SEC coaches say it's too late for a 'tweak' of substance

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 12, 2014 

John Calipari "knew what he was getting into with this type of recruiting style. But they're just not fun to watch," Fran Fraschilla said.

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ATLANTA — For all the secrecy surrounding this week's intentional leak about a "tweak" dramatically altering this Kentucky team's basketball destiny, John Calipari revealed his team's real key indicator this post-season. It's not necessarily a secret strategy that he hopes thwarts opponents or some other sleight-of-hand trickery.

Nor is it likely a basketball version of a Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus epiphany.

An all-too-familiar question hangs over Kentucky entering the Southeastern Conference Tournament this week and the NCAA Tournament next week: How will the Cats react when bad things happen to the good guys?

That's been an issue since heads hung and body language got questioned when Michigan State pounced on the Kiddie Cats four months ago. It remains evermore.

Last weekend afforded Kentucky a first-hand look at how a team should react. Florida wobbled when the Cats went on a 15-0 second-half run (the Gators are human). But then Florida got about completing an 18-0 SEC regular season.

"Just went like that," Calipari said as he closed a hand into a fist. "They made play after play.

"They're a veteran team. They understand it. We're still learning what we want to get to. That will tell the tale of what this thing is about."

Perhaps to keep media entertained (and UK's disgruntled fans distracted?), Kentucky spoke hopefully of a tweak that will make a big difference. Don't ask for details.

"I can't tell you," Julius Randle said. "You'll have to wait till Friday."

Kentucky opens SEC Tournament play against either LSU or Alabama on Friday.

"But," Randle added, "we're really excited about it."

The Cats did say the tweak got a test run in practices, which suggested it might have something to do with a more aggressive and physical style of play. Calipari apologized to the players for taking the NCAA at its word that games would be called more tightly in hopes of reducing physical play.

UK players welcomed the invitation to throw their weight around.

"We kind of had that feeling, almost like that swagger was coming back to us," Willie Cauley-Stein said.

SEC coaches on Wednesday voiced reservations about any team making changes beyond game-planning for a particular opponent this late in a season.

"We tweak what we have (in place)," Missouri Coach Frank Haith said. "There's some wrinkles we may put in things that we already do."

For instance, he said the Tigers worked on changing an inbounds play because they struggled in that area against Texas A&M in the regular season.

LSU Coach Johnny Jones said that consistency — a hallmark of the Florida team — is the goal of all teams.

"Teams that are the most consistent are the teams that have the (best) chance to win at a high level," he said. "You can tweak some things, but you don't want to do a whole lot of changing."

The comfort that comes from a familiar routine helps players play their best, Jones said.

"Your kids have to be really comfortable in what they're doing," he said. "And the more consistent you are in what you're doing, you give them the best opportunity to be successful."

Calipari acknowledged that it's especially late in the season to be incorporating significant changes. But change, even belatedly, can be good. "It's something that changed how they thought," Calipari said about the tweak.

As a result, Kentucky's practice on Monday had a "different feel."

From whence that feeling comes and to wherever it goes, teams embrace it tightly. Mississippi Coach Andy Kennedy felt that feeling in last year's SEC Tournament.

"I'd like to be able to tell you I discovered this secret formula that led us to winning the tournament for the first time in a million years (actually 1981)," he said. "I was proud of the guys. And it's what we're trying to beat into the head of this team (this year)."

It's not statistical analysis or tweaks.

"It was really a persistence," he said. "A toughness. An approach of we're going to find a way to win regardless of how we play."

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

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