Is Cal Close To Breaking?

Photo by VICTORIA GRAFF | Contributing Photographer University of Kentucky Coach John Calipari tried to get his team fired up against Mississippi State. UK beat the Bulldogs 69-59. The Wildcats  are 18-5 for the year and 8-2 in the SEC.

Photo by VICTORIA GRAFF | Contributing Photographer
University of Kentucky Coach John Calipari tried to get his team fired up against Mississippi State. UK beat the Bulldogs 69-59. The Wildcats are 18-5 for the year and 8-2 in the SEC.

TONY VANETTI: It was the John Calipari trifecta last week, and I’m going to give you a choice to start off with: A. Skipping his duties with the media obligations, as he did with his press conference again this week. B. Kentucky basketball is the most scrutinized team in the history of all sports. Or, C. “Calipari Paranoia” by Jerry Tipton.

MATT JONES: First of all, it’s interesting that he’s skipping some of his media obligations, not because I think it’s bad but because I think it shows he’s a little tired. I think he’s a little burned out and skipping some of those radio shows, a whole bunch of them, which is not a good sign in February. In terms of being the most criticized team, that’s just Cal putting the team into the national conversation, like ESPN SportsCenter, PTI, and that’s because Calipari will occasionally go, “Hey everybody, I’m here,” which I like. As for paranoia, I don’t like the word, but there’s no doubt that Calipari does better when he has doubters and enemies like you saying that he can’t do it. So there’s a part of that article that is true, even if it was slightly exaggerated.

VANETTI: Well, it’s interesting you say that. If there is fatigue going on, do you think Cal is ready to break up with Big Blue Nation?

JONES: I don’t think so, but I think he’s ready for a break. He did two straight summers where he did the Dominican Republic basketball team, and last summer he was basically in hype mode all summer getting ready for this team. I do think he needs to take a break. But it’s something he has to do himself, because I don’t think they’ll ever ask him to stop. But I do think he’s tired. He, like a lot of fans, thought this team would be better than they are, and I think he’s a little fatigued with this.

VANETTI: Don’t get me wrong. I love Calipari in Lexington and Rick in Louisville and I would like both of those guys to have those jobs forever, but obviously that’s not going to happen. Is your fanbase wearing him down to a nub?  Your fanbase wants Calipari in that seat. So do they back up a tad bit to keep it a happy family?

JONES: I think this fanbase will wear you out. But that’s what makes this job and Cal would not have it any other way. But here’s the thing: who do you think stays at their school longer? Cal or Rick?

VANETTI: Rick.

JONES: Well, how long do you think Rick has left?

VANETTI: I think at some point we’re going to have to run him out of here like Denny. He’s a workaholic. Just won a title. What other job could he get that would pay him? What other job can he get that’s going to pay him $3.5-4 million a year?

JONES: He could probably still get a NBA job if he wanted it.

VANETTI: I don’t know.

JONES: Yeah he could. The Kings were ready to hire him when he wasn’t winning anything a few years ago. But it would probably have to be a team like that. He could get a good NBA job.

VANETTI: He’s got no stress here, though. Tom lets him do whatever he wants. He makes a ton of money. He’s in a great arena. The practice facility is ridiculous. He can take the team to Miami for six days if he likes to get out of town. This is the perfect situation.

JONES: I agree with that. And you’re probably right. It’s Rick. But I think for Cal it will just depend on whether or not he makes another two years. Then I think he’ll retire. But we’ll see. Who knows?

VANETTI: No, I don’t think that’s the question. Who can replace their guy better?

JONES: Nobody. Well, Rick can be replaced. Rick is great at Louisville, but here’s the sense I get from UofL fans in Louisville: they love Rick’s success, but do they love Rick? Like Louisville fans love Denny. Okay. Denny was loved. Is Rick loved, or is he just there and he’s your coach, and you’re winning, so that’s good?

