The Godfather is back.
No horse heads this time. Rick is having fun. Certainly somebody woke him up, and like it or not, it’s John Calipari.
The win trend since Calipari was hired at UK is impressive: 20 wins, 25 wins, 30 wins, 35 wins. 40 isn’t going to happen next year folks, but 30’s likely. The last two years ended in a final four and a title. However, no NIT first round flameout for the Cardinals next year. In fact, they are widely considered top 3 again, and will challenge for a repeat title. Unbelievable.
Last year I ran a series on Rick and Calipari over their careers. This one will be focused more on Rick, and how the instate rivalry turned the heat up (for the better) for the Cards program.
When Calipari was hired at UK, here were my first two thoughts;
- “I hate Calipari, he cheats”. Ironically, the same thing Matt Jones said for Calipari’s tenure at Memphis, but he of course “changed his mind”.
- “Pitino and Calipari’s ego’s are too big for 1 state; this is going to be good”.
The misconception UK fans have is Cards fans hate Calipari because of Kentucky. The reality is – Calipari has irritated folks since Umass (a little) and Memphis (a lot) did him no favors. In fact, some might like Kentucky more if they had a likeable coach, like Tubby Smith – who also won a title and NEVER went to the NIT, but I digress.
When Pitino was hired, Cards fans had high expectations. A host of issues suppressed that. Rick was signing top recruits, but none showed up. Telfair, Jones, Johnson, and more went straight into the pros. No “one and done” rule in effect. That was one massive change for Rick’s recruiting strategy from the 90’s when he left for the Boston Celtics. Another, while the Cards fan base had high expectations for the program - they don’t hang out on Pitino’s lawn if Louisville doesn’t compete for a title each year, so some thought he was getting too comfortable.
Prior to Calipari being hired, Rick Pitino had serviceable success. Falling short of what Cards fans expected at his hiring, but certainly nothing to be ashamed of. He took a team with a losing record from Denny Crum, and turned them into a national player (and gave them their first Final Four since 1986) in 4 years.
HIs numbers were strong, but tourney success wasn’t always there.
Rick Pitino 2001-2009 (8 years)
- Average Record: 25 – 9.1
- Average Tourney Wins/yr: 1.5 (12 over 8 years, I don’t count NIT).
- NCAA Finishes: 6 (Rd 32, Rd64, Final Four, Rd32, Elite 8, Elite 8).
- NIT Appearances: 2 (Sweet 16, Final Four)
- Grade: B -, better than Denny’s final years, but come on, we hired Rick Frickin’ Pitino.
Then something happened, John Calipari was hired, and the fire was stoked.
Calipari was handed 5 star recruits in bunches. Rick had to make a change, and he did. Started a new brand “Louisville First”, and started picking up assistant coaches with lighter coaching experience, but more recruiting ties. The end result – the foundation Cards fans enjoy today.
Rick: 2010-2013 (4 years)
- Average Record: 27.5 – 9.5 (avg SOS; 8.5)
- Average Tourney Wins/yr: 2.5 (10 over 4 years)
- NCAA Finishes: 4 (Rd64, Rd64, Final Four, National Champs)
- NIT Appearances: 0
- Five Star Players: 2
- Grade: A, no A+ with 2 first round exits, but Louisville is officially a problem for the foreseeable future.
Looks like next year, the Cards will be in most ranking services top 3, and challenge for the Final Four – AGAIN. 3 in a row. Now that is the Pitino we hired. Recruiting is buzzing, the team is swarming, and the wins are mounting.
What did Calipari’s profile look like during this time frame? Not much different.
Calipari: 2010-2013 (4 years)
- Average Record: 30.7 – 6.5 (avg SOS; 33.5)
- Average Tourney Wins/yr: 3.2 (13 over 4 years)
- NCAA Finishes: 3 (Elite 8, Final Four, National Champs)
- NIT Appearances: 1 (RD32)
- 5 star Players: 12
- Grade: A, barely over A –. Too much other success around the NIT flame out to grade them lower. Marches into next year as a contender for the title.
Calipari’s 4 year UK profile isn’t much better than Ricks despite having 10 more 5 star players and a lower Strength of Schedule (33 avg compared to Cards 8). Honestly, that could be underachieving – what if Rick had the easier schedule, and 10 more 5 star players? Another thing missing from Cards profile? No NIT, and certainly not spending it with a first round loss Robert Morris.
2 styles, same success, and it looks like neither is letting off the gas. Should be fun next year, and I am thrilled with the foundation Rick is building for the future. National pundits are praising, recruits are lining up, and it is starting to feel like the 80’s all over again.