John Calipari: Is the Kentucky Coach Overrated?

Tom SmithCorrespondent IMarch 28, 2010

SYRACUSE, NY - MARCH 25:  Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts against the Cornell Big Red during the east regional semifinal of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Carrier Dome on March 25, 2010 in Syracuse, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

John Calipari is a rock star college basketball coach, and he has lifted the University of Kentucky back to the prominence to which they feel is their birthright.

He might also be terribly overrated.

Kentucky hoops was the main topic of this season, whether it was the endless debates over the "student-athlete" statuses of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe, or marvelling at the way UK steamrolled to 35 wins this year.

Coach Calipari was responsible for both—he is a brilliant recruiter with an NBA-friendly offensive system that helps attract top players.

Calipari's teams tend to play excellent defense. They will also play an entertaining (and fun to play), uptempo offense—the dribble-drive motion offense.

John Calipari has been on quite a roll of late. While at Memphis, his teams posted four consecutive seasons of 30 or more wins. His UK team, as noted above, won 35 games.

How could anyone call him overrated?

Here are a few things Calipari's teams do not do well: shoot free-throws, shoot from mid-range and long-range, and play well from behind.

The University of Kentucky made John Calipari the highest paid coach in college basketball—a man with zero national titles, a history of underachieving in the NCAA tournament, a history of specializing in "one-and-done" recruits, and two vacated Final Four appearances (no violations specifically attributed to Calipari).

Being the highest paid anything brings with it certain expectations. I have no first hand knowledge of this, but I don't think UK's expectations were to lose in the Elite Eight. However, I do think they should get used to it.

Teams reliant on a coach that stomps around the sideline looking upset, lost, nervous, frustrated, and concerned (as Calipari did last night in UK's loss to West Virginia in the regional final) do not win championships.

Teams reliant on freshman decision-makers, as UK was depending on John Wall, generally do not win championships. 

Schools paying their coach $31.65 million over eight years do not expect their team to get out-coached. Yet that's what happened last night. It also happened in the final game of each of those 30-plus-win seasons at Memphis.

From last night alone: Why wait until there were only three minutes left in the game to trap WVU? Where were the timeouts to try to stop your team from jacking up ridiculous numbers of three-pointers without success? Where were the plays designed to get Cousins the ball? You can't call plays if your team doesn't run plays.

WVU coach Bob Huggins had a plan to deny the ball to DeMarcus Cousins. It worked. He also had a plan to clog the lane, deny dribble-drive penetration, and force UK into a jump shooting team. That worked too.

UK looked literally helpless against WVU, particularly in the second half. Sure, their talent allowed them to stay within striking distance, but you could see who was going to win that game by the 10 minute mark in the first half.

Calipari likes shortcuts to "success." He seems to define success by regular season wins and the size of his contract. Statements like those will get you branded a "hater" by his supporters (UK fans), but they are true.

You cannot properly build a team in one year. You can't teach everything the kids need to know in a one year window. Imagine if the core of this UK team stayed together for two or three years—any doubts that they would have at least one championship, maybe two?

As it is, Messrs. Wall, Cousins, Bledsoe, and maybe even Daniel Orton are probably headed off to the NBA after just one year. Calipari will reload UK with another incredible class of recruits and roll the dice that his shortcuts can pay off.

College basketball is better off when the traditional powers like UK are great. It's just too bad that Wildcat fans will have to settle for a bunch of regular season wins.