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Calipari Says Barbee Won’t Win COTY Honors Because Of “Haters”

There’s nothing wrong with a coach stumping for one of his former pupils.  Too bad then that John Calipari went way overboard in his praise of former player and assistant Tony Barbee.

Kentucky’s coach believes his former aide should be strongly considered for the SEC’s Coach of the Year honors.  Okay.  Barbee did do a nice job of making Auburn competitive by year’s end.  But…

Coach Cal said Barbee probably won’t win the award because of “haters” who have “personal problems.”

No, Barbee won’t win the award because his team finished 4-12 in the SEC and 11-19 overall.  He won’t win the award because Anthony Grant cooked up a totally unexpected 12-4 league mark at Alabama.  He won’t win the award because Billy Donovan took a Florida team with a target on its back and no true star and led it on a consistent march to the league title.

There are plenty of reasons Barbee won’t win the award and having “haters” doesn’t qualify.

But Calipari obviously feels differently.  “I just think he’s done wonders, and I believe he should be considered coach of the year.  You’ve got some haters out there, who’ve got some personal problems, that will make jokes about it.  But they don’t know what coaching is.”

What a ridiculous statement.  So to not vote for a man who went 4-12 means the voter doesn’t “know what coaching is?”  And what’s this about “personal problems?”

Calipari is within his rights to praise Barbee.  As noted above, he took a team that Jerry Palm called the worst ever in major college basketball and taught it to fight, scrap and survive.  He deserves kudos. 

But he does not deserve the Coach of the Year award.

And for Calipari to claim that he’ll lose the award because of “haters,” well, that just makes Coach Cal sound incredibly thin-skinned.  After all, what reason would anyone in the SEC have to hate Barbee other than his Calipari lineage?

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SEC Headlines – 1/18/11 Part One

1.  Here are the highlights from yesterday’s SEC coaches’ conference call with the media.

2.  After Saturday’s loss to South Carolina, Florida remains out of the national polls for a fourth-straight week.

3.  Gator running back Mike Blakely will miss spring practice due to shoulder surgery.

4.  A win tonight over Tennessee would equal UGA’s win total from a season ago (14).

6.  UGA’s Mark Fox doesn’t want to be compared to the Vols.  “I would say that we’re not modeling ourselves after what they’ve done.”

7.  John Calipari made sure his team got a “history lesson” on MLK Day.

8.  Coach Cal wants Terrence Jones to become a complete player by passing the ball more.

9.  Steve Spurrier says South Carolina doesn’t “deserve much preseason ranking.”

10.  Tennessee had a 10-game win streak over Georgia… until heading to Stegeman Coliseum last year.

11.  Bruce Pearl will stay in Knoxville for tonight’s game with the Dawgs.

12.  It seems the Vols sometimes need reminding to put forth an A effort.

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Kentucky Basketball: Post-Thanksgiving Review Of The Connecticut Game

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Does this look like a happy bunch to you?

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Eugene Tanner – AP

Does this look like a happy bunch to you?

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I hope everyone had a joyous Thanksgiving, and apologize for not putting something up yesterday.  Unfortunately, cicrumstances conspired against me.  Nonetheless, I would like to wish a belated “Happy Thanksgiving” to all and sundry, and I hope it was a wonderful time for all our fantastic readers.

Between the time difference and the boundless energy of my bride, I was unable to find the time to post yesterday.  But I am now comfortably settled in to our digs for the next few days, and before heading out heading out on our next financial misadventure, I thought I’d post a few thoughts about the Kentucky game against the Connecticut Huskies.

I asked Ken to write the postmortem because I had to get up at 4 AM to catch a plane, and as usual Ken did a bang-up job, and has already said most of what needed to be said.  The focus of this commentary will be more about the future, and less about what happened in Maui.  In addition, I am not going to talk much about individual players, but more about the team.

The Kentucky Wildcats clearly did not bring the same energy on defense to the UConn game as they did to the game versus Washington.  That really isn’t that surprising, considering the rigors of the Maui tournament and the relative youth of this team.  With that said, Coach John Calipari’s comments after the game were focused on the one overriding problem the Wildcats suffered on Wednesday — selfishness.

When you hear someone use the word “selfish” toward a basketball team, you often think of it as meaning an attempt by a player or players to dominate the game in order to enhance his or her own reputation.  I am 100% positive that is not what Coach Cal was talking about in this case.

In the UConn game, selfishness came in the form of a failure to communicate with each other.  It was transparently obvious to me that Kentucky’s players did not share information with each other defensively, and offensively, they tried to implement the Drible Drive Motion in a manner that violates one of its most basic tenets — the necessity to kick the ball out to open shooters when your path to the basket is impeded.

