All the media cares about is Kentucky this season. Well, that's the message for the last couple of days, anyway.
According to this piece over at SI.com, Kansas may be #1 in the rankings, but UK is #1 in the minds of college basketball watchers:
Yes, Kansas was the runaway No. 1 choice in the preseason Top 25. And sure, the Jayhawks had two players on the preseason All-America team.
But it's Kentucky that's generating all the buzz. With one of college basketball's storied programs now being run by John Calipari, what else are people going to talk about?
Aside from the obvious schadenfreude toward the Jayhawks that many UK fans will feel (especially since UK has lost its past three meetings with the Jayhawks), the media narrative this season seems to be focused squarely on Lexington.
The interest seems to be multi-dimensional -- yes, the media see UK's fanstastic freshman class which includes at least two and possibly three sure-fire lottery picks (DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Eric Bledsoe) in the next year or three, not to mention Patrick Patterson, but they also seem fascinated by the cult of personality that is developing around John Calipari with his near-million Twitter followers and hundreds of thousands of Facebook devotees.
As if that weren't enough, some of the media feel like they are watching a slow-speed train wreck with a coach known for having his teams forfeit wins now coaching at a school formerly known for rule-breaking and general acts of poor NCAA citizenship. Add to that Calipari's remarkable personal and social media strategy, his new book, Bounce Back, and his absolutely ubiquitous nature on sports shows, interviews and public appearances combined with Kentucky's storied history, and it's easy to see why the sports media is drawn to Bluegrass like David Letterman to a pretty production staffer.
As a long-time fan of Kentucky basketball, it is amazing to me watch the current media fascination with a team that was an absolute non-entity for the last four years except as a cautionary tale. First it was all about how Tubby Smith's team was struggling and how unhappy the fans were, then there was the whole Billy Gillispie fiasco that turned out to be all about offering scholarships to middle schoolers, angering the NABC over that and his moving of the date of Big Blue Madness, making rude comments to female reporters during halftime interviews and winning fewer and fewer basketball games.
For a Kentucky fan, the kind of attention UK is getting now, even including all the negative stuff about Calipari's past, is far preferable to the recent near-half-decade of relative anonymity. The contrarian media view of Kentucky and Calipari is that the marriage is like mixing liquid hydrogen and oxygen -- you might get rocket fuel, but you might also get a big, flaming bang. For the record, it seems to be the "bang" that many hope to see.
If that first article provides a bit of delectatio morosa to Kentucky fans, so does this one, which features UK's former favorite Italian-American, Louisville Cardinal's coach Rick Pitino:
When you're the coach at Kentucky, Pitino says, you're with 100 percent of your friends. When you're the coach at Louisville, you're with 52 percent of your friends and 48 percent of your enemies.
Cue the rimshot.
It gets a good laugh more often than not, regardless of the audience for the only coach to lead both schools to a Final Four.
Yet these days, Louisville's advantage in the state's largest city is more tenuous than ever, and the inroads the Cardinals have made in the Bluegrass during Pitino's watch are in danger of being erased.
If it is true that the Cardinals have been "making inroads" in recent years, then yes, I would say those inroads have largely been replaced with "See Blue" signs and lines of reporters wanting to talk basketball with Caliparia and Karen Sypher with Pitino. It is the kind of monumental reversal of fortune that you literally couldn't make up -- a true case of life being far, far stranger than most people's most fevered imagination.
How long will this continue? Well, UK is guaranteed to lead the basketball and sports headlines all winter long, either by doing what they are expected to do, or falling short of expectations. Either way, the 'Cats will be on SportsCenter a lot this year -- more than Kansas, or Louisville, or just about any other team you can name. And if the Wildcats do make it to Indianapolis, it's hard to fathom the media frenzy that will surround them.
Imagine the story lines: "A coach with two vacated Final Fours reaches the Final Four in his first season at Kentucky. How long will this one last?" Or perhaps, "Can Calipari finally win the championship that eluded him in Memphis and at UMass?" This stuff doesn't really even require an imagination -- the stories literally write themselves, which makes the whole situation attractive to the point of absurdity.
So Kentucky fans, welcome back to the big time. You are about to dominate the news for the next six months, and possibly beyond, after four years of wandering in the desert of inferiority an unworthiness. Now we can sate ourselves on the nectar of attention, for good or ill.
This season may go great, or it may go badly for the Kentucky Wildcats. But one thing UK won't be this season is unnoticed.