Saturday, April 2, 2011

6 comments The Best Coach in College Basketball?

I grew up near Charlotte and read the Charlotte Observer sports page everyday. More specifically, I grew up reading Tom Sorensen in the Charlotte Observer, and today I read pretty much anything he writes in his "Tom Talks" section online. Usually, I like his blunt point of view and how he is very concise in what he writes. A good example is this quick post about how he misses Billy Packer. I greatly dislike Billy Packer and wanted him to retire, so I wasn't unhappy when he did. Tom Sorensen makes a few good points in a short space though (like how Packer stayed on topic....ahem, Dickie V). Clearly, this is something I haven't learned, nor will I ever learn, how to do.

Tom beat cancer and wrote a pretty good article about it. Nothing makes you introspective like writing about how you have cancer I guess and Sorensen was no exception. Unfortunately, today he is wrong. He has stated that John Calipari is the best coach in college basketball. I really love John Calipari this week, but I don't believe this is true.

Watching Kentucky beat Ohio State and then North Carolina, I had one overriding thought: John Calipari is the best coach in college basketball.

John Calipari is on my good side, but I don't believe this is true. This is a typical overreaction from a big win over a very good UNC team. I'm not saying Tom Sorensen is a UNC fan or anything like that, it just so happens in the state of North Carolina when UNC or Duke loses, the other team tends to get a ton of credit and the opposing coach becomes a freaking genius. You have to be a genius to beat such great teams don't you? (rolls eyes)

Calipari is a great recruiter and a good coach. Would I want him diagramming the last play of a game? Perhaps not, but I would want him over Billy Donovan and there are a few coaches I would want diagramming the play over Calipari. Speaking of which, has any coach shown more obviously to the world that he either (a) can't get his team to execute or (b) he diagrams terrible plays at the end of a game in this NCAA Tournament than Billy Donovan?

Against BYU, it was Chandler Parsons being isolated on the right side and then passing up a simple 13 foot jumper in an attempt to try and get to the basket whereupon he prevented himself from having the angle to actually hit the rim with his shot. Against Butler, it was Donovan calling a timeout followed by Erving Walker hoisting up a 30-foot three point shot with nearly 20 seconds left on the shot clock. Sure, this isn't Donovan's fault, but he didn't fault Walker after the game. That's not the shot you want at that point, no matter how good of a three-point shooter Walker is.

Of course, nothing beats Derwin Kitchen who over the last three weeks in a span of four games managed to help his team not get a shot off before the game ended FOUR times. How do you even get in that many situations like that, much less get a shot off after the final buzzer four times? Twice, Kitchen shot the ball after the final buzzer sounded, once he passed the ball with 0.4 seconds left in the game, and finally he didn't even get a shot off once. Ridiculous.

This is how you tell the big boys (and good coaches) from the bad ones. Which teams execute at the end of a game and put themselves in a position to win the game. Teams like Washington throw up a shot from half court with 3 seconds left in the game, teams like Kentucky get a good shot at the end of the game, which they did against Ohio State and Princeton. This still doesn't mean I think Calipari is the best college coach. Anyway, I digress...

Mostly, this whole "Calipari is the best coach in college basketball" statement comes from the fact he was able to beat UNC. Notice this short post wasn't written after Kentucky beat Ohio State, but it was written after Kentucky beat UNC. So I chalk it up to a typical overreaction to a local college sports team being beaten.

We think of Calipari as a recruiter.

Because that is what he is and that is what he is extremely good at. Look at the talent he has brought in to Kentucky over the past three years:




What's scary is the 2011 class is better than the other two classes he has brought in. So he is thought of as a recruiter for a good reason, because he is a great recruiter.

He goes after players others might not,

I'm not sure how this is accurate at all. The players that Calipari brings in are highly-recruited players that many teams want. Nearly all of the players he has brought in during his two years at Kentucky (and having three classes) were highly recruited. Some teams may not recruit these players, because some teams don't want a guy on their team for various reasons. Calipari isn't out taking diamonds in the rough or guys with questionable character (like Renardo Sydney) and putting them on his team. He doesn't recruit overall bad kids. No, DeMarcus Cousins isn't a bad kid, he is a young player and someone who may be 10% crazy, but not a bad kid.

He rolls out the ball and tells his players to do NBA stuff. When they leave, he recruits another batch of one-and-dones to take their place.

Yes, to an extent. I have criticized, and probably will continue to do so, Calipari's coaching ability as it compares to his recruiting ability. I criticize his coaching ability in terms of X's and O's, but overall he isn't terrible at coaching, he's just not the best. The dribble-drive offense has some of his fingerprints on it. So Calipari does use strategy and doesn't just roll the ball out and tell his players to do something with it. I don't know, maybe Sorensen is being sarcastic right now, but I don't particularly care about a person's opinion if they think John Calipari just watches his players run the offense while he smokes a cigar on the bench.

Is Calipari the best X's and O's coach in the country right now? No, he isn't, which is part of the reason I wouldn't say he is the best coach in college basketball. I thought in last Saturday's game that Roy Williams would make some adjustments at halftime and prevent Kentucky from getting good shots off. Williams is great at making halftime adjustments. That and taking his glasses off in anger and saying "gosh" in sentences. Those are Roy Williams three best coaching characteristics.

