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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Where does John Calipari rank among best coaches without a title?

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John Calipari (Getty Images)

Kentucky coach John Calipari has endured plenty of criticism throughout his career, so perhaps it's no surprise a backhanded compliment doesn't faze him.

Each time anyone has asked Calipari about being known as college basketball's best active coach never to win a championship, he brushes off the question and insists it's not that important to him.

"I'm not judging myself on that," he told the Sporting News in a Q&A earlier this month. "Now, everyone else might. But my whole thing will be, 'Do I have my team ready for that postseason run? Are we ready to compete?'"

Calipari certainly appears to have succeeded based on that method of evaluation. Kentucky (32-2) enters the NCAA tournament as a clear title favorite after being one Christian Watford buzzer-beating three away from an undefeated regular season.

If Calipari does not cut down the nets with this Kentucky team, the pressure on him to win his first ring will only intensify. Here's a look at where Calipari ranks on my list of  college basketball's best all-time coaches who did not win a championship.

1. Eddie Sutton
Record: 804-327
NCAA Tournament appearances: 26
Final Fours: 1978 (Arkansas), 1995, 2004 (Oklahoma State)
Stat to note: One of only eight Division I coaches to eclipse 800 wins
Best shot to win a title: With four starters back from a team that went 26-2 the previous season but lost in the opening round of the NCAA tournament to Wake Forest, Sutton's 1977-78 Arkansas team was both loaded and motivated. Guards Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph earned the nickname "the Triplets," leading the Razorbacks to an undefeated record in non-league play, a Southwest Conference regular season title and a brief appearance at No. 1 in the AP poll. Arkansas swept through a star-studded West Regional to make the first Final Four in program history, but the Razorbacks' run ended with a 64-59 loss to top-ranked and eventual national champ Kentucky.
Two other good chances: 1985-86 Kentucky won 32 games but lost in the regional final to an LSU team it had previously beaten three times; Georgia Tech denied Sutton his first appearance in the national title game when Will Bynum scored a go-ahead layup in the final seconds in the 2004 Final Four.

2. John Calipari
Record: 499-154
NCAA tournament appearances: 14
Final Fours: 1996 (UMass)* 2008 (Memphis)* 2011 (Kentucky) (* = vacated)
Stat to note: Last year, he joined Rick Pitino as the only coaches to lead three different schools to the Final Four
Best shot to win a title: Memphis led Kansas 60-51 with 2:12 remaining in the 2008 national title game before Kansas caught fire and the Tigers reverted to their season-long habit of erratic free throw shooting. Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose both missed key free throws down the stretch, enabling Kansas to tie the game on Mario Chalmers' famous three-pointer at the buzzer and win in overtime 75-68. Said Calipari afterward, "Ten seconds to go, we're thinking we're national champs. To be that close and have these kids suffer in there like they are right now, as a coach you're just like, 'Man, I wish I could have done one thing to get them over the hump."
Two other good chances: Marcus Camby and Lou Roe led top-seeded UMass to the 1996 Final Four, but the Minutemen fell 81-74 to a loaded Kentucky team that went on to win the national title; Despite assuming the role of title favorite in the 2010 NCAA tournament after Kansas lost in the second round, Calipari's first Kentucky team failed to reach the Final Four when it had an ill-timed cold shooting night in the Elite Eight against West Virginia.

3. John Chaney
Record: 516-253
NCAA tournament appearances: 17
Final Fours: None
Stat to note: Made the NCAA tournament at Temple 17 times in 18 years from 1984 to 2001
Best shot to win a title: Temple entered the 1988 NCAA tournament ranked No. 1 in the nation, having suffered only one loss by a single point at the hands of UNLV. The Owls rode freshman star Mark Macon, Chaney's trademark stingy matchup zone and an experienced senior class all the way to the Elite Eight, but second-seeded Duke ended their run one win shy of the final Four. The Blue Devils' swarming man-to-man defense took Macon out of his game, contributing to his 6-for-29 shooting night. Of Temple's five Elite Eight losses under Chaney, it was the Owls' only one against a non-No. 1 seed.
Two other good chances: Macon redeemed himself as a senior when he rang up 35 points in a 1991 regional final against North Carolina, but the Tar Heels escaped with a 75-72 win; Eleventh-seeded Temple beat three higher seeds to reach the 2001 Elite Eight, but the Owls couldn't keep Michigan State from making its third straight Final Four, falling 69-62.

4. Lefty Driesell
Record: 786-394
NCAA tournament appearances: 13
Final Fours: none
Stat to note: Led four different programs -- Davidson, Maryland, James Madison and Georgia State -- to the NCAA tournament.
Best shot to win a title: Had a loaded Maryland team made the NCAA tournament in 1974, many believe it might have won it. Instead the fourth-ranked Terps lost a classic ACC title game to top-ranked NC State and got shut out of the field entirely because only conference champions made the 16-team event at that time. It's small consolation to Driesell and stars Tom McMillen, Len Elmore and John Lucas, but that game's legacy was the change it sparked. The NCAA tournament expanded to 32 teams the following year to ensure that a potential champ like Maryland would never again be left home.
Two other good chances: Maryland won the ACC title in 1975 and advanced to the Elite Eight, but Louisville held the Terps to 43 percent shooting in a 96-82 loss; In 1969, Driesell led Davidson to a 27-win season and NCAA tournament victories over Villanova and St. John's before the Wildcats fell 87-85 to North Carolina in the East Region finals.

