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UK Basketball: The 'Cat's Finally out of the Bag

With the historic (some say "unprecedented") recruiting haul perpetrated by UK basketball savior coach John Calipari, capped off by the signing of the ridiculously-talented point guard John Wall, an excited Big Blue Nation is once again on the brink of enjoying a season of round-ball victories.  Or more pointedly, a season full of meaningful, March, round-ball victories.  For many, November can't get here soon enough.

Who can blame them?

For it seems like eons ago that Kentucky occupied the penthouse of college basketball.  Four consecutive seasons of disappointment, unfulfilled promise, and early exits from the biggest of dances, the NCAA Tournament, left UK fans feeling numb and uncharacteristically downtrodden.

Who can blame them?

After-all ...

... Kentucky fans, over the last four seasons, have witnessed a buffet of poor play, which has led to ...

Perplexing Losses

  • The "Sheray Thomas illegally leaving the lane during a free throw" induced SEC Tournament loss to Mississippi State in 2007.
  • The 2008 home loss to Gardner-Webb (I blame that game on my wife, she was there).
  • The 2007 and 2008 "we're going to pound the paint even though Varnado is blocking everything we shoot" losses to Mississippi State (I blame that game on my wife, she was there).
  • The 2008 home loss to San Diego.
  • The 2008 "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" Freedom Hall loss to UAB (I blame that game on Tru, he was there).
  • The 2008 road loss to Houston.
  • The 2009 home loss to VMI.
  • The 2009 home finale loss to Georgia (the worst team in the SEC).

Kentucky fans have also endured an extraordinary number of ...

Blowout Losses

  • Indiana in December of '05 -- 79-53
  • Kansas in January of '06 -- 73-46
  • Florida in February of '06 -- 95-80
  • Memphis in November of '06 -- 80-63
  • Indiana in December of '07 -- 70-51
  • Louisville in January of '08 -- 89-75
  • Vanderbilt in February of '08 -- 93-52
  • North Carolina in December of '08 -- 77-58
  • South Carolina in February of '09 -- 77-59

Yet another reason the Bluegrass has been so overwhelmingly absent Wildcat joy for lo these many (four) years is the conspicuous ...

Absence of Kentucky From the National Rankings 

The following is a list of how many games UK played as a ranked team over the last four years:

  • 2005-'06 Season -- Total games played as a ranked team; 14 of 35.  Zero games played versus an SEC opponent as a ranked team.
  • 2006-'07 Season -- Total games played as a ranked team; 11 of 34.  Six games played versus an SEC opponent as a ranked team.
  • 2007-'08 Season -- Total games played as a ranked team; two of 31.  Zero games played versus an SEC opponent as a ranked team.
  • 2008-'09 Season -- Total games played as a ranked team; One of 36.  One game played versus an SEC opponent as a ranked team.

This, coming on the heels of UK being ranked in 153 straight games played.  A streak that started on December 2, 2000, and ended January 7, 2006.

Nothing gets a UK fans blood boiling more than not being ranked, except of course a poor ...

Rupp Record

Since Rupp Arena opened for 1976-'77 season, UK has won roughly 90.0% of all games played there, but over the last four seasons UK's winning percentage has dropped dramatically to an unacceptable 76.8%.  UK's recent home record:

  • 2005-'06 Season -- 11-4
  • 2006-'07 Season -- 14-2
  • 2007-'08 Season -- 14-4
  • 2008-'09 Season -- 14-6

That's a very un-Cat-like 53-16.  Comparatively speaking, from the 1990-'91 season to the 2004-'05 season (15 seasons), UK was nearly unbeatable at home, coming out victorious 186 times against only 17 losses (91.6 winning percentage).

Just as disturbing to most fans was UK's ...

SEC Record

  • 2005-'06 Season -- 9-7
  • 2006-'07 Season -- 9-7
  • 2007-'08 Season -- 12-4
  • 2008-'09 Season -- 8-8

That's a cumulative 38-26 (59.4%) SEC record.  Pitiful, especially when one considers this -- Between the '90-'91 season and the '04-'05 season, UK sported a Brad Pitt-handsome 186-46 SEC record.  That's winnin' 'em at an 80.2% clip, for an average record of 13-3. 

SEC Sidebar -- As many know, UK has won more SEC Tournament Championships than all the other SEC member schools combined.  Never before has UK's dominance been more apparent than from the '91-'92 season until the '04-'05 season.  During those 14 years, Kentucky's SEC Tournament record was 34-4.  Read that again; 34-4.  And they won 10 tourney championships.  Amazing.  But, in the last four years, UK has gone 4-4 with zero tourney titles.  "Cat-lanta" was reduced to "Cat-loss-lanta."

