Ranking John Calipari's first eight Kentucky teams (2010-2017)

Justin Rowland, Publisher
Cats Illustrated

John Calipari has coached eight full seasons at Kentucky and what a remarkable run it has been.

Cats Illustrated takes a stab at ranking his first eight teams in Lexington.

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8. 2012-2013 (21-12, NIT)

Highlights: You have to stretch a little bit here but at least this team won 20 games including 11 in the SEC. Just about any other SEC program would consider that a solid year at the very least. Perhaps the high point of the entire season was an 87-74 win on the road against No. 16 Ole Miss. That was the second of five consecutive wins between late January and early-mid February. After that win streak Kentucky was 17-6 and finally reappeared in the national rankings at No. 25 before losing to No. 7 Florida.

Low Points: Failing to make the Big Dance is a big one, especially at a place like Kentucky where that's less an achievement and pretty much taken for granted. For the fans the next biggest black eye might have been losing to Duke and Louisville in the same season. This team also dropped home games to Baylor and Texas A&M. Losing to Robert Morris was insult added on to injury after not being picked on Selection Sunday.

Overall Legacy: Kentucky fans should hope that whenever Calipari is done in Lexington this team is remembered as his worst because it was a difficult season. The fan base probably wasn't as down as they otherwise would have been, but for the fact that this team followed a national championship run. This team will be remembered for failing to reach the NCAA Tournament and losing to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. It was one of the program's worst seasons in modern history, although it Noel's injury should not be forgotten because that probably cost them a spot in the NCAA Tournament and at least a chance at making something happen in March.

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7. 2015-16 (27-9, Round of 32)

Highlights: This team shared the regular season SEC championship with Texas A&M and defeated the Aggies in overtime of the conference tournament in Nashville. Whereas the 2012-13 NIT team lost to Louisville and Duke in the same season, this team defeated the Blue Devils (74-63) and the Cardinals (75-73). The vibes were probably most positive in mid-February, when Kentucky destroyed South Carolina on the road following John Calipari's ejection in Columbia, or after the SEC tournament championship. Its tough to say a loss was a highlight, but one of Kentucky's better games may have been in a 90-84 overtime loss to Kansas on the road, when foul trouble may have done the Cats in.

Low Points: Losing to rival Indiana in the second round of the NCAA Tournament left a bad taste in many fans' mouths and understandably so. It had become clear that the team was fatally flawed in its lack of a consistent low post option and the inconsistency of all the players outside of Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray.

Overall Legacy: That this team would rank seventh out of eight is a testament to what Calipari has accomplished in Lexington. This team will be remembered for its tremendous backcourt of Ulis and Murray but also for its limitations, which were brought into the light against the Hoosiers in the tournament.

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6. 2013-14 (29-11, National Runner Up)

Highlights: Without question this team's biggest highlights were in March. There were four signature games/moments: The instant classic against No. 1 seed and undefeated Wichita State, defeating archrival Louisville in the tournament, Aaron Harrison's clutch shot against Michigan and his repeat performance in the Final Four against Wisconsin. An earlier season win against Louisville was probably the highlight of the regular season.

Low Points: Prior to that tournament run this Kentucky team hadn't defeated a top 25 team all season. They lost at North Carolina but, worst of all, they lost three times in three games against SEC rival Florida, who seemed to carry the league's banner all season. One of the lowest points was the end of the regular season, when this team lost four of its final seven games before the SEC tournament, leaving some to write off the team's chances in the tournament.

Overall Legacy: Ranking a national runner-up this low is sure to spark some debate but we're looking at the entire body of work. If this team had really become dominant in the NCAA Tournament that might have been one thing, but they really benefitted from an incredible number of clutch plays more than anything. That's what this team will be remembered for. Going from the punchline of a joke (from 40-0 shirts to double-digit losses) to right on the cusp of the program's ninth national championship. That magical run in March and Aaron Harrison's shots in particular will be this team's legacy.

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5. 2016-17 (32-6, Elite Eight)

Highlights: The high point of the 2016-17 season was a Sweet 16 victory over UCLA. The Bruins had already won in Rupp earlier in the year and they were the Vegas favorites even as the lower-seeded team. De'Aaron Fox's 39 points against UCLA and Lonzo Ball marked a definitive turning point in public opinion among Big Blue fans when it comes to this team. The second highlight of the season was a 103-100 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas. It was arguably one of the most exciting regular season college basketball games in modern times with Malik Monk pouring in 47 points as the teams traded highlight plays and clutch shots. This team also finished 16-2 as regular season SEC champs and won the league's tournament championship.

Low Points: This team's worst losses were on the road to Tennessee, a team that didn't make the tournament, and a 20-point loss on the road to Florida. The worst stretch of the season came at the end of January and in early February when Kentucky lost three times in four games. This team dropped two home games, uncharacteristically, in heavyweight matches against UCLA and Kansas. Undoubtedly the worst moment of the season was the last memory anyone will have: Watching an open Luke Maye sink a long two-pointer with 0.3 seconds remaining. That ended an exciting tournament run. Another low point is the earlier-season loss to Louisville, because that will also make a low point list at Kentucky. It was just Calipari's second loss to Rick Pitino since arriving in Lexington.