5. Gene Keady
Record: 550-289
NCAA tournament apperances: 19
Final Fours: none
Stat to note: Won six Big Ten regular season titles and seven Big Ten coach of the year awards
Best shot to win a title: National player of the year Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson led the 1993-94 Purdue team to a Big Ten championship, a No. 1 seed and Keady's first Elite Eight appearance, but the junior forward picked the wrong game to score his least points of the season. Harassed by an array of Duke defenders, Robinson scored just 13 point on 6-for-22 shooting in the Regional Finals, enabling the Blue Devils to upset the Boilermakers 69-60. The off night from Robinson was all the more frustrating for Purdue because the Boilermakers had every chance to make their first Final Four. Duke star Grant Hill sat for long stretches of the second half in foul trouble, but Purdue could not capitalize.
Two other good chances: Mitch Richmond scored 27 points to help Kansas State wipe out a nine-point halftime deficit and upset top-seeded Purdue 73-70 in the 1988 Sweet 16; Sixth-seeded Purdue needed only to beat eighth-seeded Wisconsin to make its first Final Four after both Big Ten schools made unlikely runs to the 2000 Elite Eight, but the Badgers emerged with a 64-60 victory.

6. Guy Lewis
Record: 592-279
NCAA tournament appearances: 14
Final Fours: 1967, 1968, 1982, 1983, 1984 (Houston)
Stat to note: Only coach ever to make five Final Fours without winning a title
Best shot to win a title: 1982-83 Houston Cougars were one of the most captivating teams in college basketball history, running the floor and finishing in transition with such authority that they earned the nickname Phil Slamma Jamma. Led by future NBA all-stars Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, Houston entered the NCAA tournament as a clear title favorite and trounced second-ranked Louisville in the national semifinals to set up what appeared to be a coronation against plucky underdog NC State. We all know what happened next. There was Lorenzo Charles' dunk-from-an-air-ball, Jim Valvano's wild sprint and a 10-loss Wolfpack team that barely made the NCAA tournament pulled off one of the great upsets in NCAA history.
Two other good chances: Ranked No. 1 in the nation after upsetting UCLA during the regular season in the so-called 'Game of the Century,' Houston lost the rematch in the 1968 Final Four 101-69; The Olajuwon-led Cougars returned to the national title game in 1984, but fell 84-75 to a dominant Georgetown team led by Patrick Ewing.

7. Rick Majerus
Record: 516-215
NCAA tournament appearances: 11
Final Fours: 1998 (Utah)
Stat to note: Captured six straight conference championships at Utah from 1995 to 2000
Best shot to win a title: Of the five NCAA tournament games Majerus' Utah teams lost against Kentucky, there's no question which one stings the most. A 78-69 loss to Kentucky in the 1998 national title game is so painful for Majerus that he says he can recite every detail of the final six minutes. Andre Miller and Michael Doleac had led Utah past Arizona and North Carolina on the way to the national title game, but the Utes couldn't hold onto a 12-point second-half lead against the Wildcats. Utah managed only four field goals in the final 16 minutes, one of which came in the final 10 seconds when the outcome was no longer in doubt.
Two other good chances: Keith Van Horn led Utah to a 29-4 record and a WAC title in 1997, but the Utes fell to defending national champ Kentucky in 1997; As a No. 2 seed, Utah lost in the second round to a Wally Szczerbiak-led Miami (Ohio) team in 1999.

8. Bob Huggins
Record: 710—266
NCAA tournament appearances: 19
Final Fours: 1992 (Cincinnati), 2010 (West Virginia)
Stat to note: Huggins' 18-year gap between Final Four appearances is the second longest in NCAA history (Lou Henson, 19 years)
Best shot to win a title: Two of Huggins' teams made the Final Four, and yet the team spotlighted here didn't make it out of the second round. Seemingly on its way to the No. 1 overall seed in the 2000 NCAA tournament, Cincinnati had its title hopes dashed when consensus national player of the year Kenyon Martin suffered a season-ending knee injury during the Conference USA tournament. The shell-shocked Bearcats still had a backcourt of DerMarr Johnson, Kenny Satterfield and Steve Logan, but the selection committee dropped them to a No. 2 seed and they fell in the second round. It was a cruel way to go out for a team that had been 27-1 prior to Martin's injury.
Two other good chances: Led by Nick Van Exel, Cincinnati reached the 1992 Final Four, where it lost to Michigan's Fab Five; A week after ousting top-seeded Kentucky to advance to the Final Four, Huggins' 2010 West Virginia team lost to eventual national champion Duke in the Final Four.

Honorable mention: Lou Carnesecca, Ray Meyer, Norm Stewart, Dale Brown, Jack Gardner, Ralph Miller

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