya.’”
Here’s a recap of everything Calipari said about UK’s NCAA Tournament fate, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Q. Tell us about Davidson.
JOHN CALIPARI: I don’t know much about Davidson. I know they won their tournament and they’re playing well. They run good stuff. They run a lot of -- Tennessee and their coach, Rick Barnes is a good friend, so a lot of stuff Tennessee runs they run. I remember a game early in the year they had 30 3-pointers made, so they’re a 3-point shooting team. But I have not watched them. I have not watched tape.
Q. What did you think of the draw overall?
JOHN CALIPARI: I didn’t see all of it, but you guys is ours like the toughest again? Like by far? Is anyone in here surprised? We’re not playing on Thursday, right? Because we just got done playing today.
JOHN CALIPARI: No, we’re playing on Thursday?
Q. Boise (laughter).
JOHN CALIPARI: Anchorage or Boise? It is what it is. I mean, you know. They’re not going to make it easy for us. They could all say this is all by the numbers and all that. OK.
Q. So you would have been struck if you played on Friday?
JOHN CALIPARI: I would have been shocked if we got a four seed. I would have been shocked. I would have been stunned. I’m not. I always say when you mis-seed somebody, you’re not hurting that person or his team. It’s who he plays is who you hurt. That’s Wichita State. Just it is what it is. But I like how my team’s playing and we’re going to go play some basketball games in Boise. Which state is Boise in?
JOHN CALIPARI: There you go. I’ve been to Idaho by the way. I’ve been to Jackpot, Nevada which is right across the way. I’ve been to Twin Falls. I was on their campus. Great place, it really is. I’ve been to Idaho.
Q. Along those same lines you have Arizona on the next line there. That game’s going to be pretty tough. Good friend?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, and they’re a good team. I’m surprised they were a four. How did they drop to a four? Didn’t they win their tournament?
JOHN CALIPARI: Did Davidson win their tournament? Did Virginia win their tournament? Oh, wow. Did we win our tournament? Wow.
Q. What did you and Mitch Barnhart talk about?
JOHN CALIPARI: Not at all. He can’t be in the room. So whether he’s on the committee or not, he can’t be in the room. So if they talk about us -- I don’t even think he can be in the room with an SEC team, maybe.
Q. But just about his experience?
JOHN CALIPARI: No, he’s doing a good -- I tell you what, he is working his butt off. He really is. He’s taking it serious. He’s looking at and watching games. He’s looking at the numbers. He’s trying to evaluate. He’s using Dwayne (Peevy) and his staff to help him. I’ve never seen Mitch more serious about anything than this.
But he’s not in the room. He was probably just as surprised as anybody when they said here’s where we’re putting them.
Q. Did you think Kentucky would be a four seed and deserve a four seed?
JOHN CALIPARI: I thought maybe we’d have a chance, but I keep coming back to -- do you understand why I don’t think conference tournaments are worth anything other than our fans like to travel? It doesn’t help your seed. I’ll tell you this, do you think it would hurt if we lost early? It did hurt.
The year we went to the NIT we lost that first round game, we were in the NIT. So it can hurt you, but we’re not going to let it help you.
Why are we doing them? I come back to that. It’s good for the kids. I was happy to see their faces and how they played. But it was more about them and us being together and figuring stuff out than playing in a tournament. Three games -- we’re going to end up, if we’re lucky enough and we get to the second round, we’d have to be lucky. That’s five games in eight days. That’s five games in eight days.
Q. So you’re not going to do anything on the court with these kids over the next couple days?
JOHN CALIPARI: Oh, we will. But we’re going to travel tomorrow. Monday we have to give them off. We’ll practice Tuesday, travel.
Q. Back to November, if somebody would have told you your kids -- forget about the losing and stuff like that -- that your kids would be playing this well right now, is that what you would have wanted?
JOHN CALIPARI: It’s what we built for. It’s what we go through the steps of. So, happy for the kids. I’m happy for Wenyen (Gabriel), I’m happy for Sacha (Killeya-Jones), Quade (Green)’s playing better, P.J. (Washington)’s playing better. They’re all playing better. Now it’s been thrown at us. You’re not advancing. Everything we can throw in front of you, we are, have at it. And what’s better than that?
