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Calipari’s Unknown Post Defense


John Calipari is known for many things around the nation. To some, he’s known as the the best recruiter the game has ever seen, to others, he’s known as the coach who guided Kentucky to their eighth national title. From one-and-done recruiting tactics to his love of Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, John Calipari is known for dozens of things. In recent years, however, Calipari and his teams have been known for something completely different, suffocating defense. Last year we were graced with Anthony Davis’ shot blocking along side Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s intensity. This year we were temporarily given Nerlens Noel’s all around defensive brilliance before he was lost to injury. Something Noel brought to the forefront of discussion was the subject of defense steals, a facet of the game largely unused during Calipari’s Kentucky tenure. However, while the numbers indicate that steals aren’t an integral part of Coach Cal’s defensive scheme, this portion of the game was a major part of the national title run and will be important moving forward.

Nerlens Noel was the authority on steals during Coach Cal’s tenure with his insanely quick hands while being backed down by an offensive player. Noel is about as pure of a post-defender as there can be regarding steals. Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones certainly didn’t possess the same ability to poke the ball out while being the primary defender, but they weren’t slouches in taking the ball away down low either. The duo combined for 103 steals on the season, which was highly important in Calipari’s interior defensive strategy. To prove the point, here are some clips of Jones and Davis getting steals in nontraditional ways. These specific plays are just a sample of what Calipari’s post men accomplish down low.


Before the first frame, Peyton Siva drove the lane and missed a lay-up attempt, allowing for a defensive rebound opportunity. The ball, represented by the orange dot, is up for grabs in the first frame and Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng is best positioned to grab the board. In frame two, Dieng obtains the rebound which was uncontested by Terrence Jones. While Jones didn’t contest the rebound, this was for good reason as he put himself in position for the steal in frame three. In the final frame, Dieng goes up for a put-back dunk, only to have the ball tapped out of his hands by Jones. It was this presence in the post that went largely unnoticed last season because of low steal totals. However, takeaways like these prevented opponents from getting easy put-back opportunities all season long.


Here we have Anthony Davis defending what was a pick and roll between Tyshawn Taylor and Jeff Withey. After the initial screen, both Withey and Taylor are driving to the bucket with Davis in the middle. As the play progresses in frame two, Taylor tosses the ball to Withey in a way where Davis is able to recognize the lob. Since Davis recognized Taylor’s move as a pass and not a shot attempt, he was able to sit back and snatch the ball out of the air, taking away an easy bucket from Kansas. Some recognize this move as more of a block than a steal, and that’s understandable. But, if nothing else, this clip shows that there’s more than one way to steal the ball in the post under Calipari’s guidance.

As we learned this season, the loss of interior steals (and blocks) can be devastating to a defense because so many easily preventable buckets are allowed. How does this affect us going forward? Well, if you’re unaware, John Calipari has reeled off another stellar recruiting class filled with multiple players who are capable of guarding the wing and post areas. Nearly every single recruit is touted by scouting services as being hyper-athletic and highly competitive. Given that Coach Cal is one of the best defensive minds in the business (7 top-15 defenses in eight years according to, we can reasonably expect the incoming big men to produce a decent amount of steals down low next season. It’s difficult to put a precise value on the type of numbers that will be produced given the general unreliability of high school stats, but if recruiting ratings and Calipari’s defensive pedigree are any indication, Kentucky should be able to replicate the plays above next season.

Article written by Jonathan Schuette

19 Comments for Calipari’s Unknown Post Defense

  1. FrigFullofBeer
    7:53 pm March 26, 2013 Permalink

    Xavier Rathan-Mayes SG 6’4″ 205 :FLORIDA ST ROSTER 2013-14:
    Jarquez Smith C 6’9″ 220
    1 Devon Bookert G FR 6-3/180
    2 Terrance Shannon F RS JR 6-8/220
    5 Montay Brandon G FR 6-7/195
    10 Okaro White F JR 6-8/195
    11 Kiel Turpin C JR 7-0/240
    14 Robert Gilchrist F JR 6-9/220
    15 Boris Bojanovsky C FR 7-3/240
    25 Aaron Thomas G FR 6-5/195 )
    30 Ian Miller G JR 6-3/186
    31 Terry Whisnant II G SO 6-3/185
    33 Joey Moreau G SR 6-2/179
    35 Joell Hopkins F SO 6-6/205
    50 Michael Ojo C FR 7-1/290

    Yes, I am alittle bored; but Wiggins states he wants to win national title next year! So, my question if Syracuse and UConn entering the ACC, even with Wiggins I don’t see FSU finishing no best than 6th or 7th in that conference next year….

  2. Cal
    7:53 pm March 26, 2013 Permalink

    Glad I don’t coach at Minnesota. One less loss, no NCAA, I’d probably be fired!

