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John Calipari took a break from jet setting to hop on the SEC Teleconference and talk about his team ahead of Saturday’s game vs. Texas Tech in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Earlier, I shared his thoughts on the parity in college basketball this season, but here are a few more comments worth passing along.
Texas Tech is “different”
The No. 18 Red Raiders lost at TCU 65-54 on Tuesday night, but Calipari knows they’ll be playing their best basketball when Kentucky rolls into Lubbock on Saturday. The best word to describe Chris Beard’s team? “Different.”
“I told Chris, he’s done – I’m really impressed with what they do, how they play. They play different. They play the post different, how they trap. They play pick and rolls different. They do different things on the baseline and out of bounds. They throw some presses at you, some passive, some aggressive. They’ll just start running in traffic and doing stuff.
“Offensively, they’re 8th in the country, maybe higher, on assisted baskets, which means he’s got them defending. He’s got them playing like a team. They’ve lost a couple of games, but they’re games if you watch, they had a chance to win all of those games. So, you’re talking a new team and doing what he’s doing? I’m really impressed. Really impressed.”
Calipari is expecting the wildest environment of the season
Kentucky is used to sold out arenas and rabid fans, but Calipari said he’s anxious to see how his team plays in what will likely be the craziest atmosphere they’ve seen so far.
“We’ve got a tough game. Going in, that’ll be one of the best environments we’ll play in. Now, the good news is, the Arkansas environment, the Georgia environment, the South Carolina — everywhere we go is that way, but this may be on top of that.
“But, you know, this is what we need as a team. I’m trying to empower them. Now it’ll be a rough team, a team that plays hard and if someone’s not giving it, as a team they’ve got to come to me and say, ‘We’ve got to get him out, Coach.’ That’s when I know, instead of me having to drive during these kind of situations, they’re doing it themselves.”
He’s not afraid to play Johnny Juzang more
Juzang played 35 minutes over the past two games, and judging by Calipari’s remarks today, he’ll get even more playing time moving forward.
“I told you, at South Carolina, the best play I liked, we were down three and that ball came to him and he didn’t have a second thought, he shot it, which meant he had courage. He’s not afraid to make plays. He’s not afraid to do what he thinks he’s capable of doing.
“The issue had been, he hadn’t made a jump shot since Nov. 28. You get minutes out there, you’ve got to make some shots. Well, he’s doing that now. The kid has a nose for the ball. He seems to be in the right places. He knows how to get himself where he can get the ball with opportunities to score. He’s active, he’s trying, he’s fighting, so he’s getting an opportunity.”
Nate Sestina and Kahlil Whitney need to catch up
Juzang and Keion Brooks have stepped forward as reliable contributors. Calipari said he needs Nate Sestina and Kahlil Whitney to do the same.
“The question becomes, do I continue to try to make sure we have a lot of room for error? In other words, keep building these guys on the bench. I think Keion has gotten so much better. We’ve got to get Nate back to where he was. He’s kind of stepped back. He’s not playing bad, but he’s not the level. It doesn’t seem as though he’s as confident and sure of himself as he was three weeks ago. We’re trying to figure that out. And then we’ve got to get Kahlil going. He’s got to get in there and do some things and get that feel going of what he has to do for our team to get in there and play.”
He believes six to eight SEC teams will make the tournament
Joe Lunardi’s latest NCAA Tournament projections had only five SEC teams making the Big Dance (Kentucky, Auburn, Arkansas, Florida, and LSU), with two more (Alabama, Mississippi State) on the bubble. Even though it’s been a somewhat disappointing year for SEC Basketball so far, Calipari believes six to eight teams will end up getting bids.
“I don’t think there’s any league that’s just, well, they’re way up here. We’re in good shape. My guess would be we get anywhere from six to eight in and couple of teams are going to have to do some things, but that’s every year for all the leagues.”