Is Calipari Protecting His Home Court Winning Streak? Kentucky’s 12-13 Schedule Says SoPosted by EJacoby on July 10th, 2012
John Calipari has yet to lose a home game as Kentucky’s head coach, and Tuesday’s release of the Wildcats’ non-conference home schedule suggests that he’s looking to keep it that way. Since Coach Cal became the Kentucky coach prior to the 2009-10 season, his team is 51-0 in Rupp Arena – the only team in the country not to have lost at home during that period. It’s a special distinction to have the nation’s most dominant home court, but do we need to keep praising the pristine record when his team is scheduling cupcakes specifically to uphold the winning streak? Not only has Calipari publicly clamored to avoid difficult road games against a resurgent program such as Indiana, but he’s also now starving the Big Blue Nation of any meaningful non-conference home competition. It’s no secret that the coach’s bottom line is to give his team the best chance at a #1 NCAA Tournament seed, but an undefeated home record won’t seem as special if it’s extended without much in the way of legitimate resistance. A home game or two against an elite non-conference foe wouldn’t hurt the bottom line and would also give UK fans a deserving treat, but they’ll have to wait at least another year before that happens.
UK’s schedule includes snooze-fests against opponents like Lafayette, Samford, Lipscomb, and Eastern Michigan, all of which finished with sub-.500 records last season in poor conferences. These teams have no chance to give the Wildcats a contest on any floor, let alone at home (remember: Billy Gillispie now coaches at Texas Tech). The same goes for the Portland Pilots of the WCC, they of a 7-24 overall record last season. Morehead State loses three starters from an 18-15 team, so don’t expect the Eagles to put up any kind of fight, either. Long Island? The Blackbirds made the NCAA Tournament last year – but as a #16-seed after winning the NEC, a conference ranked 24th in RPI. Marshall showcases a talented player in DeAndre Kane but not much else with a team that finished 9-7 in Conference USA last season. That leaves Baylor – the squad that UK defeated handily in last year’s Elite Eight and the one team that can at least provide a watchable contest. Still, the Bears lost three forwards to the NBA Draft this year and will struggle to replace that size next season. It’ll be a surprise if Baylor is less than a double-digit underdog in Rupp Arena against the defending National Champions.
Kentucky does travel to Notre Dame and Louisville in the non-conference slate, and the ‘Cats also play Duke and Maryland on neutral floors. These headliner games can at least merit hype and test the team before SEC play, and the non-conference slate isn’t as much of a joke in context with those names also on the docket. But the overall strength of schedule is still weak, considering the gift-wrapped victories provided by some of the ugly names at home. This year was supposed to include a home game against either Indiana or North Carolina, but that’s no longer the case.
Calipari’s 51-0 record at Rupp is an increasingly noteworthy streak, but it’s fair to mention a qualifier when discussing the number going forward. Coach Cal has been consistent with his message: The goal is to win as many regular season games as possible in order to secure the highest NCAA Tournament seed for his team. Some coaches prefer to test their teams as much as possible prior to the conference season, but Calipari sees a better opportunity with a fresh team and an easier path to the Final Four with a top seed. While no Final Four trip is an easy task, history in fact shows that it is most common for #1 and #2 seeds to make that run. It’s all part of the Calipari way, but it’s unfortunate that the defending National Champions won’t have any true home tests next season outside of a select few SEC games.
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him on Twitter @evanjacoby.