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How John Calipari Compares to Other Elite Coaches in the Tournament

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.

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Article written by Taylor Combs

67 Comments for How John Calipari Compares to Other Elite Coaches in the Tournament



  1. BillytheUkkid
    6:42 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    The hardest championship to get is that second one and the law of averages is on our side since we are in it every year.



  2. nocode96
    6:45 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    Fake news! Bigolblue and mashburnfan day differently, and they don’t even need facts to back it up!



    • mashburnfan1
      1:13 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      The last 2 season we had no chance, was easy to see those teams were not very good. I do think if the right mix return and improve next season, and at least 2 of the FR are very good we will have a shot. Would have this year as we had the quality experience in PJ and Travis but none of the FR were in that very good range or we could have won it this year. My gripe with Cal is his in game coaching, or lack of it. How many times did we watch Auburn just go to the rim anytime they wanted and Cal did nothing to change things up. How can you expect something to change if you make no attempt to prevent it. I think when the one and done changes it will help Cal and UK probably the most.



    • 4everUKblue
      8:58 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Not even gonna read mashburmKfanboy’s post because I already know it’s full of BS. Tell me how great K is now fanboy!



  3. Luether
    6:49 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    Good analysis, Taylor. This puts things into perspective.

    On your question “Do you want him to win the tournament every year?” –
    The answer would be YES!



    • Bluebloodtoo
      6:53 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Did anyone else notice that Cal beat some of Rupp’s records in half the time?



    • BigJohnC
      7:13 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Well in rupps defense there were WaY fewer games in the tourney back in his day…maybe 16 teams?



    • RealCatsFan
      7:38 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Yep, but less games to get to the Championship.



  4. DAllen
    6:50 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    Lets get the roster ready by mid summer & kick the season off in the Champions Classic & make another run at the final4. I’m ready now?



  5. mashman 93
    6:51 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    John Calipari is a hall of fame coach and should be treated as such. GO BIG BLUE!!



  6. USMC Cat
    6:55 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    Cal is by no means perfect. But none of the other elite coaches are either. But we are relevant every single year. Our teams with the exception of 1 year, have a chance. In this one and done era (which is likely in its last couple of years), that is remarkable. I get the feeling Cal really wants to win 1 more title before he retires. I sure hope he succeeds.



  7. KYCat4EVER
    7:03 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    Please Taylor? STOP it STOP it now!

    We are Kentucky: the GOLD STANDARD of college basketball when Coach PROCESS came to town ( in his own words)$

    We have had more talent than the teams you are trying to compare UK with: because Coach PROCESS is a great recruiter!

    However… Coach PROCESS has won ONE National Championship while Duke, Kansas, and Villanova have one TWO!

    If that isn’t convincing enough… it’s the three National Championship Titles Coach Calipari’s lousy Bench Coaching has cost UK: see West Virginia… Wisconsin… and Auburn losses)!

    That’s all the research you need to do!

    Lastly, we are NOT HATERS because we criticize Coach Calipari and his awful bench coaching and UNDER ACHIEVING… we are doing exactly as Coach ADOLPH RUPP instructied real KENTUCKY FANS to do…

    Yes… even ESPN too!

    GO BIG BLUE!



    • RealCatsFan
      7:17 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      You talk so much about the standard that Coach Rupp set, but what do you say to the fact that after 1958, even the great Adolph Rupp went 0 for 14 in NCAA Championships? Would that have lived up to your “standards”? You shook his hand, after all.



    • BigJohnC
      7:17 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Cal has had less talent the past two or three years. So you’re saying you’d rather be in the hunt every 4 years instead of every year? What a joke



    • catsarerunnin
      7:28 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      KYCat4ever please change your name to Dingleberry4Ever. Thank you.



    • Bruce Dickinson
      7:33 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Compare Calipari’s 10 years against Kentucky’s previous 10 years and you will get an even clearer picture as to why BBN loves him. This was a great article and spelled things out quite clearly. None are so blind as those that will not see.



    • Skooms
      7:37 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Poor Mashburn. It must suck to have ZERO facts to back up your dumb and pointless arguments old man.



    • Catsfan1715
      8:02 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      What an idiot lol



    • Bird88
      8:10 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Dumbass!



