Would John Calipari REALLY want to blow up one of the great rivalries in college basketball history?
Yeah, just when IU is getting good again (it is 8-0), the Kentucky coach wants to scrap a really good thing.
The teams meet Saturday at Assembly Hall.
Those who believe in conspiracy might smell a little fear, but that seems out of character for a coach who has long been known for fearless scheduling.
Calipari continues to insist he has to tone down the non-conference schedule to accommodate a possible expanded SEC slate (officials are considering adding two more conference games to 18) and the fact the No. 1 Wildcats (8-0) have more year-to-year player turnover than any other program in the country.
Well, as far as the player turnover, whose fault is that? Calipari brings this on himself by recruiting and then signing one-and-done guys. He doesn’t have to sign top-10 players. He could go for guys, say, No. 60 to No. 100. They’d stay for four years and the turnover would stop. Now, maybe he’d win a few less games, but at least he wouldn’t have to rebuild every year.
That won’t happen, of course.
Anyway, Calipari has a poll on his website to see which of the traditional non-conference rivals -– IU, Louisville and North Carolina -– should be dropped.
At the moment, 69 percent of those responding pick the Hoosiers to go. North Carolina is next at 23 percent. Louisville comes in last at 8 percent.
Nothing is etched in stone. Indiana and Kentucky have played 54 times in a series that started in 1924. The Wildcats have won 31 times, including 16 of the last 20 meetings, and three straight.
Calipari was asked about the schedule during a press conference this week. Here’s what he had to say:
“Let me again state this. We want to play a great schedule, but because our roster turns over more than any other team in the country, maybe ever, we can’t be locked into six games (he’s including the Champions Classic and the SEC/Big East Challenge). You just can’t do it.
“I know people may get mad. You can get mad. That doesn’t affect me in any way. But you can’t be locked in. Playing Kansas or UCLA vs. this or that team, does it really matter? It doesn’t matter.
“I can schedule in August, when I know what my roster is and get seven unbelievable programs to play us. I can do that.
“I have to protect the program. I cannot set up our players for failure.
“Look, I’m one of the originals who said, let’s bring it. I don’t care, let’s play. What time? Midnight –- I’ve done it. Noon or 11 or 10 o’clock? I’ve done it.
“The point is, in the situation we’re in, you can’t lock into seven games. No one in the country does it. Duke doesn’t do it. North Carolina doesn’t do it. UCLA and Kansas don’t do it. No one does it.”
And now you know.
But do you buy it?
Indiana has its best chance at beating Kentucky since Eric Gordon and D.J. White joined forces in December of 2007. The Hoosiers are 8-0 and blowing everybody out, although no one expects that to happen Saturday in Assembly Hall against the No. 1 Wildcats.
They’ve won the last three meetings by an average margin of 18 points.
Still, Calipari sounds concerned.
“This is going to be a hot, contested game. We know it. Hopefully we are ready.
“We’ve had some good practices. I asked my staff last night, ‘Do you think I pushed our guys enough?’ They said, ‘Yeah. Yeah.’ I said, if I haven’t, we will see.”