You may say that John Calipari is a schemer, but he’s not the only one. Or rather, this current Wildcat team isn’t the only one on Coach Cal’s mind. In fact, it hardly ever is. Having embraced the one-and-done player more than any other coach, Calipari’s by-the-seat-of-his-pants recruiting method recalls a radio DJ’s live programming of a music show, always listening to upcoming songs in cue while barely conscious of the broadcast as it plays out over the air in realtime. Calipari always has at least one eye on the future because he has to restock his starters every year. He is concerned with his current team’s performance insofar as it helps him bring in future recruiting classes.
In general, the best way to do this is by winning. When you don’t win, though, and perception is as important to you as it is to Kentucky, you need to mitigate your damages. Plenty of teams whose seasons didn’t work out quite as they’d hoped would be glad to be a number one seed in the NIT. For these Wildcats, though, a top seed and an NIT championship would sit on their heads like a crown of thorns, a mockery of discounted prestige. Sure, people would be distracted once the NCAA tournament begins in earnest today, but there are plenty who take pleasure in lampooning teams like Kentucky (or Kentucky in particular), and each additional NIT game played would be something of an embarrassment for the current players, sure, but really for a coach whose sights are set a year or two in the future. Better to stop the bleeding right away, take yourself out of whatever sort of light it is that shines on the NIT stage, and regroup for next year. The coach already has.