NCAA Tournament 2012: Kentucky Gives Calipari Chance to Climb Coaching Ranks

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterMarch 28, 2012

As far as the college basketball coaching fraternity is concerned, John Calipari already ranks as one of the best in the business today. He's taken three different schools (UMass, Memphis and Kentucky) to the Final Four while building up strong programs at the first two and grooming NBA stars like it's nobody's business.

But, so far, Coach Cal's resume is still lacking in the "Holy Grail" department, finishing without a national title to his credit from each of his three previous trips to the last weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

To achieve that ever-elusive goal will require Calipari to overcome his most troublesome coaching adversaries, though if he is successful, the fruits of his labor will be that much sweeter.

Calipari's toughest trial comes first, in the form of Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals in Saturday's first national semifinal.

The history between these two college hoops behemoths extends back to the late 1980s, when Pitino, a star guard at UMass in the early 1970s, recommended Calipari for the top job at his alma mater. Cal promptly transformed the Minutemen into a round-ball powerhouse on the way to a Final Four appearance in 1996.

One that was later vacated, along with the one Cal picked up with Derrick Rose at Memphis in 2008.

As masterfully detailed by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, Calipari has, in a sense, spent his career chasing after Pitino's shadow, and may finally have the opportunity to eclipse him with a national title, albeit at the school where Slick Rick won his one and only.

Of course, a victory over Pitino's Cards will only move Cal one step closer (albeit a gigantic one) to snagging that crowning achievement.

The final one may well require Cal to exorcise the demons of his aforementioned trip to the Final Four with the Memphis Tigers in 2008.

That is, if Bill Self is able to guide Kansas past Ohio State in Saturday's nightcap.

The script will certainly be similar; Cal, with his most talented team to date, entering the final as the presumed favorite against Self's plucky Jayhawks.

Luckily for the Wildcats, Mario Chalmers now plays for the Miami Heat, while Tyshawn Taylor, his closest comparison on this year's edition, has yet to hit a three-point shot in the Big Dance.

And, luckily for Cal, his team is loaded with so much NBA talent this time—between Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague—that it'd likely take quite a bit more than one miraculous shot to fell his Goliath this time around.

For now, though, there's still much work to be done, and too many hurdles to overcome, for John Calipari to start counting his rings, or for anyone in Lexington to do it for him.

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