Teased by John Calipari, the explanation for the transformation of Kentucky from decent to dynamic is to be revealed after the Final Four is complete.
Tweaking strategy was his hint after the Wildcats beat previously unbeaten and No. 1 seed Wichita State and defending national champion Louisville, prior to taking down No. 2 seed Michigan.
“When you hear what I did, you’ll say: ‘Makes perfect sense,’” Calipari said. “And then you’re going to ask: ‘Why didn’t you do it earlier?’ And I’m going to tell you: ‘I don’t know. I should have.’”
Being vague like that leads to open-ended speculation.
Was it as simple as explaining to each of his five freshmen starters that they didn’t have to be the star, that their teammates are also talented?
How about Calipari saying: “Guys, think of the NCAA tournament as a six-game opportunity to boost your NBA draft stock and put money in your pocket.” Too crass?
My theory begins with Calipari knowing his Wildcats needed 3-point shooting in the NCAA to complement the inside play of Julius Randle and the others.
From there, the details are fabricated.
In this imagined scenario, a player informs Calipari that the Wildcats can’t tell the Harrison twin who is the shooter (Aaron) from the twin who is the passer (Andrew) so nobody is sure who to feed for a shot.
Calipari clears the air by asking the point value of a dunk.
“Two,” comes the chorus.
Ok, No. 2 is the scorer, Calipari explained.
The Kentucky team that is two victories from its second national championship in three years is not the same team that lost twice to Arkansas and one reason is improved outside shooting. One of the worst shooting teams in the country from long range during much of the season, Kentucky made a total eight 3s in the two games against the Razorbacks. The Wildcats made seven against Michigan and eight against Wichita State.
No. 2 is at the heart of the improvement.
Beginning Feb. 1, Aaron was 13-of-44 from outside in 11 games. In the last seven, he is 22-of-38 and has scored at least 12 points in each game.
With Florida and Kentucky in the Final Four, conflicted Razorbacks fans can find a middle ground between steadfast loyalty to the SEC and a dislike for Calipari’s way of doing things by rooting for an All-SEC championships and then coming down on the side of the Gators on Monday.
Even if it is Florida vs. Kentucky for the fourth time this season, I’m not certain that the NCAA Selection Committee will take note and reward the SEC with an extra bid or two to the 2015 tournament. After all, Florida is the No. 1 seed in the tournament and Kentucky was No. 1 in the preseason poll.
Golf on Saturday will be finished and debts paid long before the 5:09 p.m. start for the first semifinal game and the plan is to watch an entire contest for the first time during the tournament.
If the first 60-something games are any indication, one team will lose a double-digit lead and the outcome will be decided in the final minute. Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, and Kentucky’s Harrrison are most likely to take the last shot.
Beyond the names will be the telling numbers.
In the Elite Eight games, six of the winners were much better from beyond the arc. Wisconsin’s 6-of-16 vs. Baylor’s 2-of-15, and Michigan’s 11-of-20 vs. Tennessee’s 3-of-11 were among the extreme examples.
In the other two games, Louisville missed 10-of-23 free throws in a one-point loss and Virginia shot 35.7 percent from the field, 10 points below the season average.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was astounded that his team lost despite holding UConn below 35 percent from the field. That outcome is explained by the Huskies making 21-of-22 free throws and the Spartans committing twice as many turnovers as the winner.
The game is not complicated.