    • henderblue
      8:11 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      KyCat, you’re in a small minority. You’re fighting a losing battle. Cal is here to stay and the MAJORITY of BBN is very happy about that. Golf is a great game. And the season is here. Maybe you should take to the links…get your mind off things. Go out and have a great summer. Forget about basketball for a while.



    • nocode96
      8:16 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Kycat, you may be worse than bigolblue. At least most of us think he’s a troll. You and mashburnfan are the shlt stuck in the bottom of UK fan’s shoes. I don’t know what else to say other than you’re seriously the dumbest person I know. You have the worst takes out of anyone here. There’s no one better than Cal. Rupp was good, but let’s not pretend there aren’t several reasons he won titles, his talent on the court and coaching ability aren’t the only thing that won titles for us in that time period. I award you no points, and may god have mercy on your sole…ya bum.



    • Soylentbeans
      8:39 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Only 14 coaches since 1939 (1st march madness) have won more than 1 title. That’s 80 years. There have only been 15 schools in that 80 years win more than 1 title.



    • Willis Wolf Tattoo
      8:49 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      There is a difference between simply hating and criticizing recent performance. We can still be fans of the program and have a different opinion from you too- so sorry not sorry. Let me start off by saying that he has done an unbelievable job throughout the last ten years. Fans that call for him to be fired are asinine and ridiculous. But based on the last four seasons he has continually underachieved based on the KY standard. Maybe the SEC has gotten better but in my opinion his recruiting has regressed slightly (no top 5 players this year), his player development with bigs has gotten worse (Skal, SKJ, Tai, Nick Richards) and he continues to be stubborn about in-game decisions that more often than not lose us games and championship opportunities. Also, no Kentucky team should lose to a team by 34 points at any point in the season and we should have a coach that can adjust mid-game to other coaching strategies being thrown at him. Maybe a shake up in the staff will help things- I don’t know. But he must make some adjustments in my opinion if he wants to win another one here.



    • Soylentbeans
      12:26 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Unfortunately most people on here have a difference of opinion and hate. I was actually guilty of this recently with you. Apologies. I do agree with you on the in game stuff though I feel that is 1 of the only weaknesses in his coaching.



    • Soylentbeans
      12:28 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Well not hate because I dont hate anyone but hating on someone for opinions is what i meant.



    • mashburnfan1
      1:19 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      KYCAT left out UConn as well. Look I have said enough ow I feel about Cal as the person and what he has done for UK, players and fans, A++ rating and top notch. I have also said his coaching is way below standard, does not make adjustments. That is pretty easy to understand. I agree his coaching cost us titles with the WVU loss and Wisconsin but disagree on this year. This team was never winning a title just like last years. I do think he cost us a title with the UConn loss as well. But it is still about titles and Cal is the one who said Gold Standard. If that is the case why do 4 teams have more titles than we do in his 10 years. Now if the right mix come back next year {Herro please be one of them} and at least 2 of the FR are very good we have a great shot. When the one and done changes I think that helps Cal and UK as well.



    • 4everUKblue
      9:01 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      All you Cal haters are just idiots and make a good case for more money in the KY education budget. Come back when you find a sliver of common sense.



    • ClutchCargo
      9:45 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      I hate to burst your bubble with the truth, KYCAPSLOCK4EVER, but Kansas’ last title was in 2008. Carry on.



  8. Trueblue44
    7:08 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    I’ll admit, I’ve been highly critical and negative towards Cal lately. But I have been wrong and emotional with those statements. The man has been great for UK and the fan base and I’m happy to know that he’ll be here for his career. Eating crow as we speak, tastes like crap but it’s gotta be done



    • henderblue
      8:16 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Way to go Trueblue. You’re exactly right. He has been great for UK and BBN. KyCat, look here…LOOK…here’s a man who has seen the light. And feels better for it. Take a page from Trueblue and let it go. You’ll be glad you did..



    • Trueblue44
      9:04 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Just reflected a lot and the last decade has been a blast. Sure, it’s been frustrating at times but regardless, it’s been a helluva ride so far.



  9. BigJohnC
    7:11 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    Had no idea that K and Roy were 0-6 against higher seeds…that’s laughable



  10. mashman 93
    7:16 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    If you’re going to bash Cal at least get your facts straight. Connecticut is the other team not Kansas and look where they are now.



