MATT JONES: The big story Iâ€™m sure Tony wants to get to is the demise of the Cats this year, havingÂ lost their last two games and all the national attention going Calipariâ€™s way – taking off your Louisville pom-poms for a second: Do you think all the hand ringing about Calipari has been fair?
TONY VANETTI: I think that there has been a lot of national writers that have waited for their moment to pounce because they all either thought or wrote of the demise of Kentucky because they hired Calipari in the first place and this is the first opportunity they have to jump on and say â€œSee Cal has ruined Kentucky just like we said.â€ So, certainly the temperature in the kitchen has gotten warmer.
JONES: I totally agree with you there, I mean with regards to the national media folks â€“ â€˜hell hath no fury like a journalist scornedâ€™. And the instance at the South Carolina game is what led all of them to get their panties in a wad and get all upset. Cal shouldnâ€™t have done that press conference, my view is you donâ€™t give people the knife to stab you but, heâ€™s still a great coach. HeÂ has struggled with his team this year. This team has not responded the way he had hoped. You hope there is still time but Iâ€™m not sure if there is. But Iâ€™m with you, Tony, a lot of this is just personal grudges and people hoping that they would be proven right and now they feel like theyâ€™ve got their moment.
VANETTI: Well, they also have some legitimacy. When youâ€™re doing Big Blue Madness and you stand up there with the candles and the robe and say; â€œWe are college basketball. We donâ€™t move the needle, we are the needle,â€ and then when that doesnâ€™t happen by a wide margin, it opens the door for people to jump on when you call yourselves a shot like that.
JONES: Youâ€™re right. Cal has made a lot of mistakes this year, one being the stuff he said at Big Blue Madness. Listen, John Calipari is Vince McMahon and Vince McMahon is always going to be arrogant and let you know what heâ€™s doing. But when he has downs, he takes them and he bounces back and I fully expect Cal to bounce back. I donâ€™t know if it will happen with this group, but he will bounce back. I think it will harden his position with Kentucky, now he wants to prove these people wrong. He works well when heâ€™s got people yapping and being his enemy. But he has made some mistakes this year. He has acknowledged some of them and he probably needs to acknowledge some more of them. I think heâ€™s been too hard on this group and itâ€™s made them tense. I think in terms of putting a team together these arenâ€™t the perfect pieces. There are a lot of good players, but they donâ€™t all fit together. Like I said, heâ€™s made some mistakes but I fully expect him to bounce back.
VANETTI: Ok, there are now I believe two national writers saying that Calipari is gone after this year. If this is true and he leaves, Calipariâ€™s tenure at the University of Kentucky will be consideredâ€¦what?
JONES: Well first of all I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s true. I mean no offense to Michael Wilbon or Dan Patrick, but what do they know? I mean who is Michael Wilbon running with to know what Calipari is going to do? Calipari talks to like 5 people and I donâ€™t think one of them is Michael Wilbon. My guess is that he will be back. Iâ€™m fairly confident in that. If for some reason though he were to leave I still think his legacy is positive. Look, Kentucky had not won a title since 1998 when he got there, or been to a Final Four since 1998. People forget about that. When he took UK to the Final Four in 2011 it had been 13 years since they had been to one. He got them there for a title, a Final Four and his most fun team was the first team that lost in the Elite Eight. I still think people will be happy and his legacy will still be that of a great coach. Part of it would depend on whether or not whoever the new coach is could keep the recruiting class together so Kentucky doesnâ€™t have to restart. But Kentucky fans need to be careful what they wish for, Tony, because Calipari is an elite coach.Â Are there better coaches out there? Maybe there are â€“ maybe not. But Calipari is an elite coach and there arenâ€™t many of those and if you give one up or run one off you better cross your fingers you find another one because there arenâ€™t many.
VANETTI: You just canâ€™t help yourself. Youâ€™re the greatest fan base and youâ€™re the worst fan base all rolled into one.
JONES: Youâ€™re exactly right about that statement.
VANETTI: When youâ€™re winning, some of that rhetoric is awesome. But once you go back-to-back double digit losses, that same fan base starts to turn on you and it gets dicey.
JONES: There is a small part of the fan base that is talking about Calipari leaving â€“ now there is a lot of the fan base that is frustrated but not many want him to leave. But to the ones that do, Iâ€™m sure you agree, be careful what you wish for because there arenâ€™t a lot of Coach Calâ€™s out there. Donâ€™t you agree?
VANETTI: Yes. It is the perfect marriage between a coach and a fan base and BBN would be idiots to run him out of town. I, as a Louisville fan, and more importantly a broadcaster, would love for Rick to stay in his seat and Cal to stay in his seat for as long as they are coaching basketball because they are going to remain relevant. Plus they each give us so many great copy points to talk about every single day. Itâ€™s a circus in each town and they generate news on a Tuesday when thereâ€™s nothing else going on.
