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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”

Me?

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.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Some conference matchups play out before football

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.

2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.

3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.

4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.