  3. FrigFullofBeer
    7:57 pm March 26, 2013 Permalink

    If your are Wiggins, does this look like a team that can even have that chance at a NCAA championship run?

  4. tdogg40330
    8:04 pm March 26, 2013 Permalink

    2) A 2012 National Championship and the best recruting class EVER in
    college basketball history …. I think you’re just fine

  5. ShepKat
    8:10 pm March 26, 2013 Permalink

    #2 – Don’t be silly you’re the best.

  6. Jud
    9:17 pm March 26, 2013 Permalink

    The question is “If Wiggins goes to Kansas or North Carolina, are they contenders next year?”

  7. Eric K
    9:23 pm March 26, 2013 Permalink


  8. Eric K
    9:25 pm March 26, 2013 Permalink

    Sorry WILDCAT

  9. Matt Halochec
    9:48 pm March 26, 2013 Permalink

    Horribly written post. But #bbnbouttoWIGout!!!

  10. cal
    10:28 pm March 26, 2013 Permalink

    this year my defense was HORRID! what happened?

  11. John Hollinger
    11:09 pm March 26, 2013 Permalink

    Are we desperate for sabermetric posts? The premise of this particular post was doomed from the beginning, when Schuette admitted that the numbers didn’t back up his claim. Then he used no specific numbers at all to make any point whatsoever. Yes, the Cats are usually good at defense. But the crux of Cal’s D is forcing the opponent to take a low-percentage shot (not so coincidentally, the numbers back this up), not take the ball away (a la Rick Pitino). I love sabermetrics, but we gotta get some better quality if it’s going to be readable.

  12. WKYblue
    11:22 pm March 26, 2013 Permalink

    I really understand why Stein made the comment about “fake fans” this year. The players n John Calapari won the NC last year. This year was brutal to watch IMO but not matter how well you recruit you don’t always get what you’re promised . There are things I would’ve done this year as opposed to what Cal did but he can’t in order to recruit the next year just kick kids to the curb. That doesn’t mean he has to play every 5 star recruit every game but as he said “I have to play them to win” meaning we weren’t deep enough. I do say that is the coaches fault there. I don’t think that will happen again.

  13. Bob
    11:25 pm March 26, 2013 Permalink

    Come on dude. This has nothing to do with coaching, those are instinctual basketball plays. Big time plays on TJ and ad’s part, but idk how much coaching went info that. Maybe a little film watching on that lob to withey

  14. mudcreekmark
    11:43 pm March 26, 2013 Permalink

    I hate to say this but this post was awful. What Noel did in poking the ball from behind was not a skill, it was actually a bad habit. You don’t play behind someone and let them catch the ball then hope to poke the ball away without getting a foul called on you.

  15. Duke Sucks
    11:53 pm March 26, 2013 Permalink

    We need a post as to the choices this years class has to going or staying! IMO the only 2 with a hard choice is WCS and Goodwin! Poythress is being projected as a late lottery pick. He better take the money and go because I don’t think he will be that high again if he stays 6 years. Cal can help players improve and get better but he can’t fix lazy! Nerlens is being projected to high to risk being injured again!
    Goodwin can improve is draft spot. He needed to get a constant jump shot. Most of his mistakes this year where usual freshmen mistakes. He already had his mind made up before he got the ball of what he as going to do. He really tried to hard. With anther year to learn plus having other good guardes should help take a lot of the pressure off him. I’m sure Cal and staff will help him on his shot.
    WCS if he comes back is making a 2 year commitment no dought
    Ihe will improve with a year or 2 under big Kenny Payne and Estill.just with the log jam of low post players might not be able to show it.
    My opinion Goodwin returns the other 3 on gone.

  16. Nerlens the great!
    12:00 am March 27, 2013 Permalink

    14) I would agree with you 100% . You are correct most of the time if you let a player get the ball in deep your already beat, but Nerlens was different. He was so quick with his feet and hands that he was in good position, I agree though that I dought Cal coached this technque. Nerlens was probably the best one on one post defender UK’s ever had! Even Davis got most of his blocks rotating over on help defence he was not the 1 on 1 defender Nerlens is this is why he will be a top pick in the draft even with his injury!

  17. richard Thistle
    7:59 am March 27, 2013 Permalink

    am i the only one that didn’t get diddly from looking at those screenshots?

  18. blueneck
    8:30 am March 27, 2013 Permalink

    If you saw IU scrape by Temple on Sunday you saw some horrible post defense.

  19. blueneck
    8:34 am March 27, 2013 Permalink

    To me when NN was playing, his steals were great, but the bigger issue that hurt the team was rebounding. He forced so many driving players into bad shots but there was never anyone rotated to get the rebound – often allowing an easy putback that caused some Ls.