Brandon Knight in particular has a lot to learn on this point, but so does DeAndre Liggins.  Part of the blame for this problem has do go on Coach Calipari.  The reason is that Calipari’s first teaching priority vis-a-vis the DDM is to finish at the rim through contact.  Both Knight and Liggins have taken this teaching to be a primary one, but it is actually co-equal to the others.  You don’t want to try to finish through contact to the point of ignoring your teammates, and that’s exactly what happened with Knight and Liggins, not just last night, but for the Oklahoma Sooners game as well.

The problem can best be described as a difficulty with decision-making –  when you begn a DDM attack on the rim, you must make a decision about 8 feet from the basket wheter to continue the drive and draw contact, or kick out to the open 3-point shooter, or just restart the offense.  From there, if the shooter has a clean look, he puts up the shot, or reverses the ball to the weak side for an open look, a headfake and one or two bounce midrange shot, or restarts the DDM.  Kentucky had an additional problem in that our perimeter players were often out of position, which made it easier for drivers to choose the finish over the pass.

Coach Cal must now show his charges how to make the proper decisions, and players without the ball where to go, wash, rinse, and repeat ad nauseum.  The ‘Cats did better in the second half, but the truth of the matter is, that performance was less a superlative by UK than it might seem.  Much of it was due to dynamite play from a hot Terrence Jones, and less to a vastly improved team effort, although the team effort was noticeably better.  The real improvement must come over the next few days in practice.

The other thing that was lacking was maturity on defense, but quite honestly, that is something that UK can only get to through time and experience, as well as repetition and effort.  We can expect the defense to be inadequate for a while yet, and it does no good, really, to bemoan anything but a lack of effort.  UK did not lack effort on Wednesday, they lacked technique, and you need good technique to successfully defend a hot team like UConn.  That will come with time.

I was impressed by the comeback the Wildcats made, although I never believed it would succeed.  With a more experienced team, I would have been seriously emboldened, but young guys can only sustain focus for so long at such an early time in their college career.  It takes practice and experience to sustain a comeback like that, something Kentucky is woefully short on this year.

In the end, this provides a “teachable moment” to the Wildcats, which I expect Coach Cal to use to its fullest advantage.  A loss is a loss, but you have to try to make the most of them and hope you don’t have to do it too often.  I am not a believer in the “good loss” theory, so you’ll forgive me if I reject that outright.  A loss is always bad, period.  Don’t bother to argue, because this is my story and I’m sticking to it.  Save it for those who are persuadable.

One quick final point:  A look a the Four Factors of this game:

 It doesn’t take an expert in statistics to see where UK went wrong here.  An eFG% difference of 20 percentage points is the only important statistic in this group. Even the turnovers, which were over average at almost 18%, were comparatively irrelevant (compare that to last year’s team’s frequent 20+ turnover% games).  Kentucky only narrowly lost the OR% stat, which continues to be a bright spot for this team.

I’ll have more from Sin City later, as we prepare to take on the Volunteers of Tennessee in a bid to break the longest losing streak in college football tomorrow.

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Kentucky Basketball: Calipari Critiques The ‘Cats

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Coach Calipari was rather less than pleased with Kentucky's effort against the Pikeville Bears.

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James Crisp – AP

Coach Calipari was rather less than pleased with Kentucky’s effort against the Pikeville Bears.

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John Calipari had a lot to say about last night’s game.  A lot.  Some of it is the usual coachspeak, but most of it was quite pithy and useful.  That’s one thing Calipari does not seem to mind doing — letting everybody know where he thought the team succeeded and where it failed.  Here is what I am hearing from him:

  • Toughness and hustle.  Coach Cal basically called out his whole team on these two things, and they go hand in hand.  Toughness and hustle are two of the most fundamental things to great basketball teams.  You can have all the talent in the world, and play harder than anybody, but still fail if you don’t have those two things.

    Last night, the ‘Cats were not tough.  They let an NAIA team abuse them on the offensive glass.  Why?  Because nobody came in with the DeMarcus Cousins attitude that he is tougher than anybody.  Basketball is one of those games where the old addage, “It’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, it’s about the size of the fight in the dog” really says it all.  Pikeville had a much bigger fight in them than Kentucky did, and although they had far less skill, the fight saw them through to a competitive game.

  • Hustle points.  Cal claims that this is one of his lowest hustle points games ever, and I can see that.  Most of the hustle happened in the second half.  We saw guys like Liggins and Knight going after balls on the ground.  How many times, though, did Lamb get down there?  Miller?  Jones?  Not many.

