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Jay Wright explains why John Calipari’s teams keep losing in NCAA Tournament

Jay Wright in a suit

Mar 8, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Villanova Wildcats head coach Jay Wright reacts during the first half against the Marquette Golden Eagles in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky’s lack of success in the NCAA Tournament in recent years has become a major storyline, particularly after Thursday’s shocking loss to 14-seed Oakland. Former Villanova coach Jay Wright, however, thinks there is a straightforward explanation for coach John Calipari’s mounting struggles.

Wright, now doing analysis for CBS, said Calipari can no longer rely on standout freshmen to achieve success in March. The former Villanova coach noted that in spite of the talent disparity, Oakland’s players were older and more physically and mentally mature than Kentucky’s, a problem that will only get worse if players start staying in school longer due to NIL. For example, Oakland star Jack Gohlke is 24 years old. That may give him a big advantage against a 19-year-old.

“The era of taking these young freshmen and trying to play against older players is over,” Wright said after Kentucky’s 80-76 loss. “I think he did a phenomenal job with these guys all year. You can see, they’re playing against grown men. The guys on Kentucky will be far better pros than any of these guys on Oakland or any of these guys in the tournament. But they’re not as good college basketball players. At this point in their careers, they’re not as disciplined yet as the guys for Oakland.

“It’s not [Calipari’s] fault. It’s they’re 18 years old and they’re in this era where everyone is telling them how great they are. Just show up in college and you’re going to win. It doesn’t happen that way. And the more guys stay in college because of NIL, it’s going to be tougher for young teams like this to be successful.”

Calipari has long pursued a strategy of pursuing top recruits to build massively talented teams, even while knowing that few of his recruits will stay for more than one season. He has always defended this strategy, even as results have gotten worse in the last few years.

If Calipari measures success by sending players to the NBA, he remains elite. Kentucky fans, however, want to see championships. Calipari has only delivered one, and it has now been five years since he guided one of his teams to the second weekend of the tournament. That will never be good enough in Lexington.

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