After the Kentucky Wildcats lost to Kansas State in the NCAA Regional in Atlanta, the 2017-18 season concluded. And even though Kentucky doesn’t put up banners in Rupp Arena for Sweet 16 finishes, when the Cats went through a four-game losing streak in February, this season can be deemed a success. Certainly, with the way UK headed to the Atlanta Regional as the highest remaining seed, the Big Blue Nation is certainly able to lament what could have been. The ending was definitely disappointing with the 61-58 loss to Kansas St., and with the Cats reverting back to some of the habits from earlier in the season. Prior to that loss, it’s important to remember that Kentucky had won 9 of its last 10 games, including 5 postseason games.
At the conclusion of every season under head coach John Calipari, we now move into the off-season with everyone wondering which underclassmen will stay, who will declare for the NBA draft or who might transfer from the program. While the BBN focuses on those upcoming decisions, a lot of sportswriters, both national and local, are focusing on the flaws of Coach Cal’s method of program building. Yes, it’s time to debate the effectiveness of the One and Done Rule. If you thought that debate had been settled, you must be new here. With John Calipari and Kentucky, the debate is never over. And since the Wildcats fell short of the national title, it’s clear his method is flawed… right?
John Calipari just completed his ninth season as UK’s head coach. He’s won a national championship (2012). He’s coached the national runner-up (2014). He’s coached two more teams to Final Four Finishes (2011, 2015). And to top it off, he’s been in the Elite Eight two more times (2010, 2017). And, yes, with all the NBA talent that has passed through Lexington under Coach Cal, it is very fair to feel like he should have at least one more title and I know I’m not alone in feeling cheated out of a 40-0 season. But, has the one and done era for Cal and for college basketball been a failure?
Sports Columnist John Rothstein thinks so, bizarrely tweeting that no team led by one and done players would ever win a title. Somehow, we all collectively imagined Kentucky winning in 2012 and Duke winning in 2015. Now, I’ve never been in a position to defend the Duke Blue Devils, but since Coach K has followed Calipari into the OAD mindset, it’s not as if Duke basketball has seen a steep drop-off.
There’s no set gameplan on how to succeed in college basketball. Every head coach has to decide how he is going to run his program. There are benefits and challenges associated with all types. As the BBN has seen up close, the One And Done philosophy leads to annual roster turnover and very little player cohesion from one year to the next. Some programs use the old fashioned way of recruiting players that make take a year or two to develop and have upperclassmen led teams. Other programs recruit for a specific offensive or defensive sets in hopes to out-execute their opponents. Over the last few years, we’ve seen all different programs crash the Final Four and win.
In this Hot Take driven world, the nuance has been removed from our national discourse and sports programming is not immune. We live in a world of extremes, this team is the best ever or this game was the best ever. Rarely is that the case and it’s hard to make such proclamations in the heat of the moment and inject historical context. If the college basketball sports world considers Jim Boeheim’s 40-plus year run at Syracuse University Hall of Fame worthy (and he’s in with one NCAA title and 5 FFs), then it’s really hard to call John Calipari’s nine-year Kentucky run, which matches Boeheim’s NCAA finishes (Calipari has one NCAA title and 4 FFs) a failure.
But, hey, let’s not let the numbers get in the way of the Season of Hot Takes.