John Calipari was the brand in Kentucky, KSR tacitly credits

Big Blue Nation has turned its collective ire on the Arkansas faithful since coach John Calipari left to coach the Razorbacks. Their reactions may seem mocking, boastful, or even delusional, but at the root of it all is anger. Right now, BBN is the personification of crying behind a mask meme.

But who can blame them? They lost a Hall of Fame coach to a conference rival and replaced him with Mark Pope. Imagine if Kentucky, instead of firing Billy Gillispie and hiring John Calipari, hired John Pelphrey. Compare BBN’s theoretical response with recent weeks. Can you honestly say it would look very different?

Look, anyone with eyes can see that Pope is a better coach than Pelphrey, but the point is that the Wildcats are relegated.

Even the Kentucky media is in full-fledged cop mode. In an interview with Kentucky Sports Radio, five-star prospect Cameron Boozer spoke about Calipari’s recruiting pitch. Coach Calipari told him that “it’s (still) Cal University, just moving” when he recruited Boozer to Arkansas. KSR’s Jack Pilgrim then wrote a story and turned it into a joke against the Arkansas brand.

Most likely, the article would be a “gotcha” moment from KSR. Even the X (Twitter) post that broke the story took a shot at Arkansas. KSR’s post read: “John Calipari left Kentucky for Arkansas, but he’s not selling Razorbacks brand recruits at his new spot.” What they don’t understand is that they are tacitly admitting that John Calipari also endorsed Kentucky’s brand.

The humor is only heightened a few weeks ago by KSR host Matt Jones’s X-post. He complains that people from Arkansas are blowing up his report, but his company continues to talk about Arkansas weeks later.

They are like Sisyphus and are bolder, who must push the story no matter how many times it comes back to them, for fear of facing the wrath of reality.

Sure, Cal sells itself more than Arkansas, and that’s okay. No rational Arkansas fan says the Razorback brand is big enough to sign one five-star prospect after another like Kentucky did. Arkansas isn’t there yet. Although it was big enough to take Kentucky’s coach.

That begs the question: why isn’t the opportunity to hire an elite coach emphasized more when it comes to brands? If Eric Musselman hadn’t raised Arkansas’s, Cal most likely wouldn’t have come to Arkansas.

Do you think he would have given up a $30+ million buyout to go to a school like Oral Roberts or Colgate if they had magically come up with the money to match his salary? No. He went to a program with the infrastructure, money and national presence big enough to work with his brand.

Arkansas doesn’t have to be the biggest basketball brand, and it isn’t. But together with John Calipari they make a great team. On the other hand, Kentucky and Pope are struggling to keep up. You don’t need to look further than their recruitment courses.

Arkansas ranks above Kentucky in the 247 Sports Transfer, high school and overall rankings with two fewer commitments. 247 Sports uses a points system that weighs ratings and the number of committed players. However, if you just take the average player ratings, they still outrank the Wildcats in every metric.

On3 Sports’ transfer recruiting rankings have Kentucky much higher than the Razorbacks. Arkansas barely makes the top 50. However, On3’s ranking compares what a team lost and what it gained. The Razorbacks lost every scholarship player after Musselman left, so of course they’re ranked lower. Calipari only signed 6 plays. However, Arkansas is still the best of the Cats based on average player rating, with a score of 94.00 to Kentucky’s 86.51.

BBN’s main criticism of Coach Calipari was his tendency to rely on talented freshmen, which Arkansas will have. However, he has already signed three of the highest-ranked players in the portal, including the No. 2 player overall, Johnell Davis.

Coach Cal outranks Pope by almost every available metric, suggesting Calipari was the bigger brand in Kentucky. If not, Pilgrim would have to admit that the Arkansas brand is better than Kentucky’s. He can’t have his cake and eat it too.

Arkansas has beaten Kentucky at everything for almost a month, but that doesn’t mean the Cats are garbage. Mark Pope is a good coach. And over time, he can develop into the coach a program like Kentucky deserves. Their recruiting class still ranks in the top 10 in the country, and BBN remains a top fan base in college basketball. Unfortunately for Kentucky and all the other blue bloods, however, NIL has evened the scales. Programs with major donors can now recruit with the best of them. The days of UNC, Kansas, Kentucky, etc., dominating college basketball are over.

In Kentucky in particular, leadership issues could hold the program back for a while. Clearly, there was tension between Calipari and Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart.

During his first press conference in Arkansas, Cal was asked why he chose Arkansas. His answer revolved around Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek. In his statement, he said, “I’ll say it again: basketball coaches win games. Administrations win championships. And do you know why? Because they want it and it is important to them.”

Barnhart has been lucky with the last few big hires. Calipari and head football coach Mark Stoops were at least his second choice. He missed Billy Donovan in 2009 and ended up with a championship-winning coach. In 2012, Barnhart reportedly had Kirby Smart and Bobby Petrino close to the top. However, he chose Stoops, who brought Kentucky football out of the cellar.

Barnhart once again settled for his third option when Dan Hurley and Scott Drew were not interested. Can he get lucky with Pope again? Time will tell.

Blue Blood: Membership of a noble or socially prominent family.

In other words, college basketball’s blue bloods are of royal descent, including Kentucky. But like the royal family of the country across the Atlantic, the “blue blood” moniker has lost its power. It’s purely ceremonial. While it’s great for generating social media engagement and views on ESPN, it will no longer strike fear into college basketball teams like it once did.

NIL is the real king. And teams like Arkansas that have untapped NIL potential will thrive. Brands are just the sprinkles on top. The sooner fanbases like BBN realize it, the less painful it will be to accept.

Next one. National media is still clueless about Arkansas basketball. National media is still clueless about the Arkansas basketball program and its fan base. dark