Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky basketball: Master of the mind games, John Calipari is 'tweaking' again

We defer to John Lennon:

“We’re playing those mind games together/Pushing the barriers planting seeds/Playing the mind guerrilla/Chanting the mantra: peace on earth.”

John Calipari is playing those mind games again. He’s back to tweaking. That’s what the Kentucky basketball coach said Monday at his media opportunity to preview Tuesday’s game at Florida. When he mentioned the word “tweak,” the assembled media couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Scary word,” Calipari admitted with a smile.

The coach is hoping for a repeat performance, of course. Everyone remembers Calipari announcing a mysterious “tweak” before the disappointing 2013-14 team entered the SEC Tournament. The change -- telling the guards to pass first/shoot second, we later learned -- helped the Cats catch fire and reach the finals of the NCAA Tournament before Connecticut brought an end to that progressive party.

Just as back then, Calipari would not go into specifics Monday. He said “basketball Bennies” would figure it out. He said the media, knowing nothing about basketball, wouldn’t figure it out. He did say the “tweak” had to do with instilling confidence and giving his team “the space to play.”

The guess here is, same as in 2013-14, the tweak has less to do with strategy and more to do with mentality. Cal is playing a mind game and no one plays that game better. The wrinkle doesn’t matter. What matters is that his players, especially his frontcourt players, think the wrinkle allows them to cut the cord with the past and move on to something new.

After all, it’s obvious that Cal’s frontcourt suffers from a lack of confidence. A foul call, a missed shot, a missed rebound, and timidity takes over. Calipari mentioned Alex Poythress’s play Saturday as an example. The senior forward was on the wrong end of a couple of “ridiculous” calls, according to Calipari, and the senior “caved in.” He finished with no points, one rebound and five fouls.

Now, the clock is ticking. Tuesday night’s game at Florida and Saturday’s home game against LSU complete the regular season. The SEC Tournament is next week. Selection Sunday is a week from this Sunday. March is here.

Time to tweak your mind right.

SEC men’s basketball standings

Team

W

L

W

L

Kentucky

11

5

21

8

Texas A&M

11

5

22

7

South Carolina

10

6

23

6

Vanderbilt

10

6

18

11

LSU

10

6

17

12

Ole Miss

8

8

18

11

Alabama

8

8

17

11

Florida

8

8

17

12

Georgia

8

8

15

12

Arkansas

8

8

15

14

Miss State

6

10

13

15

Tennessee

6

10

13

16

Auburn

5

11

11

17

Missouri

3

13

10

19

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