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Big Bracket Nation: The Final

It’s Anthony Davis vs. DeMarcus Cousins in the grand finale of the single-elimination tournament to determine John Calipari’s most outstanding player

John Calipari’s most outstanding player Getty Images/Ringer illustration

John Calipari hasn’t held an official position in the NBA since the turn of the century, but his fingerprints are all over the league as we know it. Coach Cal has only one NCAA title to his name, but in just nine seasons in Lexington, he’s turned the University of Kentucky into an assembly line for professional players—both in the NBA and in leagues across the globe. This week, we’re exploring Kentucky’s and Calipari’s impact on the basketball world, and whether or not his one-and-done blueprint has staying power at both the college and pro levels. Welcome to the Kentucky Basketball Association.


BOOGIE WILL NOT GO SILENTLY INTO THE NIGHT.

An Achilles tear may have cut down DeMarcus Cousins in perhaps the best season of his basketball career, but he lives in the Big Bracket Nation!

Cousins eked by fellow 1-seed Karl-Anthony Towns by 400 votes, ultimately winning the Final Four showdown with 53 percent of the vote (including tallies from Twitter). And, frankly, we’re a bit surprised. Not that long ago, Towns > Anthony Davis was a reasonable answer to the eternal “Who would you start your team with today?” question. While Davis’s brilliance was diminished by constant injury concerns, an offensive game that had yet to stretch out to the 3-point arc, and questionable effort on defense, Towns checked all three boxes—or, in the case of the latter, projected to. But the defensive impact has yet to come, and while Towns still rates as one of the best offensive big men in the league, the shine has come off a bit after he all but ceded the floor to Jimmy Butler. Towns made his first All-Star Game this season, and while that’s certainly an accomplishment, especially in the talent-rich Western Conference, it affirms what we expected of him, not what we hoped he would be.

Cousins, meanwhile, was undergoing a career renaissance until he was felled in late January. Sure, the defense and effort were still major concerns; I even made the case that he shouldn’t have made the All-Star team because of both. But watching him operate on offense can be exhilarating. That unique blend of touch, skill, and shooting (all crammed into the body of a mid-sized SUV) was unlocked playing next to Davis, the first worthy running mate of his career, and in an Alvin Gentry offense that gave him the freedom to be as good as he wanted to be. Cousins’s scoring production was down, but his scoring efficiency had never been, and maybe never will be, better.

Maybe this turnout is a sign of our collective disappointment in Towns. Maybe it’s a consolation to Boogie, who will likely have to watch his first playoff series from the sidelines. Or maybe all this means is that Cousins is more likeable (we probably have enough data at this point to label Towns a “tough hang”).

Whatever it may be, Cousins is moving on, setting up a fitting final matchup between two Pelicans teammates: Cousins, perhaps the most memorable personality in Calipari’s stable, versus Davis, perhaps his most talented player.

One last time, here are the voting rules: We want you to include the quality and the quantity of a player’s contributions at both levels into your evaluations, but we’re skewing more toward the consideration process for the Basketball Hall of Fame: College careers matter, but NBA careers matter more.

The grand finale poll opens—both here and on Twitter (@ringer)—around 9 a.m. ET on Friday, and closes at 8 p.m. ET. You get to vote only once, so make it count.

Poll

Who is Coach Cal’s most outstanding player?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    (1) DeMarcus Cousins
    (432 votes)
  • 88%
    (1) Anthony Davis
    (3396 votes)
3828 votes total Vote Now