January 4, 2011

Kentucky Basketball: Coach Cal Is In The Process Of Confounding His Critics Yet Again

No, Kentucky has not won the this year's national or SEC championship yet.  Yes, this Kentucky team is young and prone to play young sometimes.  Yes, this Kentucky team is exceeding expectations by a long way, and could be a contender in March, Enes Kanter or no.
Many in the media predicted that Kentucky 2010-11 would be a top 20-25 team at best, and most predicted someone other than the Wildcats would sit atop the SEC.  The conference season hasn't begun yet, so that could all still come true, but taking a look at where the Wildcats are sitting right now, it doesn't seem likely.
Right now, Kentucky is 12-2, and both losses have been completely defensible ones to rival North Carolina Tar Heels on the road, and to the Connecticut Huskies in the Maui Invitational.  The Huskies were a far more mature team and Kentucky had yet to gel, and the game against UNC was the first true road game for this Wildcat team composed mostly of freshmen, and a very narrow loss.  Kentucky leads the SEC in the RPI at #7 with only the #8 RPI Florida Gators within shouting distance.
No matter what you think of Calipari, his results at Kentucky so far have been spectacular.  Tubby Smith had a similar run of victories when he was at UK, and both coaches were 45-5 after their first 50 games as Wildcat head men.  But with each recruiting class getting stronger year by year, its hard to imagine, barring injury, that Calipari's success will begin to wane a bit, comparatively, like Smith's began to do about this time in his career.  From this point in his career through the following year, Smith would go on to lose 18 additional games.  Can you really imagine that happening for Kentucky under Calipari?
Even Calipari's critics are beginning to find little to criticize, even though they search endlessly for something to latch on to.  Last year, it was John Wall's youthful indiscretions, his small amount of impermissible benefits that cost him two games (one an exhibition), and the lousy mid-term Kentucky grades.  This year, there is none of that, and the grades issue has turned completely around.  I mention this in the context of Josh Selby and Bill Self, who have gotten comparatively little negative media attention for a much more serious situation regarding benefits.
Of course, there are many rival fans and a few media people who are breathlessly waiting for some kind of NCAA sanction against Kentucky and repeatedly knock Calipari's character.  While that is always possible in a high-profile program like UK, for the moment, Calipari can sit back and say to his critics, "How do you like me now?"
Glenn Logan

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