The biggest storyline of Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament opening matchup with Providence is former Wildcat turned Big East All-First Team selection Bryce Hopkins facing his former team. But the game also will feature a battle between two former Naismith College Coach of the Year honorees.
John Calipari, who won the award three times, will lead Kentucky into battle, while Ed Cooley who won the award last season, brings his hometown Friars back to March Madness.
“Ed and I have known each other,” Calipari said Sunday. “He was an assistant as I was moving through the ranks at UMass. I’ve known Ed. Coach of the Year a year ago. He is a great communicator and motivator. He’s terrific.”
Friday’s matchup between Calipari and Cooley isn’t their first. The two have faced off three times, including two matchups between Kentucky and Providence, with Calipari owning a 3-0 record.
The first matchup between the two coaches came on opening day of the 2008-09 season, with Calipari leading the Memphis Tigers and Cooley the head coach at Fairfield. Calipari’s Tigers were fresh off a trip to the national championship game.
On Dec. 1, 2013, Calipari and Cooley matched up for the first time at each other’s current stops as Kentucky earned a 79-65 win over Providence in a neutral site contest at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The two teams would meet again the following season at Rupp Arena with both teams entering with 6-0 records. Like a year earlier, Kentucky took a slim lead into halftime but, in the second half, pulled away as the Cats outscored the Friars 32-16 to close out a 58-38 win.
Both Calipari and Cooley will lead teams limping into the tournament as Providence has lost three straight games while UK has lost 2 of 3, both of which coming to a Vanderbilt team that did not make the NCAA Tournament field.