We are now nearing the end of John Calipari’s third season as the coach of the University of Kentucky. And now that we’re in the Final Four, the games actually matter. Which is unfortunate for Kentucky, because for the first time since the postseason began, the Cats may actually have to play some decent basketball teams. Absolutely nobody cares about a 36-2 record entering the Final Four, because let’s face it, this Kentucky team has accomplished exactly nothing so far. The only way the 2011-12 season will be considered a success by any UK fan is if the Cats win a national championship. Anything short of that will be an unmitigated disaster. At any rate, to stay apprised and educated, follow me on Twitter @NotJerryTipton. Here’s the weekly notebook:
*Amazing: As Kentucky prepares to play archrival Louisville tomorrow, it would be nice if UK fans could actually step back and admire the masterful job Rick Pitino has done this season at the helm of UofL. Pitino (the highest paid coach in college basketball) has taken his team (ranked in the top 5 earlier this season) and turned them into scrappy underdogs that almost nobody outside the city of Louisville is giving a chance to win. It’s not just any coach (especially the highest paid coach in college basketball) who could turn his team (ranked in the top 5 earlier this season) into lovable upstarts just happy to be there. Especially when you consider that the program he leads fancies itself a top 10 program historically. John Calipari, who has racked up a 36-2 record with a roster full of lottery picks, could learn a thing or two from his former mentor. I’m not saying Calipari should become involved in an embarrassing public scandal involving adultery and extortion, or that he should work his players so hard that almost all of them are injured, or that he should stock his roster with players who won’t ever see an NBA game unless they buy a ticket, or that he should lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament twice in a row, or even that he should start blaming his players when things don’t go his way, but when it comes to lowering expectations, Coach Cal could learn a thing or two from Rick Pitino.
*Swagger Like Us: In the four NCAA Tournament games Kentucky played leading up to the Final Four, the Cats were almost flawless. Not once have they been in danger of losing a game, and they have been a model of consistency and domination since the Tournament tipped off. This does not bode well for the Cats. Obviously, they are due for a letdown against Louisville, as no team can play at such a high level for three weekends in a row. Compounding matters for the Cats is the fact that the Cardinals have been on absolute tear since the postseason began. After losing 4 of their final 6 regular season games, UofL has won 8 in a row, and is showing no signs of letting up any time soon. This kind of momentum is likely the reason that in a poll of 20 college basketball experts, 19 of them predicted that Louisville would beat Kentucky Saturday. (source: InsideTheVille.com) So before Big Blue Nation crowns the Cats the kings of college basketball, they should remember the old adage “all good things must come to an end, except when they mustn’t.”
*That’s All She Wrote: As we approach tomorrow’s big game between Kentucky and Louisville, Card fans are finding comfort and confidence in one fact that should be a little unnerving to UK fans: If you give Rick Pitino a week to prepare, he is impossible to beat. As evidence of this, look no further than his 10-0 record in Sweet 16 games. So while Kentucky ostensibly has the advantage in terms of raw talent, Louisville has a big edge in terms of coaching. Of course, Pitino has lost 3 times in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at UofL when he had a week to prepare, including an embarrassing loss last year to Morehead, but other than that, he’s untouchable when given a week to get ready. And, technically, he is 2-3 in national semifinal games when he had a week to prepare, but still. Heading into the big showdown in the Big Easy, Louisville fans have to love their chances, thanks to the master tactician sitting on the UofL bench. (Though he did lose once before when the Final Four was in New Orleans, in 1993, even though he had a week to prepare then as well.) The bottom line is this. Other than his three first round losses at Louisville when he had a week to prepare, and his losing record in national semifinal games when he had a week to prepare, the guy is unbeatable in NCAA Tournament when he has a week to prepare for them. (So what if he’s never won a Final Four game as an underdog.)
* On this date: On this date in 1991, Duke beat Kansas to give Mike Krzyzewski his first national championship. Kentucky was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament that year because they cheated.