    This is a young team, and it has to really develop an understanding of what it takes to win at this level.  You can’t just go futilely throwing your body around, you have to start with a determination that no matter how good the other guy is, you are tougher and more physical than he is.  Cousins had 270# and almost 7 feet to go with a scowl that sent that message.  Terrance Jones has a boyish face, gangly arms and looks about as ferocious as Winnie the Pooh, and he couldn’t intimidate Tinker Bell with his current attitude.  That has to change.

  • Missing open shots.  This is what Calipari said about that:

    “We’ve been working on 3-point shooting, too. We’re one-for-11 from the three. Of the 11, I don’t think anybody was guarded. So you’re talking about a horse shot that we were one-for-11 for. When I watch the tape, I’ll make sure of that. I bet you nine of them were wide open.”

    He’s absolutely right.  The biggest reason UK missed the open shots is because they played tentatively instead of aggressively, and watched the basketball all the way to the rim.  That’s not how you play in college.

    In college basketball, you have to be the aggressor at all times.  Every shot has to be important when you let it go, and forgotten after it leaves your hand.  We saw too many poses and not enough charging after the offensive rebound.  When you shoot a shot, even if it feels pure, you have to go straight for the offensive glass, or if you’re a guard, get back in defensive position in case of a long rebound or a quick outlet.  UK did neither well last night as the run-outs and poor OR% demonstrated.

    What’s all that got to do with shooting?  You can’t have one without the other.  You have to bring the whole package.  Focus on the rim, release the ball, and go get the rebound or in defensive position.  Don’t watch the ball fly sweetly through the air and pose for the cameras, it’s gone and sometimes the sweetest-feeling shots clang off like bricks.  When you start focusing on the game instead of following the ball around, your shots will fall.

  • Communication:  Kentucky didn’t have any.

    Twice, Darius Miller failed to call out a pick and Brandon Knight went slamming into a bigger guy.  Want to lose your star point guard for a game or two to a bruised knee, rib, or concussion?  That’s the way to do it.

    This is perhaps the hardest thing that freshmen and even juniors have to learn — how to talk to each other, how to communicate when they get beat, or when there is a pick, or when they see a man get lose for an open shot.  High school players are simply not used to communicating that way, and returning veterans need to relearn it often.  Coach Cal explained why this is important:

    “This is a team sport. It’s five guys becoming a fist. Five guys together. One heartbeat. We all know what we’re doing. We’re all responsible to each other. That takes time. This group, we’re going to have to learn it because we go have a home game against an NCAA tournament team, go on the road and play four games. So we’re going to have to, in a hurry, get some guys up to speed.”

    I like that simile.  Five guys becoming a “fist.”  Not a hand, but a fist to smite the foe.  That’s how you become a band of brothers, becoming a fist.  So tight there is no separation between you and your teammate, between his purpose and yours, between your heartbeat and his.  That’s what a winning team looks like — a fist.  One of the most apt metaphors I have ever heard.

  • Physicality:  Similar to toughness, but it is more a willingness to take and give contact.  Calipari intimated that physicality, along with toughness, shows up in loose balls — his teams get them, they don’t get pushed out of the way.  These young Wildcats got pushed around by a smaller, yet more physical team yesterday.
All this, all of it, has mostly to do with maturity and learning what it takes to win a college basketball game at the Division I level.  These things, taken together, are usually found in large measure on teams laden with juniors and seniors.  On teams full of freshmen, they are usually not found, and this Kentucky team is no exception.  The maturity, the toughness, the hustle, the physicality, the communications — all these things are unnecessary in the AAU world, but indispensable in Division I college basketball.  Soft teams do not win championships.  Teams that don’t hustle fail early.  Teams that lack toughness go home in March.  Teams that don’t communicate do not win SEC championships.
If it seems like I’m harsh on the young lads in this post, I am not.  I am merely looking at what the coach said, comparing it to what I saw, and accepting the validity of his remarks in the context in which he offered them.  None of this should be a surprise to Wildcat fans, and all of it will motivate these young players as much as anything can.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are championship basketball teams.  The first game always shows you how bad you are.
Enes Kanter, should he become eligible, will bring a measure of toughness and physicality to this team.  Unlike Jones, he did not start out as a guard and move into the middle — he’s always been a big guy, and he’s used to playing with guys as big and strong as he is, and far more physical than anyone these young Wildcats have faced so far.  Some of that will rub off on the Kentucky players, when and if Enes is freed.
But for now, these young men are going to have to learn all these things under the ministrations of a meaner Coach Cal.  It could be a tough couple of weeks.

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