John Calipari’s run: How does his NCAA Tournament success measure up with other coaching legends?
LEXINGTON — Following Sunday’s second-round victory over Buffalo, it’s worth stepping back to appreciate the NCAA resume of John Calipari in Lexington. In nine years at Kentucky, John Calipari has now led the Wildcats to seven NCAA Sweet 16 appearances.
He’s a win from his seventh Elite Eight during that run, and two wins from his fifth Final Four. He has twice reached the NCAA title game at UK, and once pulled down the victory. So how does that measure up, historically speaking?
We took a look at the resumes of some of the greatest active or recently active coaches in the game, to see how their best runs stacked up.
Run 1 (1986-1994): Nine years, eight Sweet 16s, seven Elite Eights, seven Final Fours, five championship games, two NCAA titles.
Run 2 (1998-2006): Nine years, nine Sweet 16s, four Elite Eights, three Final Fours, two championship games, one NCAA title.
Coach K’s resume is impressive for two runs that are worth mentioning in the same category as Calipari’s. The first run is the one that established him as a legendary coach. Making seven Final Fours in nine years is something that won’t be seen perhaps ever again. Of course, from seven Final Fours, it’s a bit of a slump to nab just two titles, but who has done better? The second run doesn’t stand up as well to scrutiny — yes, Duke made the Sweet 16 every year, but they lost in that round five times.
He’s in the middle of another amazing run, trying to win the NCAA title for the third time in eight years.
(2005-2012): Eight years, six Sweet 16s, six Elite Eights, three Final Fours, two championship games, two NCAA titles.
Williams’ Kansas runs were impressive, but were also clouded by many second-round losses. He’s had some of the same problem at Carolina, as we’ve gone with an eight-year run to best frame his most impressive era. That said, it’s a solid run to consider — six Elite Eights in eight years is no small feat. The Tar Heels struggled in regional finals, but at least Williams ended two of his three Final Four appearances in this era with titles.
He also just finished another strong run (2009-2017), which started with the 2009 title and ended with his third NCAA title at UNC last year.
Run 1 (1998-2005): Eight years, six Sweet 16s, five Elite Eights, four Final Fours, one championship game, one title.
Run 2 (2008-2015): Eight years, seven Sweet 16s, four Elite Eights, three Final Fours, one championship game, no title.
Izzo has two impressive runs, and like Coach K’s runs, the first is the more impressive. Five elite Eights and four Final Fours in an eight-year span is comparable to what Calipari has done — although it is worth noting that by going 1-3 in national semifinals, Izzo reached just one title game, although that puts him even with Cal in championships. The second run can’t be given much credence because it ended in just one title game appearance and no championships.
(2008-2015): Eight years, six Sweet 16s, five Elite Eights, two Final Fours, one championship game, one championship*.
First, all of this didn’t really happen officially now. The two Final Fours and three of the five Elite Eights are officially vacated. But even if the run stands, it really doesn’t stand up that well in comparison. The Sweet 16 and Elite Eight numbers are impressive, but other than the 2013 run that didn’t technically happen, this tree bore no real fruit.
(1998-2006): Nine years, six Sweet 16s, five Elite Eights, two Final Fours, two championship games, two titles.
Calipari’s ancient enemy put together a very decent run at UConn. It looks eerily like the Pitino run, with the difference being that when Calhoun went deep into the Tournament, he finished it. His run has two Final Fours in nine years, but it also has two titles. It might not hold up quite as well as Calipari’s run, but ask Cat fans if they wouldn’t trade a handful of Final Four losses for another title.
(2007-2015): Nine years, six Sweet 16s, four Elite Eights, two Final Fours, two championship games, one title.
Self’s run doesn’t compare especially well to Calipari. Fewer or equal number of stops at every rung of the ladder — basically, the difference here was that Calipari beat Self for the 2012 title, which probably works out luck-wise, since he basically handed him the 2008 title.
Even if Calipari likely won’t have the longevity in Lexington of Izzo or Coach K, his current NCAA Tournament run compares favorably to most of the best moments for some of the brightest minds in the game of basketball.
Of course, the final chapter of the 2018 Wildcats has yet to be written, and with each victory, Calipari’s 2010-2018 run gets a little more impressive, and is etched a little deeper into college hoops history.