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Kentucky Basketball: A few debts to settle next year

Recent years here in the Bluegrass have been lean ones.  It may be hard to believe, but UK basketball has never, since the AP started ranking college basketball teams in the late 1940's, suffered through four consecutive years unranked.  UK basketball has also never in modern basketball history suffered through a four-year stretch with a lower winning percentage.

It's really hard to believe that for most of the years this blog has been in existence, Kentucky basketball has been suffering through one of its all-time lows.  I know that many will point to the "death penalty" years and the "Kentucky's Shame" years as much more significant low points, but if you take a look at it honestly, you will see that despite punishment from the NCAA, lost scholarships, no post-season play and all that, UK basketball never sank to the depths that it has seen the last four years.  After the season was cancelled in 1952-53, Kentucky came back to go undefeated in the next year.  After NCAA punishment in 1990, Kentucky came back the very next year to go 22-6 and an AP ranking of 9th, and had an unbroken string of years ranked in the top 25 from then until 2005-06.

Just to get this fixed into perspective let's take a quick look at some charts and graphs.  First, the last four years:

Won Lost Winning % Rank
2005-06 22 13 0.63 -
2006-07 22 12 0.65 -
2007-08 18 13 0.58 -
2008-09 22 14 0.61 -
Totals 84 52 0.62

Now, let's compare that to the previous ten years:

Season Won Lost Winning % Rank
1995-96 34 2 0.94 2nd by AP and 2nd by CNN/USA Today
1996-97 35 5 0.88 5th by AP and 2nd by CNN/USA Today
1997-98 35 4 0.9 5th by AP and 1st by USA Today/ESPN
1998-99 28 9 0.76 8th by AP and 5th by USA Today/ESPN
1999-00 23 10 0.7 19th by AP
2000-01 24 10 0.71 9th by AP
2001-02 22 10 0.69 16th by AP
2002-03 32 4 0.89 1st by AP and 4th by USA Today/ESPN
2003-04 27 5 0.84 2nd by AP and 8th by USA Today/ESPN
2004-05 28 6 0.82 7th by AP and 5th by USA Today/ESPN

All stats courtesy of Jon Scott's Big Blue History pages.

As a comparison, Kentucky's current winning percentage over 2,624 games played is .76.  Never in modern history has UK undergone a four-year stretch with this many losses, or a winning percentage this low.  No matter how you look at it, the last four years have got to be considered Kentucky's Long Night -- a time when civilization as we UK fans know it has collapsed, and the barbarians have run amok in our lands, pillaging and plundering the crown jewel of college basketball.  Lesser rivals have risen to conquer the SEC, and the pride of Kentucky reduced to its lowest level in memory.

During this long and difficult interregnum, several teams from the SEC and elsewhere have risen up from the ranks to deal Kentucky some body-blows to it's proud tradition and fans.  The purpose of bringing this to your attention, dear reader, is to remind you that we have a few unpaid debts lying around.  I think most of you will remember the famous Duke game of 1992 where Christian Laettner put a dagger through our collective heart with his last-second shot that cost UK a trip to the Final Four.  That debt (to my mind, anyway), was paid in full in the 1998 South Regional Finals in St. Petersburg, when UK send the Blue Devils home on the cusp of a Final Four.  But during this historic downturn, there are several teams which have earned a bit of retribution, and now that Kentucky is strong again, it is something for fans to look forward to.

The big names living in infamy right now, at least for me, go like this:

  1. North Carolina -- The Tarheels have beaten Kentucky in each of the last five seasons.  Tyler Hansbrough never knew what it was like to lose to UK, and listening to Tarheel fans has been insufferable.
  2. Louisville -- Louisville owns two back-to-back wins over the Wildcats, including a 14-point drubbing in 2008.  If Tarheel fans have been insufferable, Louisville fans have been loathsome.
  3. Kansas -- Kansas is the owner of three in a row over UK, including an embarrassing 73-46 thumping in 2006.  Kentucky owns a 19-6 historical advantage over the Jayhawks, and three losses in a row is more than enough.
  4. Florida -- The Gators own an impressive 8 wins in the last 10 games versus Kentucky.  It's one thing when a traditional powerhouse like North Carolina owns you for five straight years, but quite another when a nuveau riche SEC team like Florida owns an 8-2 stretch against you.  UK needs to set that aright.
  5. Vanderbilt -- Similar to Florida, the Commodores have an impressive 6-2 record over the last 8 games against Kentucky, including a nasty 93-52 smack-down in 2008 that still hurts like bad case of the shingles.
  6. Mississippi State -- the Bulldogs have defeated UK the last three encounters, starting with a heartbreaking three-point shot by Jamont Gordon in the 2007 SEC tournament.
  7. South Carolina -- South Carolina defeated Kentucky in a thriller at Rupp Arena last year, then reprised that victory with a humiliating 77-59 drubbing in Columbia which still has this UK fan chafing.
  8. Marquette -- Kentucky has beaten Marquette only twice in the last seven tries, and the Golden Eagles are one of the few teams that have enjoyed significant success against UK over the years.  They currently have a 3-game winning streak over Kentucky.

Most, but not all of these streaks and indignities have been heaped upon UK in the last four years.  This year, it's time to get some of these moving back in their historical direction, and put "Paid" to a few debts we owe for rough treatment at the hands of some of our foes.  Obviously, we will still lose some games even with our much stronger team next year, but there are several games on the schedule which would have much more meaning than just an ordinary win or loss, starting with #1 on the list.  We likely won't see Kansas or Marquette unless we play them in the NCAA tournament, but the rest we get every year.

Next year could be a very good year if we can show some of these schools why our nickname is the Wildcats.