NEW ORLEANS — Since he insists he “can name 50 coaches” that have had a chance to win a national title and didn’t, Kentucky coach John Calipari insists “my friends and family” probably want him to get his first championship even more than he does.
“I’m at Kentucky, one way or another we are going to play the best we can every year. I’m not looking at it like validation, I’m just not, my wife will tell you,” said Calipari. “I’m concerned about our team playing great and those guys getting all those accolades and that stuff happening.”
Calipari knows how badly Kentucky fans want an eighth national championship.
“The Big Blue Nation shows up in Atlanta, I bet if we played in Sioux City we would pack an arena. I don’t know how they would get there, but they would get there. You want to do it for these fans,” Calipari said. “I’ve never in my life been in a place that they are so passionate but yet they have a soft heart. They’re not mean and nasty, they’re not the ‘miserables.’ They just want this thing to go well and they worry.
“They can’t sleep at night, I’ve slept like a baby, these people are up all night and can’t sleep. You want to do something for them, but reality of it is we can’t even get into that. This is about our team playing at their best.”
Kentucky plays Louisville at 6:09 p.m. Saturday in the Final Four semifinals here with the winner taking on the Kansas-Ohio State survivor Monday night for the national title.
Last year UK reached the Final Four only to lose in the semifinals to eventual national champion Connecticut. It was a disappointing loss, but not a disappointing season for Calipari considering his team went only 2-6 in Southeastern Conference road games.
“By the end of the season for them to put themselves in that position, I was ecstatic. When they dropped the ball in that last game and we all dropped it, obviously preparation was bad, there was something that was not right. I felt bad for them. I wasn’t mad. I was so proud of what they were able to do with that season I can’t even begin to tell you,” Calipari said.
“I really like my team. I’m glad I am coaching these guys but the other teams that are in the Final Four, they all have good players or they would not be here. You are not coaching guys up. You have guys that have potential and they are playing to that potential. They are talented, talented players, every team that is left.”
Game time: Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports, says it was not an easy call deciding whether to make Kentucky-Louisville or Ohio-State Kansas the first game Saturday and put the other game in prime time. CBS Sports went with UK-Louisville at 6:09 p.m. and Ohio State-Kansas in the prime time spot about 9 p.m.
“That was a really, really close call. We talked about it a lot,” McManus said. “There was no right or wrong answer. Normally a marquee matchup decision comes easily. We thought that the Ohio State game on paper looked like it might be a closer game. Not to say we don’t think the Kentucky game will be close.
“We thought the geographical spread was a little better (for Ohio State-Kansas). The midwest brings an enormous amount of viewers to the TV set. But there was not any right or wrong answer. Obviously, Kentucky-Louisville has incredible story lines. It was really a tossup and we went with our gut and thought viewership might be a bit higher for the second game.
“But I can’t think of a Final Four with more marquee value. What certainly will determine the ratings this weekend is how close the games are.”
Jim Nantz, who has called the Final Four 27 times for CBS, knows everybody is saying this is a “coronation for Kentucky and odds are it wil be.” However, Nantz said he’s seen plenty of Final Four upsets and rattled off a long list of games.
“There has been too many times when the favorite did not win. There is no foregone conclusion (that Kentucky will win),” he said.
TV features: CBS plans to show a feature on Kentucky’s freshmen during the Final Four on Saturday with breakdowns on each individual player for smaller stories. However, McManus said there were no plans for anything on any of the Kentucky freshmen because of the “team focus” Kentucky has had.
Top pick: TV analysts Greg Anthony and Steve Kerr are both former NBA standouts who will be working the Final Four for CBS-TV. They agree that UK’s Anthony Davis is the clear No. 1 pick in the June NBA draft.
“Often drafting is based on potential and I think the guy with the most potential is probably Anthony Davis simply put,” Kerr said. “He has the skill set to allow him to make an impact the next level. I think he is not asked to do nearly as much as he is capable of because of the talent on his tem. I would have him at the top of my list. I think the first pick is a consensus and whoever has it will opt to take Davis.”
Anthony says Davis is “automatic as the first pick” based on what numerous NBA coaches/scouts have told him.
“Everybody agrees there is a huge drop-off after one. The guy I have heard mentioned most (at No. 2) is Thomas Robinson (of Kansas) because of his strength and explosiveness.”
However, he also mentioned UK freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Ohio State sophomore Jared Sullinger as likely high picks.
“There are a lot of question marks after Davis,” Anthony said.
Final Four: Winning the national title is not the biggest issue for Kentucky coach John Calipari
Kentucky coach John Calipari (Clay Jackson / March 29, 2012)