UK's frustrating season finally came to and end today. In all likelihood, they will still get a bid to the NIT, but let's face it...compared to the NCAA, the season is over. And after 17 straight NCAA appearances, that's kind of hard to swallow. I honestly don't know what to think of this team. They obviously had the ability to win big games. They swept Tennessee and beat Auburn, which has surprisingly gotten really hot over the last few weeks. But, that same team, that started SEC play 5-0 mind you, split games with Florida, Vandy, and Georgia. How do you beat a team on their home floor by 20 and then get beat by that same team on your floor on senior night, with your NCAA tourney hopes on the line?? Just one of many questions UK fans have been asking all season. To add insult to injury, they were swept by South Carolina and lost 2 heartbreakers to LSU, the most recent of which came today in the SEC tourney. So the question that is on the minds of all UK fans is, what happens next?
Kentucky basketball is the most storied program in the history of the sport. 7 national championships, 13 Final Fours, 43 SEC regular season titles, 24 SEC Tournament titles, and the most wins out of any other program in NCAA history. We obviously, and rightfully, expect a lot from our teams. We haven't been to a Final Four since we own our last championship in 1998. It's been 11 years. This is the longest Final Four drought this program has had. Our last SEC tournament title came in 2003. (don't quote me on that, or the regular season titles, haha) The two times that come to mind where UK was even close to another Final Four were in 2001 and 2005. Both times, they were thwarted by Michigan State. We've had more 10 loss seasons in the last 11 years than ever before. It's been awhile since we've held on to a Top 25 ranking for more than a week. UK fans are hungry for the success we had gotten so used to in the 1990s. So what's the problem?
Many fans are quick to blame the coach. Tubby faced a lot of criticism in his final years at UK before he finally left for Minnesota, where the pressure is much less of an issue. Billy G is in his 2nd season as head coach, and he has quickly learned that this job comes with a LOT of pressure and expectations. Perhaps we're too hard on our coaches. They obviously want to do well. They want to win, and they want to have their turn at coaching UK to an 8th national title. But the vocal minority of our fans are sometimes beligerant and downright heartless when critiquing our coaches. Even when our team is winning and the coach is doing a good job, people are pointing fingers at him, blaming him for all of our problems.
Many fans blame the administration. Say what you want, but Mitch Barnhart has a done a lot for UK athletics. Our football team is no longer the joke of the SEC- they've won 3 straight bowl games. The baseball and tennis teams do well each season, and usually hold a Top 25 ranking, sometimes a Top 10. Women's basketball has done better in recent years, the cheerleaders continue to win national championships. (they're up to #17) But many fans call for his head on a platter because the men's basketball team has been down, compared to our high standards.
Many fans blame the players. THEY'RE HUMAN. UK fans treat our best players like royalty. Jodie Meeks. Patrick Patterson. These are kids who just wanna play basketball. Yeah, they're great athletes, but even Kobe and LeBron have off games. Give 'em a break. Being hailed as the best players at UK has to carry a lot of weight. Playing for UK isn't easy. You're always in the spotlight in this state...we love our basketball. Granted, I do believe that some players don't understand what playing for UK means. Little boys all across this state would do anything to wear that jersey with Kentucky across their chests...they dream about it. I did. Some players need to understand that it's a big deal to play for UK, but I think most of them do. What makes you think they like losing??
All of that said, maybe it's we, the fans, who are the problem? Yes, we know a lot about UK basketball. And yes, we do have a right to be frustrated when we're not doing so hot. But we put SO much pressure on our team and the people in charge. Fans will be the first ones to tell you that they aren't happy with the way things are going. Keep in mind, we aren't the ones making the plays and coaching the team. We often think we know best about who should play, but we don't see what happens in the locker rooms or in practice. We're the fans. Our job to is to cheer and SUPPORT our team, in good times and bad. In the last few years, the fans have gotten a not-so-good reputation. Many analysts blame us for running off Tubby. Fans of other programs often call us spoiled and arrogant. Is that what we've become? If not, we're on our way. However, a lot of our fans are immature. Catspause, the biggest UK message board, is so frustrating. Our fans that post make fools of themselves and the rest of us. ESPN has even taken note of this; the board has gotten national exposure. Grow up people. We need to get behind our team and support them. Go ahead and be angry with what's happening with our program, but put the boys ahead of your emotions and opinions.
Now, all of that said, I'm not gonna place the blame on anyone. Yes, some things do have to change. But it's not my place to figure out what's wrong with Kentucky basketball. My job is to cheer my heart out for those guys on the floor. I'll let the higher ups make the decisions on what needs to be done. I can only hope they'll make the right decisions. I hope that our key players decide to come back for another year. I hope that next year, this program does turn around and really show some improvement. I'm not calling for a Final Four next year, although that would be freakin' awesome. I just wanna see us moving in the right direction. An SEC tourney title, a regular season title, a Sweet 16 berth...anything. I just wanna see the hard work of those guys pay off. GO BIG BLUE!!!
(Sorry for the lengthy rant. I just wanted to vent. And even though the Cats aren't in the NCAA, the TOPS are, and I am thrilled about that. I love it when my school makes it into the Big Dance and I hope they have the success they did last year. But, there are more important things than basketball. I know that most people who read this blog are fully aware of this, but I feel compelled to make that clear. Basketball is something that I enjoy and am clearly passionate about, but there are bigger things than the state of UK basketball and March Madness. Sadly, my passion and conviction for sharing the Gospel often pales in comparison to that other things, but all who know me know that Jesus Christ is the most important part of my life. Sharing His love, doing His will, and serving others in His name are much more important to me then sports. If anyone doesn't know who Jesus is or what He's about, please feel free to ask me. And for my brothers and sisters, keep me in check. Thanks, and God bless!!)