When we look back at the 2020-21 season a decade from now and John Calipari is probably no longer the coach at UK, I think this season will be a key moment in what the legacy of Cal will be. And I don’t mean that a poor season somehow ruins his overall legacy at Kentucky. His name is going into the rafters no matter. The love the fans have for him isn’t going to be permanently damaged. But let’s be honest, Calipari is on the back end of his career here. He isn’t going another 10 years. And I think this season will be very key is how that ending is going to look for fans. And there are 2 major reasons why:
1 . CALIPARI IS HYPING THIS TEAM AS GOOD
It’s rare for Cal to hype up how good his team is coming into the year. He usually insinuates that his team is young and sucks early in the year. But instead he is talking like this team should be elite from the opening tip. This change in attitude certainly should get fans excited for the year whenever it begins. But there are serious risks that come with that. If this team struggles at the beginning of the year, as many Calipari teams have, then will the backlash from fans be greater than ever and talk about Cal “declining” could increase. And what will be a weird year already, with NCAA Tournament spots likely limited, could become a disaster if the Cats are on the bubble. Remember, only 1 player returns this year.
2 . SOME CRACKS HAVE BEEN SHOWING
So the program hasn’t been rolling for a bit now. They are still one of the 10 best in the country but some cracks and potential cracks have begun showing:
- Kenny Payne leaves program (Bruiser Flint as replacement not loved)
- Several high level recruit losses (Zion, Banchero among others)
- Some high level UK recruits have disappointed (Montgomery, Whitney, Juzang, Green, Diallo, Vanderbilt)
- No Final Fours in 5 years
- No #1 seeds in 5 years
- Wenyen Gabriel criticisms, Ashton Hagans public spat
Look, 350 college basketball programs would still take what Kentucky has done since 2016 everyday and twice on Sunday. This is not an indictment of the program as a whole. But you can not deny that the program has dipped some since the 38-1 squad of 2015. It just has. And with Calipari on the tail end of his career here I get concerned we are slowly heading towards Tubby Smith territory. An assistant coaching staff that doesn’t excite fans. Some additional recruiting failures. Surprising losses. No Final Fours.
But that brings us back to this year. Calipari has framed this season as a national title level team, or at least the Final Four. And I think he might be doing that not only because he truly believes it but he NEEDS it to be so. Which is why there is a lot on the line I think. If Kentucky goes 23-7 and gets a #4 seed, what will we think of the direction the program is headed? I don’t know and we don’t really know how much of a season will even be played, but assuming we get a full year or near a full year, I think there is as much pressure on this Calipari team as there has been in the last 5 years.