VANETTI: I think it’s a tale of two stories. I think it is the first couple of years when Rick was here and he always talked about his glory days at Kentucky, which got on Louisville fans’ nerves. And then they went through the Sypher thing together and then he won back-to-back Final Fours, and it seemed like he was reborn. I think there’s a new relationship.

JONES: But I still don’t think he’s loved.

VANETTI: But who is anymore?

JONES: That’s interesting, because I think Cal is.

VANETTI: No way.

JONES: Yeah he is. I’m with these people every day. I had a caller at my show today, Tony, saying the only person who can replace Cal is God because he’s the only person that’s good.  Does he have critics? Of course he does. But there’s not been anyone at this job – maybe ever – that encompasses everything fans want in a coach like Cal. That doesn’t mean he’s the best coach and that doesn’t mean Rick wasn’t loved when he was here. But Cal just does things. He would be almost impossible to replace.

VANETTI: He’s a perfect coach. It’s a perfect marriage between a fan base and a coach.

JONES: And that’s why I said I think that Rick would be easy to replace just because – look, Rick replaced Denny and that worked. I don’t know how somebody replaces Cal.

VANETTI: Well, tough, because their fan bases are like Alabama. Look, you had Bear Bryant and then you had how many years between him, and really, Nick Saban was like the second coming of that guy, and how many years were between that? Thirty or 40 years. So UCLA is still trying to replace Wooden.

JONES: Well, Kentucky does it, but Kentucky has a cycle. We do great good drunk. That’s our coaches. That’s the way we work. So we go from Rupp to Hall to Sudden, from Pitino to Tubby, to Gillespie. And now from Cal. So you’ve got to assume the next coach will be good and then we’ll hire a drunk and we’ll then get our next great one.

VANETTI: Okay: does UK pull off the upset at home against Florida on Saturday?

JONES: I think they do. I think they beat Florida. Florida is – I think – the best team in America, but with college game day, I also think this Kentucky team is about whom they’re playing. Do they respect the team they’re playing? So for instance, when they played Louisville they said, “well this is the defending national champs, we want to beat them.” When they played Michigan State, they lost. But they played really well early in the year. I think they’ll respect Florida. Here’s what I think will happen: They’ll beat them, then they’ll lose the next game at Ole Miss.

VANETTI: You’re not a little scared that they’ll get a run on at Rupp Arena? That’s a possibility. Florida is for real.

JONES: They can get run, but it’s unlikely, they’re too good. They’ve lost five games. Every game has been within five points. Every game is close. They could get a  run at Florida. That could happen. But I don’t think they get run out.

VANETTI:  All right. Last one. You said Syracuse wasn’t that good. Are you changing your mind now?

JONES: Still think that. Well, it depends on what you mean by good. Are they good enough to win the national championship this year?  Yes. Are they good enough that they should be 23-0? No. They are the kind of team that when I look at the tournament, they’re ripe for me betting against them. Because they are 23-0, but all their games are close. They don’t beat anybody by very much. So they’re one of these teams that look on paper like they’re awesome, but if a couple things go differently, they have three or four losses. I think they’re one of the best teams in the country. I don’t think they’re the best team. So, Syracuse is my pick in the Sweet 16. If they play a four seed, then they go down.

VANETTI: Syracuse is going to win the National Title. Guaranteed.

JONES: You’re insane.

VANETTI: They are the best team in America.

JONES: Guess what? Zone teams don’t win the national title. One zone team in the history has one the national title. Oh yeah – they had a guy named Carmello Anthony on that team.

VANETTI: One last thing. Joe Linardi has Kentucky and Louisville possibly matching up on Dec. 3.

JONES: That’s not going to happen. They’re not going to do that. That would look bad to have to two in-state teams, back-to-back National Champions, playing each other. I do think Linardi is right that Kentucky will probably end up with a four. I think they’ll look at Florida, at Ole Miss and then maybe the SEC tournament unless they get a four. And I think Louisville will probably get a five. I think Louisville is going to lose at SMU and I think they’ll probably win at Memphis, and then I’m not sure what happens in Cincinnati. I think they’ll probably get a five and that’s where they’ll end up seeded.