Found April 03, 2012 on Fox Sports South:
Ncaa_basketball_tournament_105a
NEW ORLEANS The show keeps getting bigger, and we have to justify it. If there is so much more hype than ever before, then what we're seeing now must be better than anything we've seen before too, right? Well, when Kentucky beat Kansas 67-59 Monday night to win the national championship, what did we just see? One excellent team and one very good one that fights hard. But are Kentucky, and specifically Anthony Davis, as historically great as we are required to believe they are? It didn't look like it, but we might not know that for a while. What we can say for sure is that John Calipari finally did it. For all the doubts about his ability to coach the great talent he so masterfully assembles, he finally had his crowning moment. It is now official: Calipari can coach. Right? He was gracious in his big moment, saying that it wasn't about him, but instead about the players. But eventually, he talked about a private talk he had shared with his wife about what it meant to him. "I don't have to hear the drama. I can just coach now," he said. "I don't have to worry. If you want to know the truth, it's almost like, 'Done. Let me move on.'" Yes, let him move on. This changes everything for Calipari and his spot in history. But one thing and this might not go with the required narrative of a moment of super duper, supergreatness -- but Calipari nearly coached it away. In the moment that Calipari climbed among the greatest, legendary coaches of college basketball, he nearly blew it with shaky coaching. Kentucky crushed Kansas in the first half with a mad rush of run-and-gun. Then, in the second half, Calipari strangely started hanging on and praying that time would run out before his huge lead disappeared. "Second half, I will tell you that we missed a few shots," he said. "I pulled the reins back a little bit and tried to get them going again, and they did fine." A little bit? The Wildcats played most of the second half in a prevent offense, running the clock way down before making a move. It allowed Kansas to get back into the game. KU coach Bill Self described it this way: "They played not to score, just as much as they did to run the clock." Kentucky had led by 18 points. But in the final minutes, Kansas was attempting a shot that could have made it a one-possession game. On top of that, Calipari kept making his substitutions to counter whatever Self was doing. Self went big, Calipari went big. Self went smaller and quicker, Calipari followed. Look, if you have a roster filled with NBA talent, you set the tone. Calipari does not run the most-complicated system. But if this is greatness, it's a new form of it. He has figured out the best way to match his recruiting with his style of play. He has become the home base for players who intend to go to college for just one year before going to the NBA. It is the best way to comply with the NBA's rule requiring players to be 19 before going into the NBA draft. By running a simple offense, Calipari is able to assemble roughly an entire new group of freshmen every year. Usually, then, he's able to give them the ball and let them play while he just screams out which player to go to on the pick and roll. "They've done a great job," Self said. "They've done a fabulous job coaching their team. They share. They like each other, the appearance is. And they certainly defend. "They are playing with pros. That didn't hurt, either." For anyone who didn't realize it already, Calipari's win was the final proof that it no longer pays to recruit players in the old-fashioned way if you can help it. Some hangers-on thought you couldn't win with rental players, that you still needed to develop teamwork and teach a system over years? The only coaches who are going to do that now are the ones who have to, the ones who can't land NBA-ready high school players. Calipari can. And recruiting is a major part of coaching. So Calipari really does belong on the mountaintop now, and there was no fluke to him winning Monday night. Kentucky is the best team in the country. But nothing has changed about Calipari's abilities with Xs and Os. And what about Davis? He is the best player in the country, and that should be good enough. But it isn't. He has been over-hyped into one of the greatest of all time. Davis won the award for Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four, and he probably deserved it. But even if he had played poorly, he would have won the award. On Monday, he dominated under the basket with defense and rebounding. In the second half, not as much. And his shooting was a disaster, as he made one of 10 shots. "I still don't think he's Superman," Kansas forward Thomas Robinson said. "Just a great player." Merely great? Davis is going to have to be the next Tim Duncan in the NBA to justify the past three weeks of hype gushed on him. And with Calipari's history with the NCAA two of his four Final Fours have been vacated it's going to take a few years, and certainty that this will stand, for us to know what we just saw. From here, Calipari will lose most of his roster to the NBA, and immediately replace it with more one-year players. Sorry, the NCAA prefers "student-athletes." And he'll win with them, too. Maybe another title. As for Monday, it was just a great team beating an overachieving one in an exciting national championship game, while a successful coach, with his flaws, finally reached the top. That reality will have to do.
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