The comeback didn't happen, though I thought UNC adjusted better than Kentucky did in the second half. Kentucky won the game because they hit their shots, but to a non-biased observer (okay, anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I wasn't completely un-biased) it felt like UNC was going to win the game until they didn't.

But did you watch the Wildcats work this weekend? How many bad shots did they take? How many good shots did they get?

They had a great game. There's no doubt about that, but one great game doesn't make Calipari the greatest coach in college basketball. I still have the image of a not-great shooting 09-10 Wildcats team shooting 32 three-point shots against West Virginia in the Elite Eight. That's not completely Calipari's fault, but when a team consists of John Wall, Patrick Patterson, and DeMarcus Cousins nearly half of the shots taken can't be three-point shots. I think Calipari should have made halftime adjustments when Kentucky was down two points and it didn't happen. In 2008, Kansas came back from 9 points down in 2 minutes 12 seconds on Calipari's Memphis team in the national championship game. Memphis missed 4 of 5 free throws down the stretch. Some of this Memphis choke can be chalked up to coaching.

Of course, these are two games and doesn't mean Calipari is a bad coach. Every coach has bad games, but I still don't consider Calipari to be the best coach in college basketball.

They took 22 three-pointers against the Tar Heels and hit 12. How many were contested?

This doesn't mean Calipari did a good job of coaching.

True, the open threes were a testament to North Carolina's defense.

"True, my last point didn't really help to prove my main point. Wouldn't it be nice if it did though?"

The Tar Heels have struggled all season to stop the three.

Sort of. The Tar Heels were 109th in the country in three-point field goal percentage defense out of 335 teams. Teams also took 806 three-point field goal attempts on UNC this year, which would put them in the top of that category among the 335 teams in Division-I teams. I scanned the list (because the list wasn't sortable...but why?) and saw only 2 other teams that had 800 three-point shots taken against them. So for the Tar Heels to be 109th in the country in three-point field goal defense and be near the top in how many three-point shots were taken against them doesn't indicate to me they struggled defending the three-point shot.

So Calipari exploited the weakness. Every time North Carolina made a late second-half run, and the Tar Heels made several, a Wildcat shut it down with a pretty shot from long range.

Perhaps Calipari did exploit "the weakness" of the Tar Heels, even though I don't think this was due to a certain strategy other than they had open three-point shots and didn't have a great advantage inside. So Calipari's strategy of "hitting a lot of three-point shots" did work, just like it didn't work the year before against West Virginia.

Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina's Roy Williams are among the best in their sport.

But if there's evidence that either is better than Calipari, I don't see it.

There are two ways to look at this, long-term and short-term. I don't think Tom Sorensen is talking long-term because I don't know if anyone would argue Calipari is better than these two coaches over the long-term based on win totals, championships, etc. A lesser critic (not one as smart as me) would latch on to this and say, "grumble, grumble, grumble...these two guys have 6 championships between them (slams foot down). You're an idiot." But, Sorensen isn't talking long-term, so that doesn't matter.

I think Tom Sorensen is thinking short-term, in which case he is still wrong, even though a better case could be made. Short-term, I don't get why these are the only two head coaches being compared to John Calipari when there are more coaches out there who are good head coaches. There are other high-quality coaches in college basketball. Calipari is near the top, but I can't put him as the best right now.

How do you even talk about "best coach" anyway? The most successful? Without a championship over the last 2-3 years I don't know if Calipari can be in that discussion.

The coach that has done the most with the least? I don't think that is Calipari either.

It just depends on how you measure "the best coach." For me, however it is measured I don't think John Calipari comes out on top. He is a good coach, but I am not sure a National Championship this year will make me change my mind any more than a National Championship last year did not make me think Coach K is the best coach in college basketball on a short-term basis.

Since he took the Kentucky job, he's avoided being tainted by the unsavory, and he's been there two entire seasons.

Perhaps more research should be done before making this statement, even when making it tongue-in-cheek. There is the Eric Bledsoe situation about his high school transcripts. Does that fall on John Calipari? Possibly, but it is not like this stuff doesn't happen a lot at every school. Still, with the Enes Kanter issue and the Bledsoe issue, it hasn't been a totally clean tenure.

He's recruited and coached beautifully. And his team probably is going to win the NCAA tournament.

This doesn't mean he is the best coach in college basketball if his team wins the NCAA Tournament. Calipari is a great coach, and he is more into the X's and O's than some people may tend to think, but I don't think he is the best college basketball coach.

Who is the best coach in college basketball? It's a hard choice for me. What say you readers? Is Calipari the best coach or is it a guy like Brad Stevens who is seen as being strategically adept while also getting the most out of his players?