  11. CatfaninCinci
    7:18 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    I’m a big Calipari fan… But that stat where Cal is 6-3 with teams seeded lower is buoyed by the 2014 team which was woefully under seeded. We were expecting a 3 or 4, and got an 8. 4 of those 6 wins were that season. That team shouldn’t have been playing as a lower seed.



    • CatfaninCinci
      7:19 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      That said. He’s been utterly amazing and anyone who wants rid of him is an idiot.



    • Skooms
      7:39 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      That team’s record justified the seeding. They were catching fire for sure, but not until the SEC Tourney and they still lost their 3rd straight to Florida. Talent wise they were definitely underseeded, but looking at their record, the 8 was justified.



  12. hillbilly cat
    7:23 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    There is no place for statistics and facts….this is BBN (sarcasm)



  13. sickofit1996
    7:40 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    Guys we didn’t win a championship with wall Bledsoe and cousins………or with Karl stein the twins booker ulis lyles dakari poythress and Willis…………. that’s a shame and embarrassing. #sickofit



    • nocode96
      8:16 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Ok, bye.



    • az1006
      8:18 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Other teams get good players too. And winning the NCAAT is really, REALLY hard. Are you sick of having a team capable of getting there? Rick won it once. Tubby didn’t go to the Final Four over his last 9 seasons. Rupp coached for 41 years, and only managed 4 championships in an era where you only had to win 4 games to do it. When Cal got here, we hadn’t won a title in 12 years, and had barely sniffed the Final Four only twice in the 7 years before that.

      Since then, been to 4 of them, won a title, and barely missed on the Final Four 3 other times. So, I’m not exactly sure what you’re sick of. If you are, GTFO, BBN doesn’t need you.



    • Irwin R. Fletcher
      10:25 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      … and Duke just missed a ‘ship with Zion, RJ & Tre Jones. If you’re so sick of it, GTFO. You can join the idiots in Durham calling for K’s head (if that’s even happening?)



  14. chrislarkey
    7:46 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    You Cal haters just STHU, he is a great coach who treats our program with respect and cares about our tradition and former players.
    We do get great players but that freak team dUKe and K has the best team and didn’t win it(thank God)

    We just need a few better bench coaches, like when we had Orlando Antigua and the other former pro guard we had



    • chrislarkey
      7:51 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Rod Strickland



    • wildcat74
      9:23 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Lol this post nicely sums up the calapologists argument. STHU and he just needs someone to help coach while he recruits. Um, isn’t that what the rest of us have been saying, but we should STHU right.



  15. jetmaker754
    7:48 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    That’s exactly right. Quiet in the complainers sectio !



  16. Han
    8:02 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, and I want Cal as our coach, but it is a fact that 3 of those programs you mentioned, 3 out of the 6 coaches, have 2 titles in the past 10 years. Cal has one. (And a fourth coach, Izzo, can get his second title overall this year.)

    For all that the tourney can be fickle and require some luck, 3 out of 6 elite coaches at elite programs have managed to get that second title.

    That’s the adjustment Cal needs to make. He may always have us in the hunt, but until he gets that 2nd title, it’s going to keep him and us below all of them in the final tally. Getting to the elite 8 and final four more often is good because it means you have a shot at the title, but no one wants to be the Buffalo Bills, known for coming up short time after time.



  17. Catsfan1715
    8:04 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    But but but these are just facts. The Cal haters don’t care about silly facts!!! Lol, idiots.



  18. CatsfaninFL
    8:08 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    I forget the stat, but something like 40% of the overall #1 seeds since they started ranking the 1 seeds have actually won the tournament. It is a REALLY hard tournament to win. It takes chemistry, talent, luck, peaking at the right time, and yes, coaching. The best team rarely wins it. All you can ask is to be in the mix every year and you will break through eventually. Love Cal and love this program!



    • henderblue
      8:21 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      That is exactly right CatsfaninFl. The best team rarely wins. One bad game or run up against a hot team, like Carolina did, and you’re going home. And we are in the mix EVERY year.



    • Bruce Dickinson
      8:34 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Luck plays a huge role in it.



  19. makebasketballplays
    8:48 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    How many times are we going to choke either most or second most talent in the country?



