Like a fight with your beloved, sometimes a little time can help abate those feelings of anger and frustration that accompany a Wildcats loss. Or, for others, the pain and agony simply dissipate as logic and reality set in.
For me, looking at the overall landscape of college hoops, things could be much worse. While the Georgia loss was in no way "fine," in the language of winning and losing, it is "acceptable," if only because we have no choice.
Duke has 2 losses in the ACC, including one at home. Arizona has four. Parity is the buzzword of the day, however much UK fans want to pretend the hallowed Kentucky name is supposed to be immune to such trends. But things had better start to change for this team, and not for Big Blue Nation's sake.
I termed the Georgia loss to a friend on Thursday as "a big, fat uppercut to Tubby's UK future," a metaphor I stick to today. For all the national media's opinions on what is overreaction and what the UK fanbase is allowed to feel, the simple truth is that -- like the giants in other sports, the Yankees or the Crimson Tide -- Kentucky basketball is just one of those things that is above mediocrity. It has to be, if only because it has never been otherwise, save Eddie Sutton's parting gift of a drunken ambivalence to the program's self-immolation.
I give the average UK fan both a significant amount of grief and a sincere respect, even when he/she is being irrational. Why? Because, most of the time, his heart is in the right place. Excepting the Dynasty Offender, the back-porch racist and the inevitable bandwagoner, the UK fan just wants to win. And however many times I've lambasted some divergent (from my own) thinker for playing to the worst in our Big Blue souls, the truth is that if Tubby Smith's teams were rolling along, piling up blowout victims with 65-point games, most of these folks would be happy to cheer, even if they grumbled at some jumpshot bricklaying.
But the Georgia game freaked even us fencesitters out. Why? Because, as with last season, there was so little margin between winning and losing. The stars disappeared (mostly), the freshmen looked unprepared or overmatched, and the seniors -- oh, those freaking seniors -- looked exactly the same as they did as cringe-inducing sophomores (and juniors, and ... ). Where is the progress?
Last season, the Wildcats uncharacteristically sweated out selection Sunday, lacking any marquee wins. To this point, other than a victory over ever-improving Indiana, are we waiting for the same thing to happen? Granted, wins over the good SEC teams have to wait until actual games against them are played, but what has even the most forgiving among the faithful jittery is that the Georgia and Vanderbilt games don't instill much hope that against the "better" SEC teams (Florida, principally, and theoretically Alabama, Tennessee and LSU), our boys are going to come out OK.
I had put forth a rosy scenario on some blogs and message boards of a 13-3 SEC campaign. I figured that the steady defensive improvement shown in the 11-game streak, and the seemingly game-to-game consistency of the junior stars up to and not including the Vanderbilt loss, boded well for games against overrated Bama, Arkansas and LSU teams. And with the Vols suddenly rudderless, even that rivalry seemed winnable at both locales.
But now? Two "winnable" games are lost, and I'm not stupid enough to buy into a 9-1 finish, however much I'd love to be proven wrong.
But, the games will go on whether I want to "buy into" anything at all. And the players on the court -- not concerned fans, not Tubby Smith -- will decide the future of UK basketball.
Will a downward spiral emperil Tubby Smith as the head coach at UK? While logic would imply not, given that another 20-win season and an NCAA berth is highly probable, I am starting to feel a certain pull toward the argument that there is reason to expect greater things. If not an annual title, then certainly a departure from the fear that every conference game is loseable.
No disrespect to the programs that come and go, but more is expected of this program and its coach than anywhere else in the country -- including at Duke, North Carolina, UCLA, Kansas, Indiana, anywhere -- precisely because such a premium on winning has been not only the tradition, but the standard by which all others are judged. Call that pretentious, call it unreasonable, call it what you will.
We call it Kentucky Basketball.