UK basketball notebook: Calipari, Baylor coach not fans of anonymous poll

Herald-Leader Staff WriterDecember 1, 2012 

Baylor Bears head coach Scott Drew talked to his team as Baylor defeated #8 Kentucky 64-55 on Saturday December 1, 2012 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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To be blunt, the Kentucky-Baylor game brought together the two coaches perceived by their colleagues to be the biggest cheaters in college basketball.

When CBSSports.com asked college coaches last summer who was perceived to be the biggest cheater in the sport, UK's John Calipari "won" with 36 percent of the vote. Baylor's Scott Drew was second with 34 percent. Ben Howland of UCLA was a distant third at 12 percent.

Calipari called the whole idea of such a poll "stupid" and questioned why coaches would participate.

"Let's not hurt the profession," Calipari said when asked in August for his reaction. "You've got to be smarter than that. Please tell me.

"When you hurt the profession with stuff you do, you almost want to say, 'Why are you in this? Why would you hurt the profession?'"

Calipari also questioned the methodology used in the poll. He wondered aloud if coaches were given multiple-choice responses, thereby skewing the results by presenting some names but not others.

The UK coach suggested that the CBSSports.com staffers who conducted the poll affected the result by suggesting coaches they didn't like.

"Because I know some names were not (included)," he said. " 'These are my boys. I'm not going to put in those names.' "

All four of the CBSSports.com staffers who conducted the poll denied any favoritism.

"You can quote me on this," said Jeff Goodman, who acknowledged a sometimes strained relationship with Calipari. "He's out of his mind if he thinks that. There was no tilting. There was zero tilting whatsoever."

Another CBSSports.com staffer who helped canvass coaches considers Calipari and Drew among his favorites.

"I like John Calipari," said Gary Parrish, who formerly covered Calipari-coached Memphis for the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. "I spent four years talking to him every day. But the idea I'd somehow want him to top that poll or I would manipulate it in some way, that's just not so."

Parrish said he speaks with Drew as much as he does with any coach.

"I knew I'd have to take a phone call from Scott Drew when the list came out," Parrish said. "And I did. 'Scott, listen, we went out and asked questions and these were the results we were given.' "

Another CBSSports.com staffer, Jeff Borzello, said he and Goodman, Parrish and Matt Norlander, approached more than 100 coaches. Head coaches. Assistants. High-major. Mid-major.

"Some said they weren't going to do it," Borzello said. "Most said, sure."

Goodman said he approached Calipari, who did not participate. Louisville Coach Rick Pitino responded to two questions via text. "Nothing to do with Kentucky," Goodman said.

The CBSSports.com staffers prepared about 15 questions, approached coaches in person or via phone during the summer recruiting period, then tallied the results.

One controversial aspect of the poll was its anonymous nature. Coaches were not quoted by name, so they were free to say anything.

The CBSSports.com staffers noted that anonymous polls are common. For instance, Sports Illustrated regularly will canvass players, scouts or general managers in various sports.

"The goal of the whole thing was to try to get coaches to tell us what they really think," Parrish said. "To get away from coach-speak and all the, 'Oh, he's great.'"

The CBSSports.com staffers emphasized the distinction made by asking what coach was perceived as the biggest cheater. "We're not saying this guy's program is being investigated tomorrow," Parrish said.

For what it's worth, Calipari also received the most votes as the coach "bending rules but not breaking the rules." He also received the sixth-most votes in two categories: the most under-rated coach and the coach any program would want to hire.

"Plenty of good stuff about Cal, too," Norlander said of the CBSSports.com poll. "So he got love as much as he didn't."

Drama critic

Clark Kellogg, the lead college basketball analyst for CBS, sounded like a theater critic in a recent conversation. Asked about this 2012-13 season, he said, "I'm always looking for excitement and drama."

So no surprise that Kellogg lamented the absence of a Kentucky-Indiana game, which had customarily been played on an early-December weekend. In many seasons, CBS began its college basketball coverage with UK-IU.

No one summed up the fruitless negotiations to continue the series better than Kellogg, who said UK and IU officials "looked like Congress."

Ouch.

Kellogg described games like UK-IU as a win for everyone.

"That's always enjoyable not only for players, but coaches and fans," he said.

With the current dollar chase known as conference realignment under way, the idea of enjoyment seems quaint.

Of course, so-called "guarantee" games have their place. With no concern about winning such games, a team like Kentucky can work on specific areas and/or test its players' attention to detail, Kellogg said.

Neutral-site games seem all the rage. For a while, it seemed every other televised game originated from the Barclays Center. UK Coach John Calipari has voiced his preference for neutral-site games.

But Kellogg has limited enthusiasm for such games.

"I'm in favor of home-and-home (formats), no question," he said.

Kentucky-Baylor represents a variation of a home-and-home deal. UK played host to Baylor on Saturday.

