LEXINGTON — April 3, 2015 was a pretty good day to be John Calipari. His Wildcats were 38-0 and on the eve of a Final Four matchup with Wisconsin. While there were no guarantees, the unbeaten Wildcats looked like a good bet to win Calipari’s second NCAA title in four years on the following Monday. The team was about to play in his fourth Final Four in six seasons at Kentucky.

But more than being good, Calipari’s one-and-done attack was glamorous. In his six seasons in Lexington, he had coached nine 247Sports.com top-5 players from their respective recruiting classes. The names sound like a playoff caliber NBA team now: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Nerlens Noel, Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison, and Karl-Anthony Towns. Four NBA All-Stars and eight guys who became NBA Draft Lottery picks. Sure, the one-and-done wasn’t perfect. There was 2013, when UK stumbled after Noel’s injury and ended up in the NIT. The 2014 season had been trying, with Randle and Harrison wobbling early before righting the ship late, and coming up just short in the NCAA title game.

But 2015 had been different. The whole undefeated thing was big — Kentucky was two victories shy of becoming the first unbeaten NCAA champion in 39 years. But the roster was a who’s who of talent. Devin Booker didn’t even start for this Kentucky team. Nine of the players have had at least brief NBA appearances. Kentucky wasn’t just the best team in the country, they were the blueprint on getting and building up elite talent — at least on a one-year rental basis.

And then UK lost to Wisconsin.

In the four recruiting classes since that upset loss, (and yes, we’re counting 2018, as most of the top recruits are long since spoken for) Calipari has signed one top-5 player: Skal Labissiere, who averaged 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game in his single, disappointing season at Kentucky in 2016.

Part of the culture change was the evolution of Duke. The Blue Devils, with Kentucky suddenly out of the way, won that 2015 NCAA title and did so with their own talented freshman class that included three-first round picks later that June. Since that time, Coach K has inked seven top-5 players, including the top three in the upcoming 2018 class.

This isn’t to say that the Blue Devils haven’t had their own struggles to adapt to the short turn-around era of modern college basketball. Coach K’s first two years after his title yielded a 3-2 NCAA record. Year 3 has culminated in an Elite Eight berth, but Duke will have to show some extra gas in the tank to survive Kansas and potentially Villanova to make a title run.

But while Duke has struggled with stars, Kentucky has experienced its own problems. Whether it was the disappointing loss to Wisconsin, the lack of production from Labissiere the following season, or just a series of small moments of bad luck, Kentucky hasn’t been the same since that 2015 season. A second-round NCAA loss ended 2016, an Elite Eight defeat (to eventual champion North Carolina) closed out 2017, and a hard-to-swallow Sweet 16 loss to Kansas State took the Wildcats out of a gloriously empty bracket in 2018.

It’s not as if the cupboard has been empty for Calipari. During those three seasons since the Wisconsin loss, players like Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have come and mostly gone through Lexington. Kentucky has begun each of the past three seasons ranked in the AP top 5.

But the Wildcats have struggled, even as the rest of the SEC has awakened around them. A 13-5 SEC slate in 2016 wasn’t terribly impressive, and a 10-8 run this year included a four-game losing streak in league play — UK’s first four game slide since the Billy Gillispie era.

For Calipari’s part, there’s no apparent change in game plan. The Wildcats are still going all in on the top players in each class — they’re just ending up settling for second and third options more and more times. And in March, when the margin between survival and defeat can be razor-thin, that difference has proved to be significant.

For the moment Duke is the glamorous choice — ask Zion Williamson, who chose to be the Blue Devils’ potential third option in 2019 instead of Calipari or Roy Williams’ first choice. And accordingly, Coach K seems to age by years on the sideline in every nail-biting March game that ends up poised on the rail-thin backs of a group of freshmen.

But in 2018, Duke is still playing and Kentucky is back in Lexington. The only certainty is that the future — with the NBA poised to re-evaluate its early entry rules on its own, unknown time frame — is completely unpredictable. That might have seemed hard to imagine back on April 3, 2015 — the day before the wind started billowing out of Calipari’s one-and-done sails.