John Calipari leads Kentucky into NCAA Tournament play for the first time this week, but the 51-year-old coach is a battle-tested veteran on the road to the Final Four.
Calipari has yet to win an NCAA championship, but his teams have been to the Final Four, have been victimized by early-round upsets and have seen all the hot shooters, scrappy defenses, ups, downs and drama the Big Dance traditionally delivers.
Here is a closer look at how Calipari has fared year-by-year in the post-season as a college head coach:
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Calipari's first season at Massachusetts was the only one in his 18 seasons as a college head coach in which he failed to reach a post-season tournament.
Coach Cal's first trip to the post-season ended in a 91-81 loss at Maryland in the first round of the NIT.
The Minutemen squeaked past LaSalle 93-90 in their NIT opener at home, then went on the road to defeat Fordham 78-74 and Siena 82-80 to advance to the NIT semifinals in New York. UMass fell to Stanford 73-71, then lost to Colorado 98-91 in the third-place game.
Calipari entered the Big Dance for the first time as a No. 3 seed in the East Regional, and UMass played its first two games in the friendly confines of Worcester, Mass., beating Fordham 85-58 and Syracuse 77-71 in overtime. The end of the road came in the Sweet 16 in Philadelphia, where Rick Pitino's second-seeded Unforgettables, led by 30 points from Jamal Mashburn, stopped the Minutemen 87-77.
Again a No. 3 seed in the East, UMass narrowly escaped a first-round upset in beating Pennsylvania 54-50 but fell to No. 6 seed Virginia 71-56 in the second round. The Minutemen could not overcome a first half in which they shot 8-for-30 and fell behind 36-19.
For the second year in a row, Calipari's team was tripped up by a lower seed in the second round. The No. 2 seed in the Midwest, UMass beat Southwest Texas State 78-60, then lost to Joe Smith and Maryland 95-87 despite 32 points from Marcus Camby. "It was obvious they wanted the game more than we did," Calipari said afterward.
The No. 2 seed in the East, UMass looked unstoppable in blasting St. Peter's 68-51, Stanford 75-53 and Tulsa 76-51 before losing to Eddie Sutton's No. 4-seeded Oklahoma State team 68-54 in the Elite Eight. "There were no clean shots without body contact," Calipari explained afterward. "That's the way they play, and they did a good job of it. They beat us to every loose ball and rebound. That's how we win games. Take that away from us, and we don't get enough baskets."
Calipari reached the NCAA Final Four for the first time. Seeded No. 1 in the East, UMass rolled through Central Florida 92-70, Stanford 79-74, Arkansas 79-63 and finally No. 2 Georgetown 86-62 to set up a showdown against eventual national champion Kentucky in East Rutherford, N.J. UMass entered the game knowing it had beaten Kentucky previously that season, but the Cats had greater resolve when it mattered most, winning 81-74 behind 20 points from Tony Delk. "I thought they might panic (late in a close game),'' Calipari said of UK. "And they did a little bit. But not enough to affect the game.''
Upon his return to the college game after a stint with the NBA's New Jersey Nets, Calipari led Memphis to the NIT semifinals, beating Utah 71-62, UTEP 90-65 and New Mexico 80-63 before falling to Tulsa 72-64 in New York. Memphis beat Detroit 86-71 in the third-place game.
Calipari continued his rebuilding job at Memphis by leading the Tigers to the NIT championship. Memphis defeated UNC-Greensboro 82-62, BYU 80-69, Tennessee Tech 79-73, Temple 78-77 and South Carolina 72-62.
Calipari returned to the NCAA Tournament with the Tigers seeded 7th in the West. Memphis bowed out quickly, 84-71 to Arizona State in the first round.
Calipari again ran into Eddie Sutton and, again, Oklahoma State beat up his team. As the No. 7 seed in the East, Memphis knocked out South Carolina 59-43 before falling to the Cowboys 70-53. "They manhandled us physically," Calipari said. "Instead of coming together, we all said, 'I'll just do it myself.' "
The Tigers took a step back into the NIT but reached the semifinals in New York again. Memphis blew past Northeastern 90-65, Virginia Tech 83-62 and Vanderbilt 81-68 before falling to St. Joseph's 70-58.2005-06
Calipari hit his post-season stride, scoring the first of four consecutive deep NCAA runs and 30-plus win seasons. As the No. 1 seed in the Oakland Regional, Memphis cruised past Oral Roberts 94-78, Bucknell 72-56 and Bradley 80-64, but the Tigers went cold in a 50-45 Elite Eight loss to gritty NCAA finalist UCLA. "They had visions of winning this whole thing," Calipari said of his team. "It's not one guy. We played bad, I coached bad, it's everybody."
The Tigers again roared to the Elite Eight, this time as the No. 2 seed in the San Antonio Regional. Memphis beat North Texas 73-58, Nevada 78-62 and Billy Gillispie's Texas A&M 65-64 before having its 25-game winning streak stopped by Greg Oden and Ohio State, 92-76.
The No. 1 seed in the Houston Regional, Calipari's Derrick Rose-led team clawed its way to the NCAA title game by beating Texas-Arlington 87-63, Mississippi State 77-74, Michigan State 92-74 and Texas 85-67. In the finals, Kansas overcame a nine-point deficit in the final 2:12 to force overtime, then pulled away to win the championship 75-68. "You have the kind of lead we had, you're supposed to win the game," Calipari said.
Calipari's final NCAA run at Memphis began with a No. 2 seeding in the West. The Tigers stopped California-Northridge 81-70 and Maryland 89-70 before falling to Missouri 102-91 in the Sweet 16. The loss ended Memphis' 27-game winning streak. Five days later, Calipari became coach at Kentucky.