Vaught's Views: TV analyst Dean says Kentucky already has spot in NCAA field
John Calipari, shown during Kentucky's win over Florida on Saturday, has done a "phenomenal" job in getting this year's team in position to make the NCAA tournament, according to television analyst Joe Dean Jr., who is working the Southeastern Conference tournament this week. (Clay Jackson / January 23, 2013)
“I think they are definitely an NCAA tournament team. I don’t think there is any question,” Dean, a former Kentucky assistant coach who is now athletics director at Birmingham-Southern, said Wednesday. “Florida, to me, is a top-10 team. Solid top-10 team, and they beat Florida the last game of the year. They won at Mississippi, and I think Ole Miss is a really good team. They beat Missouri late.
“They played a really tough schedule, and you can say they didn’t win the game, but you go to Louisville and lose by three, and I think Louisville is going to be a top seed. Kentucky lost by them to three on their court. They lost to Duke in a close game. Come on now. Kentucky is an NCAA team. No question about it.”
To validate his belief, Dean turned to No. 1 Gonzaga.
“You think if Gonzaga played at Rupp Arena tomorrow night that Kentucky couldn’t win that game?” said Dean, who will be working the SEC tournament. “I know they could win and Gonzaga could be the No. 1 seed in the tournament. How do you think (Gonzaga coach) Mark Few would like it if I said, ‘OK, Mark, here is what you are going to have the next two weeks. I am sending you to Rupp Arena, Columbia, Missouri, and Gainesville, Florida?’ How do you thinking they would do? And they are the number one team in the country right now. That’s why Kentucky has to be in.”
Dean also thinks Calipari has done a “phenomenal” coaching job this year after losing the top six players off last year’s national championship team to the NBA.
“I would ask any professional person to eliminate the top six people in their organization — they just go away — and try to replace them. They just go away and try to replace them and have the same production. Common sense tells you that you are going to take a step back when you lose your top six people and that is what has happened with him,” he said.
“The difference with this year’s team and the other three is that he had no veteran leadership. No experienced leadership in the program that could help bring the younger guys along. He had no Patrick Patterson or Darius Miller or DeAndre Liggins. He had nobody like that to help the younger guys along.
“I know from personal experience how hard it is to get freshmen to play at a really high level every single night for 40 minutes, and that has been the challenge for him to get young, 18-year-old kids to play at a high level — again Kentucky’s standard is the highest level in the country — and to do that is very difficult.”
That’s why Dean makes it clear how he would rate Calipari’s coaching job this season, even though Kentucky has the worst record it has in four years under him.
“He has done a phenomenal job with this team to win 20-plus games with this group of kids, and then to lose your very best player (Nerlens Noel) in the middle of the year. I think he has done an unbelievable job, and anybody who doesn’t think that doesn’t know anything about basketball,” Dean said.
Dean said having Ryan Harrow miss about three weeks early in the season for personal reasons was also a big stumbling block for Calipari to overcome even when Harrow came back.
“It’s like if the New England Patriots lose Tom Brady for three weeks, how good will they be. It is the same thing. Ryan Harrow, in my opinion as an outsider looking and watching their team, is not the caliber of point guard that the Kentucky people have enjoyed the last three years. He’s just not,” Dean said.
“Nothing against him. He’s just not as good as John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague. I mean, those three kids were first-round draft picks, and this kid is not that. He is a good player but he will be inconsistent and up and down as most new players playing at this level are going to be. That’s the challenge for the coach to keep him in there, keep him focused, keep him working.
“Knowing that he is not as talented as the three previous point guards and knowing the pressure he is under following those kids this year. I think John has done an amazing job with all the different moving parts he has had to deal with throughout the year, including losing Noel. I just don’t know how anybody could think he has not done a phenomenal job this year.”