No. 5: Kentucky Earns Calipari His First National Championship

Andy Lyons

John Calipari's national championship at Kentucky went from an inevitability to an actuality in 2012.

Some marriages between coaches and programs look like they could be trouble for rival teams. Notre Dame hiring Brian Kelly and Florida hiring Urban Meyer right off of BCS seasons at their former schools are good examples. There were still some doubts, as Kelly had never been in such a spotlight and Meyer's offense hadn't been tried in the SEC, but they looked like good fits.

And then, there are some pairings that make stomachs sink all around the country. Nick Saban going to Alabama was one, and John Calipari going to Kentucky was another. When you team up a proven, elite coach with a historic power, championships feel more inevitable than anything.

By the beginning of the 2011-12 season, Calipari had taken all three of his schools to the Final Four. It appeared that he might have his most talented team ever, a premise that the ensuing NBA Draft would validate. UK became the first program to produce the top two picks with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and set a record with six players taken in the two rounds of the draft.

The Wildcats rampaged through the regular season, rarely being tested. Their only loss was by a single point to Indiana, and they'd eventually get their revenge by eliminating the Hoosiers in the Sweet 16 in March. Though they finished the year a clean 16-0 in SEC play, things got interesting in the conference tournament. They beat a mediocre LSU team by just nine after having whipped it by 24 in Baton Rouge. They held off a good Florida team by just three after having won their previous two matchups by 20 and 15 points, respectively. The dam finally burst in the tournament title game when a senior laden Vanderbilt won a game that meant worlds more to them than it did to UK.

Was this a sign that UK was cracking under pressure? Hardly. Kentucky won its first four NCAA tournament games by double digits, and it only had one halftime lead of less than 10. Kentucky beat its arch rival and Calipari took out his personal arch rival in the same Final Four game as they beat Louisville and Rick Pitino. Big Blue would run up a huge halftime lead, nearly blow it, and then finally prevail in the championship over Kansas. After coming so close so many times, Calipari finally won his national championship.

At this point, the question is more of how many more Calipari will get rather than whether he'll win another. It doesn't look like he'll get another this year, but it's only a matter of time before he's cutting down more nets.

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