Commentary

Kentucky defense surprisingly average

John Calipari-led squads usually thrive on D, but offense is king with these Wildcats

Updated: February 22, 2011, 3:19 PM ET
By John Gasaway | Special to ESPN Insider
John CalipariGrant Halverson/Getty ImagesFor the first time in recent memory, a John Calipari-led squad has the focus drawn off of defense.

One of the most resilient clichés heard in college basketball is that no one plays defense anymore. Why this cliché endures so stubbornly is a mystery because John Calipari has proven time and again that defense is alive and well. Whether at Memphis or Kentucky, Calipari has presided over some of Division I's most dominant defensive teams. In fact, the coach's accomplishment is all the more impressive given that he's compiled this record while recruiting at the highest level (McDonald's All-Americans aren't supposed to be interested in defense) and while experiencing high roster turnover on a near-yearly basis (team defense is supposed to be something that veterans achieve over time).

That ability was on full display last year in Calipari's first season at Rupp Arena. The Wildcats featured three one-and-done freshmen in their starting five (John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe) and yet somehow played the kind of defense that isn't supposed to be possible anymore. Wall was without a doubt one of the most exciting players to hit the college game in recent years, but as good as Kentucky was (an NCAA tournament No. 1 seed that reached the Elite Eight) it didn't even have the best offense in SEC play. That distinction belonged to Vanderbilt. The most notable feature of the Cats last year was their defense, one that was far and away the best in the conference. For Calipari, that was nothing new. Every season since 2006-07, his team has had the best defense in its league by a wide margin.

But that streak has come to an end in 2011, as the best defense in the SEC is now clearly found at Alabama.