Just as painful and fan endurance-testing was UK's ...

Overall Record

During the same time-span ('90-'91 to '04-'05) UK's cumulative season record was 424-94.  An overall winning percentage of 81.9.  Conversely, UK's record the previous four seasons looks like this:

  • 2005-'06 Season -- 22-13
  • 2006-'07 Season -- 22-12
  • 2007-'08 Season -- 18-13
  • 2008-'09 Season -- 22-14

That comes out to an unremarkable 84-52 record, good for a 61.8% rate of victory.  Pretty good for Georgia or Ole Miss, but pretty pathetic for UK.

And what most (some would say all) UK fans live for, the ...

NCAA Tournament

Over the last four years, instead of March bringing a healthy dose of Kentucky sizzle, the ensuing Wildcat fizzle has been the source of the Commonwealth's March MADness. 

In the 14 years prior to the meltdown, UK's record for the NCAA Tournament was 43-12.  An astonishing 78.2 winning percentage, to go along with: Two National Championships, four Final Fours, and nine Elite Eights.  At minimum, nine out of 14 years UK made the Elite Eight.  Truly an incredible run, which is made to look even more incredible when one considers UK's most recent NCAA outcomes:

  • 2005-'06 Season -- 1-1
  • 2006-'07 Season --1-1
  • 2007-'08 Season -- 0-1
  • 2008-'09 Season -- NIT

That says it all.

But, why bring up the statistical freak show now?

To illustrate, in crystal clear form, that UK and UK fans deserve what is about to happen.  No, I didn't say we are entitled, or some-such thing.  I wrote that we "deserve" the renaissance that awaits, come November of '09. 

DESERVE -- to be worthy (of); merit. 

As a fan base, accustomed to winning at about a 75-80% clip, we have weathered the imperfect storm which clouded our winters, and reduced our spring to following our favorite pro baseball teams grapefruit league results.  But, we never gave up.

Through all the frustration and anger, UK fans never walked away.  For confirmation, one only has to peruse the Rupp Arena average attendance marks:

  • 2005-'06 Season -- 22,519
  • 2006-'07 Season -- 22,763
  • 2007-'08 Season -- 23,421
  • 2008-'09 Season -- 22,554

Fair-weather fans?  I don't think so.

We have continued to support the 'Cats through unparalleled trying times -- Never in UK's history has the basketball team performed so inadequately over a stretch of four consecutive seasons.  But, our passion never waned, the rock-steady belief that UK would be back, never waned.  We didn't question IF Kentucky would be back, only WHEN.

When Florida, U of L or some other less fortunate fan base told us that UK's time had passed, we nodded knowingly, saying, "Man, don't you know anything about the history of college basketball.  UK always bounces back, and always will, you fool."

We listened and read as Dick Vitale, Scott Van Pelt, Jeff Goodman and others incorrectly stated that we "ran off" Tubby.  It seemed that bad-mouthing UK became an art form.  It didn't matter if what they said was true or not, as long as they were belittling UK and Kentucky fans.  So typical; kick the big man on campus when he's down.

We listened and read as pundits such as Hubert Davis, Rece Davis, Doug Gottlieb, and Dick Weiss correctly stated that UK didn't have the thoroughbreds to compete with the elite.  But, we always clung to the notion that Big Blue would soon be bringing the big lumber.

UK fans remained steadfast, and assured in our system of belief.  A tenet embedded in our gray matter since we were old enough to determine the difference between a Card and a 'Cat (five national championships).  A creed that has remained faithful to all Kentucky fans since Adolph Rupp introduced modern basketball to the world -- Kentucky will always be the king.  The occasional ailment may prevent the 'Cats from ruling with an iron fist, but recovery is guaranteed.

And because of our faith, we deserve. 

Patterson and Meeks, with a little Pearl

As fully as I believe that UK fans are deserving of a rewarding season, I also feel that Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks (when he comes back) deserve a fun-filled, championship season.  They've both played hurt, and in Meeks' case, injured.  Both players play hard, they both play for the name across their chest, and neither is at fault for UK's recent disappointing play.

One final note: Kentucky, as I've noted, has just survived a program-worst four year stretch, and our neighbors to the south, the Tennessee Vols, have just enjoyed their best hardwood run in at least 40 years.  Yet, Bruce Pearls record versus UK over the last four years is an underwhelming 3-5 ... 

Paint that on your chest as a reminder, Bruce, because that's as good as it's gonna get.

Thanks for reading, and Go-Go 'Cats!