Overall Legacy: This team will probably be remembered in part like last year's team for its outstanding backcourt, but it may also be remembered as a team that turned out to accomplish more than it was ever given credit for as the season was happening. For a team that ultimately won 32 games and reached the Elite Eight, only to lose on a last-second UNC shot, this team brought out a lot of negativity for a weak stretch in the middle of the season and for not dominating opponents like many thought they were "supposed to" because of some early season flare. Defeating Wichita State and then avenging an early-season loss to UCLA in the tournament did a lot for this team's redemption, and most fans now seem to have an overall positive impression of this team in the big picture. This team's legacy benefits from the SEC's performance in the NCAA Tournament, which seemed to indicate the league (in which Kentucky finished 19-2) was better than given credit for most of the year.

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4. 2010-11 (29-9, Final Four)

Highlights: As has been true in multiple Calipari years, this team's March run was its highlight. There were regular season highlights, but nothing compared to an underseeded team knocking off Ohio State, the tournament's No. 1 overall team, and then avenging an earlier loss to North Carolina (and the 1995 East region final at that) to break a Final Four drought that extended back to 1998. Even before that Brandon Knight's late heroics against Princeton will be remembered. This team also won an SEC tournament championship and defeated a top 15 Florida team twice in a period of two weeks leading into the NCAA Tournament.

Low Points: The big negative that stands out about this team was its 2-6 road record in SEC play. Simply put, this team struggled to win away from Rupp Arena until the SEC tournament and then the Big Dance. They weren't blown out on the road, but losing nail biters on the road against North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida, Vanderbilt and Arkansas almost seemed to make it worse. Towards the end of the regular season this team was just 7-6 going into the finale against Florida in Rupp. But that's when they turned things around for good.

Overall Legacy: There might be those who rank this team even lower but given that it won nearly 30 games, defeated North Carolina and top-overall seed Ohio State in the tournament and broke the program's longest Final Four drought, it deserves a lofty ranking in the Calipari era.

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3. 2009-10 (35-3, Elite Eight)

Highlights: This team started the year 19-0 and ascending to the top spot in the polls before losing its first game on the road at South Carolina. That run served notice that Kentucky was back and would be a force to be reckoned with in 2009-10. Some of the team's highlights included its electrifying first half run to put North Carolina in a 20-point hole, its street fight win against Louisville, its SEC tournament championship win over Mississippi State, which followed a Demarcus Cousins buzzer beater at the end of regulation to force overtime, and its 30-point win over Wake Forest in the Round of 32. Then, after the season, having five players drafted.

Low Points: The loss to West Virginia was surely one of the tougher-to-swallow losses for any Kentucky fan. The Wildcats were, at the very least, one of the tournament's favorites and they were a favorite against West Virginia. Had they taken care of business against the Mountaineers they would have been the favorites against Duke and the favorites to cut down the nets. But Kentucky went ice cold against WVU, and the rest is history.

Overall Legacy: This team will be rightfully remembered as the one that got the Calipari started. John Wall, Demarcus Cousins and that recruiting class helped to make Kentucky the destination for the nation's most elite recruits. This team put Kentucky back on the college basketball map as an elite program in the present day after years in the wilderness. Having five players drafted in the first round may not have been the biggest day in Kentucky basketball history, but it surely helped the program's brand and subsequently contributed to its success in a significant way. But it will also be remembered as a team that, fans believe, should have won a championship.

2. 2014-15 (38-1, Final Four)

Highlights: Starting the season 38-0. That's something no other team had done, and it might be a long time before another team does it. Proving that it is possible to go undefeated (even though they didn't achieve it) was a season-long work. The team's 32-point win over Kansas in the Champions Classic and its 41-7 halftime lead against UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic were probably its two most dominant performances. Wins over North Carolina and Louisville, an undefeated record in the SEC and a dramatic tournament win over Notre Dame were among the 2014-15 team's biggest highlights.

Low Points: Losing to Wisconsin in the Final Four. There are those fans who will never say a loss is more painful than the 1992 regional final loss to Duke, but if ever a loss matched or exceeded it, it would be this one. To come so close to 40-0 and history but to come up short - well, no explanation is needed.

Overall Legacy: Unfortunately this team will be remembered more for the one loss than the 38 wins, but that's what happens when you come so close to such an historic achievement and come up short. Nonetheless, this is one of the best teams in the history of Kentucky's basketball program and one could make the case that it was one of the best college basketball teams of all-time. It was an historically good defensive team. The two-platoon system was also a unique concept that history will remember Calipari for.

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1. 2011-12 (38-2, National Champions)

Highlights: When you win the national championship there's no competition for the signature highlight moment. Cutting down the nets after knocking off Kansas for the second time in the 2011-12 season was the highlight of that year. Anthony Davis pulled off a clean sweep that year: National Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player and finally the No. 1 draft pick. The early-season win against North Carolina following Anthony Davis' blocked shot was a great one-game highlight, and defeating Louisville twice in one year (including once in a Final Four) was also a signature moment. The revenge game against Indiana was a 102-90 fast-paced thriller.

Low Points: When you win a championship nothing feels too low in hindsight, but the two losses should be mentioned. Indiana's buzzer beater in Bloomington remains one of the Hoosiers' biggest achievements of the past twenty years and Kentucky fans are surely tired of seeing replays. The SEC tournament loss to Vanderbilt goes down in history alongside the 1995-96 team's SEC tournament loss to Mississippi State. Maybe it was helpful.

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