We are in a weird place in the John Calipari era right now because where you view the program is all on how you approach it. If you view the program now compared to where it was from 2010-15, you would have to say the program is in “decline”. The Cats haven’t gone to the Final Four in 3 years, the longest stretch in the Calipari tenure. They didn’t win the SEC title this year and finished 4 games out of first. They just suffered a very disappointing Sweet 16 loss to a far inferior team. And the overall talent of this year’s team probably didn’t stack up to teams in the past.
On the other hand, if you simply compare UK to the rest of the country or the era before Calipari arrived, things are still thriving. UK has won 4 straight SEC Tournament titles, won games in the NCAA Tournament every year since 2014, will send a couple more guys into the NBA this summer, and the recruiting class coming in is Top 5 in the country. If you look at it in that way, you’ve got to be very happy with the program right now.
A little breakdown of the previous 3 years:
2016: 27-9, 13-5 SEC (SEC Co-Champs, SEC Tournament Champs, 2nd Round NCAA)
2017: 32-6, 16-2 SEC (SEC Champs, SEC Tournament Champs, Elite 8)
2018: 26-11, 10-8 SEC (SEC Tournament Champs, Sweet 16)
OVERALL: 85-26, 39-15 SEC (2 SEC Regular Season Titles, 3 SEC Tournament Titles, 6-3 NCAA Record)
Even if you consider this a “down” time for the Calipari program, the Cats have still won 75% of their games, 3 SEC Tournament titles, made the 2nd weekend of the tournament 2 out of 3 years, and are still the class of the SEC consistently. They are poised to be in the Top 10 next season as well. I would say that appears to be a program that doing just fine.
I get the sense there is some concern right now about how things are going. It’s kind of funny because it is somewhat like the concern people had during the Tubby era. The teams were excellent, the players were loved by the fans, and the wins rolled in. But the one thing missing was the Final Fours. Tubby just couldn’t get over that hump after 1998 and get back to the Final Four. And in the last 3 years, Calipari teams have fallen short in March.
Personally, I am content with what the last 3 years have been for UK basketball. Calipari gave us an unrealistic view of what his program could be with his run from 2010-15. That was the anomaly, not the norm. The norm is what we’ve seen for the last 3 years. Freshman teams that struggle, hope they bring it together at the end, and take your chances in the tournament. In years past, like 2011 and 2014, it worked out all the way to the Final Four. The past 3 years, it just hasn’t worked out that way. Certainly, if this kind of season we just experienced in 2018 keeps happening moving forward, that will grow old. But as it stands right now, this program is still one of the strongest in the country. I’m not sure we are to the point to question whether this is working or not. Look at that overall stats of the past 3 years above. Three years that many are calling “down” years simply because we didn’t make the Final Four. Very few programs can stack up to those numbers. Have some perspective and realize this is still one of the golden eras of UK basketball.