There’s plenty of reasons to be sceptical about the existence of the “tweak” that John Calipari says turned Kentucky’s season around.
He refuses to say what it is, there’s little statistical evidence that Kentucky has fundamentally changed how they have played in the last three weeks, and Calipari keeps making these too-good-to-be-true statements about his tweak, such as, “I did some more tweaking today. It’s not a re-tweak. But more tweaking for this week.”
The “tweak,” which Calipari announced before the SEC Tournament, is shrouded in mystery.
He says the tweak is obvious to anyone who knows basketball. Yet no one in the basketball world has figured out what it is.
His players refuse to reveal the nature of the tweak. Yet they swear by it.
And this is the real genius of Calipari.
By creating the idea that the entire team had been instantaneously transformed by a single tweak, Calipari planted the assumption that the team could instantaneously transform in his players’ brains. He manufactured a sense of belief, and he did it at the team’s lowest moment.
Two days after his team finished the regular season with an embarrassing 84-65 loss to Florida, Calipari came out and declared he’d just “changed everything” with one strategic, top-secret tweak.
He promised Kentucky would be “a different team” in their next game (the first game of the SEC tournament), and blamed the disappointing season on himself for not implementing the tweak earlier:
“I’m just disappointed in me that I didn’t do it earlier. Why didn’t I catch this and why wasn’t I thinking in those terms?”
On the eve of March Madness, Calipari miraculously found the key to unlocking his team’s full potential, or so he claims.
In one fell swoop he did three things, 1) explained away the entire regular season, 2) absolved the players of responsibility for their shaky play, and 3) gave his team a renewed sense of confidence going into the SEC tournament.
Tangible evidence of the tweak is hard to come by.
There are reports about Kentucky players wearing football pads during uber-physical practices. But that is hardly the type of fundamental tactical shift that Calipari claims he made.
One Kentucky blogger thought he had it pinned down. The tweak was that Calipari told point guard Andrew Harrison to shoot less, he reported after the SEC Tournament. But Harrison is actually shooting more in the tournament (10.4 attempts per game) than he did in the regular season (8.4 attempts per game).
The strategic tweak that changed everything might not exist … yet everything has changed for Kentucky.
The team is 7-1 since the end of the regular season, beating two 2-seeds, a 1-seed, and a criminally underseeded Louisville team in the process.
The simple explanation is that Kentucky has always been an exceptionally talented team that could beat anyone on any day. Their five freshmen, like most first-year players, needed an entire regular season to get a feel for college basketball, and now they’re playing much better than they were a few months ago. Aaron Harrison, in particular, has made 23 of his 45 three-pointers since the end of the regular season, including two incredible game winners.
That’s not a tweak. That’s a confluence of talent, growth, and luck in the NCAA Tournament.
But if the players believe that the tweak changed them (which they very much do), does it really matter?
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