Big Blue Nation was still celebrating the 2012 National Championship as the 2013 season got underway. Kentucky fans were more than happy with the hardware finally coming back to the bluegrass. There was very little internal pressure for UK to win a title this coming year, or even a final four for that matter.
Kentucky was once again decimated by departures to the NBA or by graduation. Kentucky lost Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-GIlchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Darius Miller, and Marquis Teague to the NBA.
If you asked most fans before the season what they would be satisfied with for the season's results, you likely would have gotten answers like "sweet 16" or just win the SEC again and make a strong run in the tournament. Nobody in their right mind would have guessed the season would end the way it did. Nobody in their right mind would have been accepting of an NIT season either, if asked.
NERLENS NOEL COMMITS ON ESPN
Kentucky's somewhat meh recruiting class (by Cal standards) rocketed to #2 in America when Nerlens Noel took to the national airwaves to commit to Kentucky with his unique haircut. This would begin the overhyping of a team that was not near as good as we all hoped.
ESPN decided to air a multi-part special on the program with behind the scenes access to practice and operations. This only fueled the hype machine of this team
NOEL ENTERTAINS BIG BLUE MADNESS CAMPERS
Noel decided to give the BBN a preview of what was to come by playing Stone Cold Willow in a game of one-on-one.
BIG BLUE MADNESS
The University put together one of the coolest things you will ever see. They decided to use the floor at Rupp Arena as a projector to highlight the history of the program.
SAVED BY THE WALK-ON
The #3 Wildcats took on Maryland at the Barclays center to open the 2012-13 season. Junior walk-on Jarrod Polson played 22 minutes, scored 10 points, and made maybe the biggest play of the game with a steal and conversion. Then he converted the game clinching free throws with less than 10 seconds left
THE STREAK DIES
John Calipari was hired to be the University of Kentucky coach on April 1, 2009... until December 1, 2012 he had not lost a game at Rupp Arena. The unranked Baylor Bears came to Lexington and handled the 'Cats the entire game and won 64-55.
The game ended a 55-game home winning streak for the program. The streak ending itself was not as troublesome as the fact that it put UK at 4-3 on the season. They had only played four quality teams (Maryland, Duke, Notre Dame, Baylor) and were now 1-3 in those 4 games.
ANOTHER STREAK DIES
John Calipari had not lost to Louisville in his first three seasons at Kentucky. He would lose a barn burner at the Yum Center 80-77 and end a total 4-game winning streak over the 'Cards.
Kentucky would head into the new year unranked and 8-4 on the season, after starting out as a top-3 ranked team.
NOEL ABSOLUTELY POSTERIZES AUBURN
Nerlens Noel was nominated for the GEICO play of the year when he took an alley-oop and dunked on an Auburn defender while doing a pull up.
ELSTON TURNER LIGHTS UP RUPP
The 'Cats had not lost in three seasons at Rupp, after Elston Turner dropped 40 on Kentucky they were facing their 2nd loss at home of the season.
One of the worst parts of the loss was that it buried Nerlens Noel's amazing stat line: 15 Points, 11 Rebounds, 6 Assists, 4 Steals, and 7 Blocks.
THE SEASON UNOFFICIALLY ENDS
Kentucky had crept back into the top 25 and were going to face #7 Florida in what could have been a turning point. Unfortunately it ended up being a turning point in the other direction for Kentucky.
I will preface this by saying the basket supports at Florida are so close to the floor that it may as well be like arena football. Noel was doing what he does best, hustling, when he crashed into the basket support.
The collateral damage was a torn ACL for the heart and soul of the team. You may not have wanted to admit it, but the season ended with that play. Kentucky would end up losing by 17 that game, and followed it with a trip to Knoxville for a personally hellish 30-point loss to UT.
THE COURIER-JOURNAL SHOWS THEIR A**
In a moment of unbelievable unprofessionalism, the Louisville Courier-Journal thought it appropriate to poke fun at UK via Nerlens Noel's season ending injury. Not only did it end his season and UK's hopes, it also literally cost Noel A LOT of money in the NBA draft. Congrats to the paper outlet for the dozens of laughs I am sure they got from it.
THE PATH TO THE NIT
UK probably would have been solidly in the tournament if not for consecutive losses at Arkansas and Georgia. Kentucky would, however, go on to win the season finale against #11 Florida, solidifying their spot on the tournament bubble.
They needed at least one, likely two wins in the SEC tournament to solidify a birth. The 'Cats would essentially embarrass themselves in the opening round of the SEC tournament, scoring a season low 48 points in a 64-48 loss to Vanderbilt. The idea of the NIT had fully transformed from nightmare into a reality that was the 7th circle of hell for BBN.
ROBERT F MORRIS
The University of Kentucky does not plan for the NIT, because of this there was a scheduling conflict for the NIT matchup with Robert Morris. Much like the rest of the BBN, Coach Cal was probably at his end for the season and agreed to play a road game.
In a very fitting end to a terrible season, the fighting Morris' beat Kentucky 59-57 and mercifully ended the 'Cats season, the world rejoiced.
THE SILVER LINING TO THE SEASON
BBN was still in shock over the season that never got going and went into a slow death spiral when the silver lining showed up. Coach Cal signed possibly the greatest recruiting class in the history of recruiting rankings. He was able to sign the #1 Point Guard, the #1 Shooting Guard, #1 Power Forward, #3 Small Forward, and #2 Center of the class.
Add to those players a fellow McDonalds All-American in Marcus Lee and just like that, visions of two National Titles bookending the NIT experience filled everyone's heads.
The 2012-13 season was highly disappointing for Kentucky fans and John Calipari. After the season he admitted to making a mistake with his roster. He vowed never again to have such a lack of depth that it hurt his ability to coach his team effectively.
There is no doubt that the injury to Noel is THE reason we ended up an NIT team that season, but it did not make it sting any less. Although, it was nice to sip my 2012 National Champions coffee mug to help get over it.