On a different note, N.C. State is rumored to covet Shaka Smart. That's perfect and I would not anticipate anything else different from them. I have nothing against Shaka Smart, but this is a typical N.C. State hire. They want to make a splash and to go after the hottest candidate is exactly what they will do instead of paying attention to how well he has recruited at VCU and VCU's conference record. I say they should pay attention to VCU's conference record because it shows how well he gets his team to focus on a game-to-game basis. In a major conference if a coach can't keep his team's attention and focus over an entire season he won't be successful. Smart is 23-13 in the CAA over his two years and most of the top players in the VCU rotation are Anthony Grant-recruited guys or transfers. Smart may be a great hire, but I would bet N.C. State isn't looking at anything but his name and how popular he is right now.


Martin F. said...

Cal recruits a certain type of player now, and the team runs well if he has that super elite point guard. ?All the players are fmiliar with an almost singular style of high school play now called "Dribble Drive" offense, or some variation there of. (I've heard it called Drive and Dish and Scoot and Shoot...) It is pretty much that. A point guard drives the paint looking for the layup or foul, or dishes it to a wing who looks for the open three. If that isn't there, they drive the paint and dish out to the next person who has rotated into the wing spot. One could almost make the argument that Cal isn't even coaching, but merely tinkering with what the high school coach taught these guys.

Best Coach in college? My vote goes to Tom Izzo, Michigan State.

Bengoodfella said...

Martin F, I would say the team absolutely needs an elite point guard to run Calipari's offense. He hasn't made a ton of adjustments it seems to the HS coach's offense, but I still give him credit for running the offense well. Still, he does need the players to run it. He isn't the best coach in college basketball, though I don't think he just throws the ball out there and lets them play either.

Depending on what happens tonight, I want to see how he plans for UConn, I may put Brad Stevens in that discussion. I think Izzo is a great choice as well.

Martin F. said...

Coach K is both underrated and overrated at the same time I think. Calhoun is great, if nothing else because he changes styles based on the recruits he gets. He's the opposite of Howland at UCLA who to me is like Caliperi. Very good at coaching one way, but give him kids who aren't that way , and you get yourself a .500 team.

Let us not forget Rick Pitino, who despite a few less then glorious years at Louisville, has been a great coach at the college level through the years.

Bengoodfella said...

Martin F, Coach K is overrated in many ways. The biggest way he is underrated is how he changes his style based on the personnel he has. He's overrated in other ways too, so no one can pay attention to the other stuff.

I do like Rick Pitino as a coach. I think he is pretty good. A great coach has to change with the strength of the team he has. He has to meld his players talents with the system he wants to set up.

I am not saying anything nice about Jim Calhoun.

I would take Izzo over most coaches though. I think he is great.

your favourite sun said...

If we're talking short-term I'd be partial toward Brad Stevens. Some of it is being alumni of a Horizon League school myself, and also spending my whole life in the Midwest.

Someone put this scenario to me yesterday: say that before the 2009 season, you went to Vegas and got someone to put down odds on Butler making the championship game the next two seasons. What might the odds have been? Would one dollar have gotten you a million? Butler's been a well-respected mid-major program for a long time, but nobody would have anticipated this.

Long-term/overall, I'm not sure who I'd say is the best, but I do know I'd have a few guys ahead of Calipari. Izzo's a good choice. I like Boeheim as well, but I'm not sure he's better than Coach K or Roy Williams. Bo Ryan's ability to win with the same system every year, and to have every single talent on his team from the great players to the not-so-great ones buy into that system equally, is damned impressive. But I'm biased on that one 'cause I currently live in Madison and see more Badger games than any others. I also have to admit a lack of knowledge on most schools west of the Mississippi so I don't know where I'd rate coaches like Few or Howland...

Calling Calipari the best definitely seems kneejerky, and you gotta wonder if Sorensen regrets saying it now that his prediction of Kentucky winning it all blew up on him.

Bengoodfella said...

Sun, I would put Brad Stevens up there as well. I don't know how much to put that debacle on him last night. I know I would be blaming my coach for the poor shooting or not finding ways to get good shots, but it could be unfair criticism as well. I think Stevens is up there. I think a really underrated coach is Bo Ryan. I don't think you are biased, it is just people from different parts of the U.S. see different coaches and have better points of view on certain teams.

Bo Ryan has succeeded at every level he has coached at, which is very impressive. I think what holds him back from the discussion is what makes him so great. His teams don't seem to have a lot of talent, so he hasn't gotten attention because his teams haven't made an Elite Eight lately.

I like Boeheim as well, but I sometimes think he is too rigid in his style of play and doesn't adapt as well to his personnel as he should. I am speaking partially to the 2-3 zone that is played and his sticking with Scoop Jardine. I think he should show some flexibility in the 2-3 zone at times, especially with some of the personnel he had this year and I don't know why he relied on Jardine as much as he did while destroying Fab Melo's confidence.

Mark Few is a good coach as well, though it is interesting to me that his ability to get higher ranked recruits hasn't led to more success in the NCAA Tournament. I know it hasn't always been easy for him, but I am not sure I would put him at the top. I feel similar to how Martin feels about Howland. Sean Miller is also a great coach.

I don't think Boeheim is better than Coach K or Roy Williams. What I think separates them is their ability to adjust to their personnel. It's hard for me to put them as the top coaches b/c they get the top recruits too.