Welcome to the morning after. The sun still rose, as expected, but at least here in my part of the Bluegrass State, it rose imperceptibly amongst gray rain as the skies seem to weep along with the fans of the defeated Wildcats.
But one great thing still remains, undimmed by last evening's loss at the hands of the West Virginia Mountaineers -- the Kentucky Wildcats are fully back from the terrible place they have been living in for the last four years. Kentucky has moved back into the corner penthouse where college basketball's elite teams reside.
If you are like me, you only gradually got around to reading the various postmortems of the game last night, and in general, there really isn't all that much to say. The team is predictably heartbroken, but heartbreak is a continuous companion of even the very best teams who don't achieve their goals, which is to say, 97% of all college basketball teams. Every team wants to "win it all," but only one team out of the 347 Division I teams gets to enjoy that feeling in a given year.
Whether Kentucky fell in the Elite Eight or the national championship game, it makes little difference to Wildcat fans. There are but few of us who concern ourselves with achieving the Final Four other than to use it as a measuring stick of a coach's performance. We hang Final Four banners in Rupp Arena and they do have meaning, but they are at best poor stepchildren to the brass ring we expect to grasp every year.
This year, Kentucky failed to achieve their goal of a national championship. That will be our fate more often than not, but make no mistake, we will climb this mountain again, and get to the summit, very soon. But not this year.
In any other program, this would have been a rebuilding year after a 22-14 NIT finish. This is one of but a few times in history when a team has gone this far after such a previous season, and that speaks volumes about the commitment and passion of the 2009-10 version of the Wildcats.
When we look at the team, it is remarkable the change that has been wrought from the raw bunch that first took the floor for the Blue-White game this year to the polished group that ran roughshod over the first three opponents in the NCAA Tournament. But that polish gave way to the tarnish of youth versus the West Virginia Mountaineers, and unlike previous times when this happened to the 'Cats, the Mountaineers were just too good and too well coached to succumb to a furious UK comeback.
Relevance in March. That has been missing around here a long time, and is now back. Don't listen to the pundits who will tell you that the expected loss of many of UK's talented freshman class spells a return to irrelevance, even for one year. Those who espouse that opinion know it is false, and are providing it purely in the hope that some fans of Kentucky basketball will slip into despondency. Ignore them, they are themselves irrelevant and know nothing about college basketball.
The Big Blue Nation will grieve over this loss for a bit, but already I see signs of moving on, of optimism, and of an understanding that this is the end of a new beginning for Kentucky. We will be celebrating this season for a long time at A Sea of Blue and elsewhere in the Big Blue Nation, even if most of us don't feel much like celebrating today. But the pain of defeat will not last long, as it is replaced by optimism for a reload and another shot at the title in roughly 364 days.
Heads high, ladies and gentlemen of the Kentucky Faithful. Our team did us proud, but fell just short of the goal. Perhaps next year, we will make it all the way.