Is it NCAA title or bust for head coach John Calipari and the 2013-12 edition of the University of Kentucky’s Men’s Basketball team? That appears to be the national narrative taking shape over at the Worldwide Leader in Sports, ESPN. With all the talent in Lexington, although ESPN’s Jeff Goodman claims UK isn’t all that deep, the upcoming basketball season is going to be framed as a referendum on Coach Cal’s coaching abilities, recruiting style and is set up to be seen as a failure if the Cats aren’t cutting down the nets in Dallas in April 2014.
I remember in Sports Illustrated’s recap of the 1996 NCAA title, that the in the first paragraph, there was this line: “… in Kentucky, where they hardly celebrate championships…” That line always perplexed me. I understand that the national reputation of the Big Blue Nation is that they are very engaging, bordering on maniacal, and that they are very, very demanding. While that is basically accurate, I think it’s unfair to say that anything short of a championship is deemed as a failure by the fan base. I think that the most important thing the BBN demands is that the coaches coach and players play up to their ability. And, historically, that’s been more than enough to win and win at a very high level for a very long time.
Yes, Kentucky fans love when the team wins, what fan base doesn’t? And, yes, the continued and ongoing success of Kentucky basketball has spoiled the fan base to a certain extent. But what I don’t think most people in the national media give the Big Blue Nation credit for is just how well they understand the game of basketball. How is it that one of the most, if not the most, beloved UK teams, the Unforgettables, is a team that didn’t even reach a Final Four? It’s because that team left everything on the court that night in Philadelphia against eventual national champion Duke.