The sports world has been abuzz with John Calipari and Kentucky chatter since Sunday evening. Fans and media members alike have wrestled with the tension between two simultaneous realities about the Calipari era: 1) Kentucky has been consistently good for the last decade; 2) Kentucky has let opportunities slip through its fingers.
Of course, hot takes and haters abound after an upset in the NCAA tournament. From Dan Wolken’s “tournament stinkbomb” tweet to the Calipari sisters again having to ask people to stop being jerks to them on Twitter (seriously, what in the world is wrong with these people?), to ESPN asking if Cal’s job is in jeopardy, the narrative is that Cal and Kentucky have consistently underachieved, and that it’s due to Cal’s ineptitude in comparison to other elite coaches.
The University of Kentucky gave us its answer to ESPN’s question today to the tune of a “lifetime contract”—ten more years as head coach and the agreement to serve as a brand ambassador after that, effectively locking Cal in for the rest of his career. Obviously Mitch Barnhart and co. aren’t buying the narrative.
But is the narrative accurate? Is there reason to be frustrated with John Calipari? Some fans seem to think so. Even though Kentucky has made two more Elite Eights and two more Final Fours than any other program in the country in the last decade, the consensus still seems to be that Cal gets outcoached and we keep losing to teams who shouldn’t beat us.
So I did some digging. I compared Kentucky in the tournament during the Cal era to six other blueblood programs with elite coaches who have all been there for at least those ten years: Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Villanova, Michigan St., and Gonzaga. Here’s what I found:
1) In all tournament games, Cal/Kentucky have more wins and a better winning percentage than any of the other six programs. The Cats are 31–8 (79 percent) over the past decade; Duke is in second with 26 wins and a 76 percent clip, followed by North Carolina (24–8, 75 percent). Villanova and Kansas have won 71 percent of their tournament games in that stretch, Michigan St. has won 70 percent, and Gonzaga has won 67 percent.
2) In tournament games against lower seeds, Cal/Kentucky have a better winning percentage than any of the other six programs. Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, and Kansas have all been seeded higher than their tournament opponents 28 or more times. Kentucky has won 86 percent of those games, Duke 83 percent, North Carolina 82 percent, and Kansas only 74 percent. Gonzaga, Villanova, and Michigan St. have played significantly fewer games as the favorite, and their winning percentages are 85 percent, 78 percent, and 78 percent, respectively.
3) In tournament games against higher seeds, Cal/Kentucky again have a better winning percentage than any of the other six programs. Only Kentucky and Michigan St. have winning records against teams seeded better than them in the tournament. Kentucky is 6–3 (67 percent); Michigan St. is 7–4 (64 percent). Coach K and Roy Williams are a combined 0–6 against teams seeded higher than them in the tournament.
All this data leads to only one reasonable conclusion: no coach in the country has coached better in the NCAA tournament in the last decade than John Calipari. He has the best overall tournament winning percentage, the most tournament wins (by five!), the best winning percentage when favored, and the best winning percentage when an underdog.
I know it’s a small—but maddeningly loud—minority complaining about Cal, but what else do you want from this guy? Do you want him to win the tournament every year? Do you want him to go shoot free throws for his players? Do you want to fire him and turn into Indiana or UCLA?
Cal’s right when he says “You people are crazy,” and it’s not always a good thing. Be grateful for another good year, another season of being relevant, and your coach, who is the best in the business.
He’s locked in for life now, so you might as well enjoy the ride.