For Kentucky Wildcats basketball fans, this is the ultimate offseason of discontent.
Since Great Britain suffered their stunning 85-79 overtime loss to 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s in the Round of 16 of the NCAA Men’s Tournament last month, the season has been open in many aspects of the game. program by John Calipari.
While Kentucky supporters are right about some things, I fear that in at least three of the most common gripes the wrong lesson is being learned.
First criticism: Calipari’s “outdated offensive system” continues to undermine Kentucky.
The reality: No sooner did the final buzzer sound in the loss to Saint Peter’s than Calipari’s attacking approach – the continued use of two big men; a non-shooting playmaker; lack of ground spacing – began to pick up incoming missiles.
It’s certainly true that Calipari hasn’t fully embraced a Golden State Warriors-style system that consistently uses four players on the perimeter and has outside shooting capability spread across the field.
But for all the fan angst over Britain’s attacking system, Kentucky’s 71 points on the scoreboard at the end of regulation against Saint Peter’s should have been enough to beat a Peacocks attack that failed to score. 70 points in 18 of 30 games. had played entering the NCAA Tournament.
The fact is, when Kentucky’s roster was healthy, Calipari’s “outdated” offense snagged 98 points at North Carolina, put 107 at Tennessee and lost 80 at Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.
Heck, the Wildcats still rank sixth in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency in season-ending Pomeroy rankings.
Meanwhile, the British defense fell from No.11 in adjusted defensive effectiveness on 6 February to No.36 by the end of the year.
Kentucky lost to Saint Peter’s because their defense was not at the level traditionally associated with Calipari-coached British teams.
Second complaint: Calipari cares more about putting players in the NBA than winning for Kentucky.
Reality: It’s perfectly valid to question Calipari’s decision to market the UK to rookies as the quickest route to the NBA rather than a unique, special place to play college hoops.
This strategy has affected quite a large part of the Big Blue Nation from the start. Now that Kentucky isn’t winning at the same pace as it did in the early Calipari era, the level of fan irritation at the UK program’s focus on the number of players it put into the NBA s is multiplied.
But the idea that Calipari isn’t all about winning games is pretty absurd. The knock on Calipari in all of his pre-Kentucky college coaching stops is that there was, fundamentally, no regulator on his zeal to win.
So the idea of Calipari going to Kentucky — arguably the most prestigious coaching job in his sport — and deciding not to focus on winning is far-fetched.
Whether or not this is the best long-term sales pitch, Calipari promotes Kentucky’s success in getting players into the pros as a message to future signings so the UK can get more good players in order to win more matches.
Gripe three: Calipari’s disdain for calling timeout to “set up a play” in late game situations is bad strategy.
The Reality: After Saint Peter’s Doug Edert scored on a runner down the hall with 21.6 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 71, Calipari avoided calling a timeout.
UK properly held for the final blow of regulation.
Playmaker Sahvir Wheeler crossed midfield with 17.2 seconds left, clocked in time dribbling near midfield until 7.2 seconds remained, then drove on the left. Wheeler stumbled upon reaching the lane, collected himself and fired the ball to TyTy Washington in the right corner with 3.5 seconds left.
Washington moved to his left and ended up taking a contested 17-foot jumper with 1.9 seconds left.
He missed it all and Kentucky was headed for overtime and disaster.
Afterwards, the fans’ frustration with Calipari for not requesting a time out with the ball at the end of regulation boiled over.
From a coaching standpoint, calling or not calling timeout in endgame situations is a matter of personal preference. In my opinion, not stopping play so that the opposing defense does not have time to organize itself is a reasonable approach.
Think of the UK’s emotional run to the 2014 NCAA Championship Game.
In Kentucky’s battle against Michigan in the 2014 Elite Eight, Wolverines’ Jordan Morgan tied the score at 72 on a return with 31 seconds left.
Calipari called time out with 27 seconds left.
On subsequent possession, Britain’s Aaron Harrison won the game with a hard-fought three-pointer from deep left wing with 2.3 seconds left.
The following week in the Final Four, Wisconsin’s Traevon Jackson made two of three free throws with 16 seconds left to put the Badgers ahead of Kentucky 73-71.
Calipari did not call a timeout.
On subsequent possession, Britain’s Aaron Harrison won the game with a hard-fought three-pointer from deep left wing with 5.7 seconds left.
Moral: Call a timeout or not, evaluation of late-game training strategies tends to be results-based only.
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