There are essentially two schools of thought when it comes to John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats. On the one hand, they should be praised for the wildly impressive run they’ve had in the NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, they should be criticized for wildly underperforming in the regular season.
To which school of thought does Ian Eagle subscribe?
“I tend to go with the positive,” the CBS and Westwood analyst said on The Damon Amendolara Show. “It took a little more time. They had to take their shots. It didn’t come together as quickly as they would’ve hoped.”
Kentucky, with a roster full of NBA talent, was just 22-9 entering the SEC Tournament and had lost three of its previous four games.
“John Calipari changed his philosophy,” Eagles said. “By his own admission, he had gone harsh on them, negative on them, and then flipped the switch late in the SEC season and started going the other way, praising them more, pointing out the positives that they were doing. This team has put it together at the right time. This has been a really fun run to watch.”
Kentucky beat Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan by an average of 3.3 points, with each game coming down to the final minute.
“The fact that they’ve done it against top-level competition – you look at what Kentucky has done to get here, they’ve had the most impressive run,” Eagles said. “They’ve beaten the most quality teams. They’re an 8-seed, so they got no benefit from the seeding purposes, based on the fact that they had the mediocre regular season. They’re the first team ever to beat three of of the previous year’s Final Four teams in a single tournament. All three teams had championship-level experience and Kentucky – with a bunch of freshmen and a couple of sophomores – took care of business against all three.”
The Wildcats face West region champion Wisconsin on Saturday at 8:49 p.m. EST, with the winner to take on the winner of No. 1 Florida versus No. 7 Connecticut in the national championship on Monday night.
Wisconsin is big and talented – and so is Kentucky. Julius Randle has notched a double-double in all four NCAA Tournament games, while the Harrison twins – Aaron and Andrew – have hit big shot after big shot.
“I’m going to take the positive viewpoint,” Eagle reiterated. “The fact of the matter is you’re going to get judged on what you do this month, and Kentucky – while they may have struggled and took their lumps in January and parts of February – showed some improvement, then (got better) heading into the tournament.”
Two more wins would give Calipari his second title in three years – this after losing in the first round of the NIT in 2013.
“John Calipari is going to be judged on how he brought this team together at the right time,” Eagle said.