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John Calipari can be a great coach with being an x’s-and-o’s mastermind

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On Wednesday afternoon, John Calipari called into Mike Francesa’s radio show as “John from Kentucky” when Francesa began criticizing Calipari’s ability as a coach.

Calipari had just finished a segment with Francesa when the New York City radio personality began telling his listeners how Cal is a “great recruiter, master motivator, he’s not a classic x’s-and-o’s guy”. This has spawned all kinds of discussion from college basketball media-types and decent helping of outrage from Kentucky fans that have taken to Twitter, comment sections and message boards to defend the leader of Big Blue Nation.

LISTENCoach Cal calls into Mike Francesa’s radio show as “John From Kentucky”


In our original post this morning, I called this a “fair critique”. And while I probably could have used a word other than critique — fair assessment probably fits better — I actually agree with what Francesa is saying.

But that’s not a shot at Cal or his ability to coach. Frankly, it’s closer to being a compliment than a diss.

Let me explain.

Cal is the best recruiter in the country. You can argue that Sean Miller and Bill Self have beaten him out for players in recent years or that Mike Krzyzewski has almost as much raw talent on his roster if you’d like, but I think you would have a difficult time finding a consensus that anyone in college basketball is better at luring in elite high school players than Cal. And when it comes to running a successful program at the collegiate level, there are very few things that are more important than amassing talent amongst your ranks.

Cal is also the best coach in the country when it comes to getting the players on his team to buy into their roles, which is not an easy thing to do. He’s getting McDonald’s All-Americans, kids that have been superstars and commodities since before they could drive a car and are expecting college to be a seven-month hiccup on their path to the NBA, to accept that they aren’t going to be the first option offensively; to accept that they may end up being nothing more than a screener, a rebounder, a presence defensively. Remember, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis were fourth and fifth on the team in shots the years they went No. 1 and No. 2 in the NBA Draft. Marcus Lee was a top 30 recruit that essentially played walk-on minutes last season.

Do you have any idea how difficult that is?

And do you understand just how much a part of “coaching” that is? It’s why Phil Jackson has two fistfuls of NBA Championship rings. “Coaching” isn’t strictly about being able to diagram the best sideline out-of-bounds play or developing the best game-plan or creating the most intricate offense. That’s part of it, but it’s all meaningless if you cannot get your players to do what you want them — need them — to do to win.

Here’s the other part of it: the most talented team is going to win the majority of the time. Cal understands this. He doesn’t need to install a complicated offensive system or overload the already cluttered minds of the 18, 19 and 20-year old kids on his roster. He doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel when his guys are better.

He doesn’t have to run the Princeton offense when his team can get a good look off of a ball-screen or a down-screen. He doesn’t need a playbook with 40 different plays and three counters on each play when his team rebounds 41.9 percent of their own misses.

John Calipari is never going to be considered a great x’s-and-o’s coach. He’s not Pete Carril and he’s not Dick Bennett. He’s not John Beilein or Brad Stevens or Rick Majerus.

But he doesn’t need to be.

And it doesn’t mean he’s not a great coach.

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.