There is a new number one team in college basketball. After Syracuse lost this weekend without Fab Melo, on the road against Notre Dame, it opened the door for John Calipari’s young Kentucky Wildcats return to the top of college basketball. While the young ‘Cats have had a number of games come down to the wire this season, they have only been tripped up one time by the Indiana Hoosiers on a buzzer-beater. Kentucky might be the most talented team in the country, they have one of the best coaches in the game, they have yet to lose at home since Calipari arrived, and despite playing a pretty brutal schedule they have just one loss. If the Cats continue to play the close games they have recently, they are bound to get upset like they were earlier this year against the Hoosiers, but for now there is no doubt who the top team in college hoops is. It’s Kentucky.
John Calipari joined 790 the Zone in Atlanta with Barnhart and Durham to talk about the strength of the SEC in college hoops, he youth of his team and how getting tested is helping, on his desire for super-conferences, and Anthony Davis.
On the strength of the SEC in college hoops:
“Right now what you’re finding out is there is no league that is like way beyond any other. I made this statement to a couple of friends, the SEC right now has five teams that are Sweet 16 or better. When you talk Mississippi State goes to Vandy and Vandy was playing great, that went to Alabama and Alabama doesn’t lose there and did what they did, and no one is even talking about Florida anymore. Now you have Arkansas, they go and beat Michigan, and when we played Tennessee, they didn’t have that freshman. So whatever they did before that doesn’t matter. Now you’ve got Tennessee and they go and just womp on Connecticut. All of the sudden you’re going to talk about the five teams but what about Arkansas and how about this team? Mississippi is playing well. Here’s what happens. Our media doesn’t do what the media in these other leagues do but it starts with the coaches. We don’t promote each other so what happens is ‘well a team that loses at so and so.’ Well let me tell you something; go try to win at Tennessee, go try to win at Georgia who beat us a year ago, go try to win at South Carolina who beat us a year ago. Vanderbilt? I mean you’re in the end zone trying to coach and you can’t even talk to your team. The only league that I think has got, the Big 12, those top three teams are really good but our top five are really good and those other being Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi aren’t far back. Go try to win at Auburn right now. This is a very difficult league especially on the road.”
On his team getting tested the way they have been and if he thinks that will help them:
“My team as you know we’re starting three freshman and two sophomores and what happens is every experience for these guys is new. That’s why I liked what Alabama did to us. They basically, one of their players said ‘our coach told us to be aggressive, hit ‘em, and rebound.’ I don’t know what hit them means but they hit us. What happens is every game we play is a different kind of experience. We played Arkansas and they pressed us. We needed that a whole game. We played other teams that played us a whole zone. It’s all a new experience. I have a point guard who has made great strides in Marquis Teague but you just don’t know. You just don’t know yet. The same with Anthony Davis. Anthony wasn’t ready for the body to body contact. Anthony missed three dunks. How can he miss a dunk when his head is near the rim? Well when that body is on you and shoving you into the cheerleaders it’s harder to dunk. You have to figure out how I hold my ground, how I bend over, and hold position as they get physical. All this stuff is new to my team. I like our will to win down the stretch. In all these close games you’re gonna start getting nipped. You know what I told them last night Tony? We met at my house. I said ‘we probably need to get beat so you guys will understand that you cannot let a team come in and kick sand in your face and accept it.’ You can’t do it.”
On his desire for super-conferences:
“What I hope what this starts moving us to is four super conferences. We separate from the NCAA, we do our own thing, we have a playoff in football, and now if you want to include eight teams or four, each league winner or their winner and runner up, and we have a playoff. The other teams all play in a bowl. We have our basketball tournament and you know what? We will include the other people from around the country. You’ll have to play your way into our tournament. Then we get a National Title and all the money stays within. Instead of having 20 schools vote against, vote against a stipend, a deserved stipend, for these players, vote against it because Tony do you understand now that the player I signed early get the 2,000 dollars? It should be 4,000. The other ones I signed in April will not get that money. How about that on your team? You like that? We need to separate. We need to separate. We need to have compliance go through league offices like it used to. How did you get me talking about that?”
On Anthony Davis and his shot blocking ability:
“He blocked about nine of mine when we’re doing walkthroughs. He’s a great kid. He’s like the kid Marcus Camby that I had. He doesn’t command the ball offensively, will do all the dirty work, he and Michael Gilchrist both do. Dive on the floor, come up with balls, and I get mad at my other guys because I say ‘oh you let him dive on the floor and you shoot all the balls. That’s how this is supposed to work?’ How fair is that? I look at those two and I said if I were you two I’d be walking over to the bench and I’d say hey coach, how about running a play for me? We have some issues we’re dealing with because you have to have a team full of guys that understands toughness isn’t one guy’s responsibility, it’s everybody’s. Either you’re aggressive and tough or you’re not. For us to do anything unique with this team I’m coaching, this young, we have to get tougher both mentally and physically.”