Kentucky head coach John Calipari reacts in the first half of an NCAA tournament second-round college basketball game against Western Kentucky in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, March 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)Kentucky head coach John Calipari reacts in the first half of an NCAA tournament second-round college basketball game against Western Kentucky in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, March 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
As his program crash-landed at rock bottom Saturday at South Carolina, John Calipari excused himself from the proceedings. He got himself tossed by the officials, and then blew off the press conference after his Kentucky Wildcats lost to a team ranked No. 178 in America according to the RPI.
When the going got tough, Cal got out.
It was a nostalgic flashback to December, when Calipari made a four-minute postgame interview appearance after losing to Baylor, then abruptly got up and left when the first question was directed toward one of his players. His freshmen sat there and answered the rest of the queries without him.
Had Calipari shown up to answer questions Saturday after the worst defeat of his Kentucky tenure, instead of sending assistant John Robic and two freshmen to the interview room, here are the questions Calipari should have been asked.
Q: Your preseason No. 1 team should by all rights fall out of the top 25 this week. What has happened to the squad that had you dancing in the car on the way to the office in October?
Q: The season is not lost, but it's headed that direction at a high rate of speed. What are you going to do about it?
Q: Is it still Ryan Harrow's fault? That poor kid – who you recruited – was the scapegoat last year. He was the point guard who didn't run the team the way you wanted, and thus was run off to Georgia State. Archie Goodwin went pro with minimum lamentation. Kyle Wiltjer transferred, and nobody blinked. They all left under a cloud of blame that accompanied a trip to the NIT and a humiliating first-round loss to Robert Morris.
"The stuff I had to accept this year, the program almost got hijacked," you said last spring. "Never in my career have I surrendered in any way to any team, and I did at times this year – to try to save guys, to try to help guys – and it never works."
Harrow's stats are similar to those of your current point guard, five-star recruit Andrew Harrison. Harrow played about four minutes per game less and averaged slightly fewer points, rebounds and assists – but he had a better assist-turnover ratio and shot better from two-point range.
But stats can be misleading. Can we still pile this disappointing season on the 2012-13 bunch?
Q: If not Harrow & Co., is it time to throw the Greatest Recruiting Class in College Basketball history under the Big Blue bus? You've started moving in that direction recently, Cal.
After losing to Arkansas at home Thursday, you mentioned "a couple no-shows" without naming names. And you blamed forward Julius Randle for wearing down by not taking himself out of the lineup. "I'm trying to get guys to sub themselves," you said. "They just don't get it." For $5.2 million a year, you'd think the coach could add "manage the substitution rotation" to his list of responsibilities, as opposed to leaving it up to the players. Who are young. (Stop me if you've heard this before: Kentucky has a young team.)
Then there was your comment to the Kentucky radio crew Saturday night: "They're counting on me too much." Apparently we are reaching the Pontius Pilate stage of the season, where the coach washes his hands and turns an increasingly unpleasant endeavor over to the unpaid laborers.
Q: But if it's not the players' fault, and they weren't all massively overrated coming out of high school, who hasn't done the job of coalescing them into a team?
Q: As a follow-up: Who recruited these guys again? And called them "alpha males" and raved about the renewed breed of nasty that would return Kentucky to national championship contention? Who cornered the market on one-year transient players – when it was a bull market (Wall, Cousins, Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist) and when it's a bear market?
Q: What happened to this plan: "What we're going to have is unbelievable competition. We may have three teams, so 15 guys that can play. Let's go." That was the antidote for a "hijacking" – the bench. Guys who were not playing well were going to sit.
Instead, you've played seven guys. Four players – Julius Randle, James Young and the Harrison twins – average more than 30 minutes per game. Last year, Team Hijack had three players averaging that many minutes. When it comes to playing time, there is little disincentive for poor performance. The stars get the minutes, even if they aren't getting the job done.
Q: Jim Boeheim made an idiot of himself in a loss at Duke the week before, but he showed up at the postgame press conference to answer for it. Cincinnati's Mick Cronin made an idiot of himself on the sidelines Saturday in a loss to Connecticut, but he took questions afterward. If they can do it, why not you?
Q: In October you proclaimed, "We are college basketball." Does that mean this entire college basketball season has been a disappointment? Because it doesn't feel that way, but we want to be sure.
Q: In February you proclaimed this to be the most overanalyzed team in the history of sports. Are five losses in a weak SEC a clever ploy to slow down the rampant analysis of the Wildcats?
Q: Can the 40-0 T-shirts people have been using to wax their cars be forwarded to the good people of Wichita? Just in case?
Q: Kentucky fans used to derisively call Tubby Smith "Ten-Loss Tubby." You are two defeats away from a second straight season with double-digit losses. If the moniker "Ten-Loss Cal" starts being thrown around, how will you take it?
Q: Did you know that the two Kentucky teams relying solely on your recruits as the major contributors are last year and this year? And that their record is 42-20, 23-11 in the SEC, with an NIT berth and four losses to teams ranked outside the Ken Pomeroy top 100?
Q: Did you know that your first three teams at Kentucky all had veteran players recruited by previous coaches in key roles? Those teams went a combined 102-14, 40-18 in the Southeastern Conference, with two SEC titles, two SEC tournament titles, two Final Four appearances and a national title.
Those last two are rhetorical questions, by the way. No need to answer.