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John Calipari Explains Why This Kentucky Team Is “Built for March”

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John Calipari explains what he means when he says that Kentucky is "built for March".
© Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

During his call-in show this week, John Calipari acknowledged the recent struggles but reassured, “We’re going to break through. We’re not there yet, but we are going to break through.”

Why does he have that confidence? Calipari says this team is “Built for March” and after Tuesday’s win against Ole Miss, Calipari clarified what he means by that.

“In the NCAA tournament, you can’t score 65, 63, 62. You can maybe in one game but you’ll get beat. You’ve got to be able to score points. We can do it,” he said. “You’ve got to have a player that can go off in a game so you can advance. We have a couple of those. You can’t be a high turnover team because the team you are going to play, they are in the NCAA tournament. They are going to be a low-turnover team. We are a low turnover team.”

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Calipari is correct in his assessment. Powerful offenses and elite talent have helped many teams make runs in the NCAA Tournament, especially of late (i.e. Miami (FL) last season). However, Kentucky has some areas of weakness that can end this team’s hopes early, specifically a lack of physicality and poor defense.

“The issue is will we be being physical enough,” Calipari said. “The reason we were physical today: DJ is physical, Tre is physical, Ugonna is physical, Adou is physical. Now you’re playing four of your top eight are physical players. They are going to bang. That was one of our issues. 50-50 balls. We missed some again today. Justin didn’t dive up for the ball. He tried to pick it up with one hand and threw it to them. 50-50 rebounds. Tre helped us today. We are still not where we need to be. Lastly, defensively, you got to be more connected. So, if we get those things squared away.”

Kentucky certainly has one of the best offenses in the country, but as Calipari said the physicality and defense have to improve. After holding Ole Miss, a KenPom top-30 offense to just 63 points, maybe that is a promsing sign of things to come.

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Men's Basketball

Rick Pitino Endorses Mark Pope, “He Will Lead The Kentucky Wildcats To Another Championship”

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Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports/ Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The captain of Rick Pitino’s 1996 “Untouchables”, Mark Pope, is “coming home” to lead the Kentucky Wildcats as the program’s next head coach, officially announced on Friday. While there has been some criticism of the hire, Pitino says he “couldn’t be any prouder to see Mark Pope lead the Kentucky Wildcats.”

While Pope has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game in two appearances, Pitino points out that several top coaches had their trials early in their careers. It took Jay Wright 11 seasons to win his first NCAA Tournament, and Billy Donovan was hired at Florida without an NCAA Tournament appearance. However, he heralds Pope as one of the “premier young coaches” in college basketball.

“Offensively, no one does it better,” Pitino said. “The way his teams move. The way his teams shoot the three. The ball movement. It’s outstanding.”

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It’s just the X’s and O’s though, Pitino “guarantees” that Pope loves and understands the program as well as anyone. “I can guarantee to you one thing, that nobody epitomizes the name on the front of the jersey more than Mark Pope.”

“Mark Pope will go on to greatness. You can put it down,” Pitino said. “He will do you proud. “He will lead the Kentucky Wildcats to another championship”

If his endorsement isn’t enough, Rick Pitino says he will “write the check himself” for NIL to help Pope be successful.

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Men's Basketball

Mark Pope Releases Statement As He Is Announced As Kentucky Basketball Coach

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Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Per UK Athletics

When his alma mater came calling, Mark Pope knew there was no place like home.

Pope, a captain of the University of Kentucky’s 1996 National Championship team, has returned to Lexington as the 23rd head coach of Kentucky’s storied men’s basketball program, announced Friday.

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“The University of Kentucky is the pinnacle of coaching in college basketball,” Pope said. “It’s the definition of a blueblood program where hanging a banner is the expectation every year. Equally as important, UK changed my life forever as a human being. The love and passion I have for this program, this University and the people of the Commonwealth goes to the depth of my soul.”

“I’m thankful to Dr. (Eli) Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity. I’m proud to be your next head coach and I can’t wait to do this together!”

Pope is a nine-year head coaching veteran with stops at BYU and Utah Valley, amassing a 187-108 career record. His squads won 20 or more games in six of the last seven seasons and he has made six postseason appearances.

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Men's Basketball

REPORT: Mark Pope Set Sign Five-Year Deal to Become Next Kentucky Basketball Coach

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Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky has found their guy. Former Wildcat and NCAA Champion, Mark Pope, is now expected to be named the next Kentucky basketball coach on a five-year contract worth $5.5 million annually, first reported by CBS Sports. For perspective, based on last season’s salaries, that is more than Dan Hurley (UConn), Scott Drew (Baylor), and Nate Oats (Alabama).

Pope comes to Kentucky with nine seasons of head coaching experience, after serving as an assistant for six seasons, from 2009-2015. In 2015, he was hired by Utah Valley where he coached for four seasons. In 2019, Pope was hired at BYU where he has taken them to two NCAA Tournaments, but has been upset by a double-digit seed in both appearances.

Pope has proven himself as a good X-and-O coach in his nine-year career, running one of the most innovative offenses in the country, but recruiting will be a real test as he has never signed a four-star recruit. Who he hires on to his staff and collecting NIL support will be critical.

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The move has been met with much fan criticism, as fans have been quick to point out that Pope has never won a conference title or an NCAA Tournament game. However, Mitch Barnhart is confident in the move, with some reporting that he is “excited” with the hire.

Just three days into the coaching search, this is an interesting hire with several big names like Billy Donovan and Bruce Pearl potentially available. Barnhart made the decision not to wait for Donovan, who is currently coaching the Chicago Bulls, and Pearl was not considered due to his “baggage”.

A new era of Kentucky basketball has begun.

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