    • catsarerunnin
      9:00 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Stupid



    • wildcat74
      9:24 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      That’s just the point. No coach in the galaxy has done less with more. I used to think that was Roy Williams distinction, but over the last four years, Cal now owns it.



    • You had [email protected]
      11:43 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Wrong – Duke has had #1 recruiting class last 4 years and has also not made a final 4.



    • RealCatsFan
      9:33 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Well, we can see what ki d of talent we get without Cal. Are you longing for the Mark Coury days?



  20. makebasketballplays
    9:03 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    How?



    • wildcat74
      9:26 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      Catsarunnin doesn’t really have any arguments, he just calls others names. Highly intellectual rebuttals.



  21. VirginiaCat
    9:35 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    The reality is that college basketball is a “what have you done for me lately” proposition. Cal’s success has been front loaded towards the beginning of his tenure and that corresponds to a time when he was getting the best players in the country. His performance since the 2015 season has been in contrast to the early years. No FF appearances since 2015 and losses to inferior teams based at least partly on coaching. There is also the embarrassing loss to Duke this year. Those of us who have voiced concerns have seen a marked decline in recent years. If you evaluate Cal for his entire tenure at Kentucky that is fine, but you can’t lose sight of an unfavorable pattern than has emerged the last four years. We lost at least two golden opportunities this year and last. Those opportunities are rare and we can’t afford to squander them through questionable coaching.



    • KatFan48
      10:09 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

      SEE POST 22



    • Brad
      9:03 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Pretty sure Kansas has zero titles since cal been at UK with comparable talent. Id say last 2 years Duke has had more talent than just about any Kentucky team and didn’t make the final four. If you can’t get behind what Calipari has done you are just a miserable person and can kick rocks



  22. KatFan48
    10:08 pm April 2, 2019 Permalink

    Some people look for a team to troll. Here’s a suggestion- Try what many of us in BBN are doing. We ask the man in the red suit to give us the best coach. We got him “for life” no less. YES VIRGINIA THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS



  23. CahillsCrossingNT
    5:11 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    I don’t get all of the firestorm after the loss by this year’s team. They couldn’t have won the national title if they had the tournament 100 times. They weren’t good enough. Calipari has his faults as does any other coach. He overachieved this year, in 2011, 2014 and 2017 and severely underachieved in the end with 2010 and 2015.



    • dane82
      9:42 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      i both agree with this, and am frustrated with how true it is. if you look at the team in, say, january, then yeah, we’d have probably been happy with coming very close to a final four. in that sense, the postseason was a success. but we started out ranked, what, #2 in the country? i realize preseason rankings can be meaningless, but did anyone feel like we were overrated going into the season? by that measure, losing in the elite 8 to a 5-seed is a disappointment. the sky isn’t falling–again, the tournament is a crapshoot, and losing to a strong 5-seed in the elite 8 isn’t like losing to a 15 on day one or anything–but it is a disappointment. the way the season ended can only be considered overachieving if you accept that we weren’t very good for the first 2-3 months, and with the talent we had on the team, that shouldn’t be acceptable. it’s a lot easier to swallow if we end up rolling to or through the final four, but an elite 8 isn’t quite enough to excuse being that slow to develop.



  24. 4everUKblue
    9:05 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    What a great time to be a TRUE Kentucky fan and get to watch the Cal haters live in misery! Suck it mashbumKfanboy, BigolSlaterMedic, KYCat4ever and all you other Cal haters out there. Hahahahahahaha!



  25. katmandue2you
    10:08 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    I’m all for Cal bring here but Kentucky will never ever turn into a UCLA or an Indiana.



  26. Irwin R. Fletcher
    10:29 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    Excellent article, Taylor! Love the stats you found.



  27. Ruppstartedit
    11:31 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    Now we begin the offseason or BB stage 4. Stage 1 we don’t know the players but we cling to the star ratings. Even tho each year the ratings prove useless except for the big time players. Stage 2 we wonder if this bunch will ever block out or play D. Stage 3 after some ugly SEC play Cal gets thru to them and we start to see some potential. Stage 4 Elite 8 isn’t good enough for some even tho its better than 95% or so. DO you remember the Tubby Days when we hoped for Sheray Thomas to come around?