Kentucky has promoted its so-called platoon system for substitutions since an August trip to the Bahamas. After Tuesday's return-to-normalcy rout of Missouri, Coach John Calipari credited platoons for restoring UK's defensive intensity.
Yet, Calipari said Thursday he was puzzled about the attention given Kentucky's platoons.
"I don't know why people are caught up in exactly what a platoon is," he said at a news conference.
This came in response to a question about what exactly a platoon is.
Initially, Calipari touted the novelty of five-man substitutions. Such a five-replacing-five system would enable UK to provide playing time for 10 players (nine McDonald's All-Americans, plus Willie Cauley-Stein). Keeping players on the court for fewer minutes would foster more effort. Two five-man units would make for better competition in practice.
From the beginning, however, Calipari reserved the right to break from five-man substitutions. "It's not communism" became one of his favorite catchphrases.
ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla was among the many observers who predicted that the much ballyhooed platoons would fade away when games became competitive.
"You just can't say, OK, at the four-minute mark, we're just going to put five more guys in," said Fraschilla, a longtime Calipari buddy. "It's not hockey."
That's exactly what happened in recent games. The more competitive the games, the less likely there were mass substitions. For instance:
■ Of 38 substitutions for Kentucky in the taut game at Louisville, 30 involved one player entering and one exiting.
■ Of 41 substitutions for Kentucky in the overtime victory against Ole Miss, 29 involved one player in and out.
■ Of 31 substitutions for Kentucky in the double-overtime victory at Texas A&M, 29 involved one or two players entering or exiting.
■ Of the 20 substitutions for Kentucky in the rout of Missouri, six involved five players replacing five players. Once, four UK players entered.
Yet Calipari has insisted that he was using platoons even when he substituted one or two players rather than five.
The most striking example came in the 58-38 victory over Providence. The Friars took pride in making Kentucky abandon its platoon system for substitutions. "One of our goals going into the game was to disrupt their system, and we did," 7-foot center, Carson Desrosiers, said. "They were subbing one or two guys at a time trying to find a thing that would work. That was a little positive takeaway from the game."
Calipari balked at such an interpretation. Never mind the fewer players you saw at the scorer's table, Kentucky used the platoon system.
Most memorably, Calipari proclaimed after the rout of Kansas that Kentucky did not have substitutions. Kentucky had "re-inforcements."
But on Thursday, Calipari more or less confirmed that the tougher the competition, the less likely Kentucky will use five-man platoons.
"I'm coaching the game," he said.
Calipari acknowledged that he uses substitutions to reward and punish just as non-platoon coaches do.
A one-hand rebound by Marcus Lee? "He's out," Calipari said. "He loses those minutes."
"A guy jogs the court. He's out."
Karl-Anthony Towns shoots a "step-back three" and "tip-toes" backward. "He's out."
The so-called platoons can also be a reward. If a group holds the opposition to six or fewer points during its turn on the court, the group can stay in the game a bit longer.
"I'm just trying to do what the team needs and what's good for these kids," Calipari said. "... I don't know if you want to call it (a platoon). Whatever you want to call it."
Apparently, Kentucky will not play UTEP to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the famous 1966 national championship game. UTEP, then known as Texas Western, beat Rupp's Runts to win the title and shatter a racial stereotype. Until then, no team with an all-black starting lineup had won the title.
UTEP Coach Tim Floyd told an El Paso television station UK "backed out" after originally committing to play in 2016.
"There were a lot of people up there that didn't want the game to be played," Floyd said. "So I don't want to throw them completely under the bus, but that's OK."
"We'll just stay with a 1-0 record against the Kentucky Wildcats in college basketball."
Calipari seemed to acknowledge that UK did not want to play such a game. He hinted that UTEP wanted a return game in El Paso. That did not make financial sense, he said.
Alex Poythress has returned to UK's campus after undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Calipari said.
Poythress is waiting for swelling to subside before beginning the arduous rehabilitation process.