I’ve only sat here how many NCAA tournaments have I been in, Jerry? Do you know?
Q. He’s in St. Louis.
JOHN CALIPARI: OK. If he could hear me, he’d yell to us. But when we were the one seed it was a bear. It was a bear. So, it is what it is.
At the end of the day, everybody’s got to play basketball games. I like my team. Let’s go see what we are. Again, we’re the youngest team in the field. There is no team younger than us in this field maybe ever in the NCAA tournament younger than this team.
Q. Does the fact that Davidson had to beat a top 25 team to get in the tournament, do you think that keeps your kids sharp to know they have a pretty good opponent?
JOHN CALIPARI: No, Davidson’s a good team, they’re well coached. They’re good. They’re good, and they won their tournament which means they’re playing their best right now. If anybody had asked about us a month and a half ago, now all of a sudden, it’s like uh-oh.
Q. Did you see this turnaround coming for your team a month ago?
JOHN CALIPARI: Even though we were losing I kept saying we’re playing better. Just stay the course, we’re going to be fine. But we had to win a game. I mean, you have to. There’s got to be some positive reinforcement.
When we beat Alabama and then we won, and then we won, and then we won. Then what we learned in Florida, and I told them, they didn’t want to believe me, whichever team is ready at noon usually wins. If one team’s really ready and the other’s not, you’re losing.
Well, it was Florida. They wanted it way worse than us. It was a great lesson for us. Today, in the last couple noon games we’ve played, I tell you, we wanted it. We wanted it as bad as the other team wanted it.
Q. That loss in Florida, was it nice to have a lesson before the games really started to matter?
JOHN CALIPARI: No, I’d rather learn from close wins to be honest with you.
Q. Are there many players that improved from the start of the season until the end as much as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has?
JOHN CALIPARI: I have, but no one knew about them, and that’s why. Like right now. Again, I told you all, seven o’clock in the morning shooting. Asking the strength coach when can we lift? I want to go lift. Well, you just got the MVP of the thing and you played almost every minute. Yeah, let’s go. Let’s get something in.
Do you wonder why he’s playing well? You three could go, no, I’m tired. We just traveled. I’m like -- I mean, again. If you want what he’s getting, then you’ve got to invest what he’s investing. You invest a lot, you’re going to get a lot.
Q. Have you talked to Sean Miller since the bracket came out?
JOHN CALIPARI: I haven’t. I just was in the car and someone called me and said you’re on murder’s row again, absolutely threw the hatchet at you. So I didn’t have time.
Q. What is that relationship like?
JOHN CALIPARI: His grandmother practically raised me. He is -- his father’s one of the best coaches at any level, his father. Obviously, Archie and Sean, they’re like family. Our families are close. So I recruited him to Pitt, recruited his brother to Massachusetts and then I went to the Nets.
But he was all-conference, overachieved as a player. Getting his team playing.
Q. Can murder’s row motivate your players?
JOHN CALIPARI: I don’t know. I haven’t met them yet.
Q. In the past, you’ve had that kind of feeling. Did it motivate your kids?
JOHN CALIPARI: It’s really hard. Like last year’s field. You remember who they put in that corner? We all had only one and whoever it was was going to win it. So if it was us, whoever won that was going to go. They threw this one out here now. It is what it is. I mean, I don’t expect anything different.
Today they asked me what did you think? I thought we’ll probably be a 12 and playing in Dayton unless they have something in Anchorage where they could throw us in Anchorage and they would probably do that. But it’s alright.
Q. What is the margin of error on a run like 2014?
JOHN CALIPARI: OK. Let’s talk about the run 2014. 2014 we had to beat that 31-0 team, and then we had to have buzzer beater, buzzer beater. You know what I mean? Then we played a Connecticut team who had unbelievable guards and had our chances.
It be’s what it be’s. Now it’s time to regroup, talk to the team. They’ve got Monday off, we practice Tuesday, travel. We’re on a nine-hour trip there and we play on Thursday. My guess, what time?
Q. Don’t know. It will be the first game. It will be the early game.
JOHN CALIPARI: Noon. We’ll throw it out at noon. It’s alright. It be’s what it be’s.