JONES: Looking ahead to the NCAA tournament for these two teams. For Kentucky, do you agree that even as bad as they looked and even as bad as theyâ€™re playing they still have potential? And letâ€™s say they got to be a 7 seed in the tournament – if youâ€™re a 2 seed would you want to see Kentucky as your 7 seed?
VANETTI: No, but weâ€™ve talked about that before and I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s the point, Matt. The point is they have hit some sort of wall. At some point Calipariâ€™s tactics are failing and you said it on your post-game show. You were very candid in saying heâ€™s screaming at the kids, the kids arenâ€™t responding and they played better once he was thrown out of the game and there was more of a calming affect – but whatâ€™s going on with this team?
JONES: I agree with that, but weâ€™re gonna know when they play Florida on Saturday â€“ and they probably wonâ€™t win but weâ€™ll know. This is the only chance they have. If they keep like theyâ€™re doing right now then theyâ€™re not going to do anything in the tournament â€“ they might win one game. But if they change and if Cal backs off and lets them play then I still think theyâ€™re dangerous. I really do and I know thatâ€™s crazy but I do. Duke is probably going to be a two seed, and if I was Duke and saw a seven seeded Kentucky sitting for me in the second round I wouldnâ€™t like that a bit. But hereâ€™s the other thing about Kentucky, they could lose that first game when they play the ten seed thatâ€™s just kind of how they are this year.
VANETTI: Well congratulations! Youâ€™re the most dangerous seven seed in the tournament.
JONES: Itâ€™s not about theoretically. Iâ€™m saying they could win that game if they played a two seeded team. Look at Villanova though. Villanova is going to be a two seed. If Villanova was the two and Kentucky was seven, Vegas might make Kentucky the favorite in that game. I mean donâ€™t you agree with me, Tony?
VANETTI: Youâ€™re the ultimate fan right now and I get itâ€¦
JONES: Iâ€™m not the ulimate fan, Iâ€™m being subjective and if Villanova and Kentucky played tomorrow Vegas would make Kentucky the favorite.
VANETTI: I just donâ€™t know. This team is different than they were a month ago.
JONES: As far as Louisville collapsing at the end of games has to be disappointing. Even the game they won against Cincinnati â€“ I mean whatâ€™s your confidence level at this point heading into the tournament?
VANETTI: Well you know, you say â€˜theyâ€™ve got to have upper classmen,â€™ I mean you donâ€™t get anymore experienced than this Louisville team. Itâ€™s not just freshman making mistakes like Kentucky, youâ€™ve got veterans on the Louisville team choking out at the end of the game there in Memphis, and not just the Memphis game but theyâ€™ve done this all season where at the end of the game youâ€™re looking for Hancock, Van Treese and Russ, the senior All-American and no one is there to lead this team and that is scary to think they canâ€™t focus at the end of a game to put a team away when they know theyâ€™ve got it and thatâ€™s what veterans are supposed to do – put teams away when youâ€™re up eight with four minutes to go.
JONES: I agree with you. I mean you said I was a fan on Kentucky but Iâ€™ll say the same thing about Louisville – they are still also dangerous because they still have guards who can make shots and beat you. The problem they have is that I donâ€™t know if there is an obvious way to how they are going to end the games. Last year you knew the ball was going to end up in Peyton Sivaâ€™s hands and he was going to make the right decision, whatever that was. Whether it was to kick it to a three from one of the guys outside or whether it was to keep it inside to Behanan or Dieng or whether it was to get the ball to Russ there is no good decision maker on this team and that means you get guys who are deciding when itâ€™s their time and sometimes it works as it did with Russ, and sometimes it doesnâ€™t and youâ€™re starting to see this more.
VANETTI: There are a lot of individuals on this team who will go down as some of my favorite UofL players of all time, Russ being one of them but Louisville went from 1986 to 2005 between Final Fours. Kentucky went from 1998 to 2011. This UofL team and this Kentucky team looks like one of those teams in between. They donâ€™t look like an â€™05, â€™11, â€™12 or â€™13 Final Four team. Weâ€™re going to cheer them on but you need so much luck to get to the Final Four and if we get that luck I think both teams can make it but if not â€“ neither one of these teams are a Dallas team.
JONES: I agree with that. I think youâ€™re right. But I would say this for both fan bases â€“ donâ€™t give up yet. Most of those years between 1998 and 2011 and 1986 and 2005 â€“ those teams didnâ€™t have the talent to do it and these guys do.