The return game will be played in Cowboys Stadium in Dallas on Dec. 13, 2013. Not that Baylor Coach Scott Drew was complaining. The rematch might set a record for attendance, plus it's the site of the 2014 Final Four.

"That's something that's hard to top," Drew said.

In addition to heavyweight matchups like Kentucky-North Carolina or UK-IU, Kellogg spoke of the charm of high-level teams playing at mid-major sites. For instance, Kentucky at VCU or Duke at Davidson, he said.

Such games would make for a memorable experience for players and fans, plus give the mid-major program an unforgettable memory, he said. "It would add a lot of excitement."

Strength of schedule

Only a glutton for competitive basketball would complain about the strength of Kentucky's schedule so far this season. Games with Maryland, Duke, Notre Dame and Baylor tested the Cats.

With more than one attention-grabbing assist from Coach Sean Woods, Morehead State made for a memorable opponent.

UK Coach John Calipari suggested that maybe only Duke had played as tough an early-season schedule.

"Probably not fair to these young guys," he said of his freshman-dependent team. "But I'd rather they learn right now and get a clear picture. You don't get that clear picture against bad teams."

Toughest schedule? According to college basketball analyst Jerry Palm, that's a mild exaggeration. Going into this weekend, Palm rated UK's schedule as the 20th-toughest in the country.

The five toughest early-season schedules belonged to: 5. Michigan, 4. Washington, 3. Butler, 2. Duke and — surprise — 1. Mississippi Valley State.

As always, the Delta Devils define tough schedule. They began this season with road games at Mississippi, Cincinnati, Northwestern and LSU. The team doesn't play a home game until Jan. 6.

Weakness of schedule

Baylor represented — by far — Kentucky's most formidable home opponent during the non-conference portion of the schedule.

According to analyst Jerry Palm's number-crunching at mid-week, Baylor had a Ratings Percentage Index of No. 64. No other Kentucky non-conference home opponent had an RPI in the top 100.

In order, the opponents were No. 103 Lipscomb, No. 111 Eastern Michigan, No. 186 Morehead State, No. 240 Portland, No. 312 Marshall, No. 317 LIU Brooklyn, No. 315 Lafayette and No. 345 Samford.

Judging by the final RPI of last season, here are UK's nine non-conference home opponents from toughest to weakest:

No. 8 Baylor, No. 53 Marshall, No. 82 LIU Brooklyn, No. 168 Morehead State, No. 197 Lafayette, No. 215 Lipscomb, No. 238 Portland, No. 244 Eastern Michigan and No. 267 Samford.

'Contagious' MKG

In speaking with Herald-Leader sportswriter Ben Roberts last week, Montverde (Fla.) Coach Kevin Boyle recalled the joy of formerly working with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at St. Patrick's High in New Jersey.

"We watch all of his games, obviously," said Boyle, who now coaches heralded prospect Dakari Johnson. "He was just texting me two nights ago. He's doing great. We're happy for him. He was one of my two or three all-time favorite players. Just because of his work ethic and he's just a great kid."

No coincidence that MKG plays for successful teams, Boyle said. That will be tested, at least this season, with MKG playing for the Charlotte Bobcats.

"Where he goes, they win," Boyle said. "I know he's not their best player, but he's contagious. His attitude is contagious."

'It's the law'

Growing up in Ontario, Canada, Baylor guard Brady Heslip played hockey (right wing).

"For one year ... ," he said. "Every Canadian has to have a taste (of hockey). It's the law."

Made for TV

Some UK fans complained via the Internet about ESPN's telecast of Thursday's game at Notre Dame. The telecast strayed too far and too often from the action, they said.

The basketball game took a backseat to an extended courtside conversation with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, a Heisman Trophy candidate and leader of the No. 1-ranked football team. ESPN also minimized the game while speaking with analyst Digger Phelps, the former Notre Dame coach.

ESPN spokesman Michael Humes explained how game action is not always paramount.

"Part of the Notre Dame story is their place in the BCS title game and having a Heisman candidate in attendance," he wrote in an email. "Part of televising games is sharing the enthusiasm and passion at each campus — which we do when we go to Rupp or other buildings."

Philosophical

John Morris, the radio play-by-play voice for Baylor football and basketball, grew up in Danville and considered Boyle County play-by-play man Steve Bertram a role model.

Much to his regret, Morris could not call Baylor's game at UK on Saturday. He stayed in Waco to call Baylor's Senior Day football game against visiting Oklahoma State.

Morris took a philosophical view of his disappointment. "Sometimes the schedule works out great," he said. "Sometimes it doesn't."

As an example of convenient scheduling, Morris noted last Dec. 10. Because there was no Baylor basketball game to call, he could go to New York to witness Robert Griffin III receive the Heisman Trophy.

Happy birthday

To Hall of Famer Joe B. Hall. The former UK coach turned 84 on Friday. ... To Brooks Downing. The former UK sports information director turned 49 on Friday. ... To Brandon Knight. The former UK guard turns 21 today.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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