Kentucky head coach John Calipari, left, and players celebrate after an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. Kentucky won 75-72 to advance to the Final Four. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Updated: April 3, 2014 12:04AM
Up until their Final Four matchup on Saturday night, Kentucky’s John Calipari and Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan will be asked — more times than they’ll want — about the fundamental differences in their programs. The questions will take various forms, but they’ll all be getting at the same things.
John, what’s it like to coach the youngest, most talented team in college basketball year after year?
Bo, what’s it like to coach a team that’s nothing like Kentucky?
John, are the Wildcats reaching their enormous potential?
Bo, do the Badgers have any chance at all?
Both coaches will do what they can to swat this stuff away. Ryan will continue to scoff at the notion that Wisconsin is somehow lesser — less talented, less capable, less fun to watch — as he did during a Final Four coaches’ conference call with reporters the day before the teams left their campuses for Texas.
“Kentucky’s trying to put the ball in the hole. We’re trying to put the ball in the hole. We’re trying to keep them from doing it. They’re trying to keep us from doing it,” Ryan said.
“I didn’t know there were that many styles. I don’t see it, totally, as that. If other people do, they could explain to you why.”
Of course, the implications of these questions are a bit kinder to Ryan than they are to Calipari. One coach is a builder, a teacher, a developer of players. The other is always closing, the best recruiter in the game — and the proof is in all those blue banners raised to the rafters in Lexington.
Calipari bristles at what he considers a commonly held perception that he wouldn’t — or couldn’t — do it any other way.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” he said, cutting off a reporter who was asking Calipari for the “secret” to his recruiting success.
“When I was at UMass [from 1988-96], we had only one McDonald’s All-American, Donta Bright. When I was at Memphis [from 2000-09], we may have had three over my years there. We weren’t getting top 50 players at UMass. We were winning. We were a terrific team. I had to coach guys four years. I was ecstatic.”
Calipari said reserve 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, who didn’t play in the Midwest Regional final victory over Michigan after injuring an ankle in the previous round against Louisville, probably won’t be back this season.
For a sophomore projected as a potential 2014 NBA lottery pick, it would be a sad way to go out.
For Wisconsin, and particularly Badgers center Frank Kaminsky, it could be a very beneficial development. Cauley-Stein isn’t as skilled offensively as freshman starting center Dakari Johnson, but he averages nearly twice as many minutes. Why? He’s a better-conditioned athlete, for one thing, but the bigger reason is that Cauley-Stein is one of the best big men in the country at defending far away from the basket.
Kaminsky has been scoring inside and out, but he has had a lot of wide-open looks from the three-point line. A healthy Cauley-Stein would be able to get out there and disrupt him. Defensively, this is a much bigger challenge for Johnson. The Wildcats’ other bigs off the bench, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee, are very athletic but probably not sturdy enough to thwart Kaminsky inside.