“March Madness” is a wonderful time of year for sports geeks. This week, hundreds of thousands of people will be filling our their “Brackets”, studying records, trash talking their friends as they all enjoy four weeks of basketball tournaments.
The first week has just finishing up as each conference plays out their conference tournaments. For some conferences they will get to send only one team to the 65 team national tournament so winning your end of season conference tournament is their only way to the show. Other conferences, primarily those of the bigger schools will get to send multiple teams to the tournament so their best teams, win or loose, still get to play.
And of course some teams are always expected to be there, such as Kentucky. Its been 17 years since Kentucky last failed to make it to the NCAA tournament. That was their probation year, a time most Kentucky fans would like to forget. It ended the Eddie Sutton era, leaving the program with a NCAA death sentence for violating recruiting rules. But on the other hand, it meant the beginning of the Rick Pitino era which brought the Wildcat’s back to national prominence.
But Kentucky’s record would have gotten them into the tournament that year, had they been eligible. You have to go back to 1979, 30 years ago to find the last time they missed the tournament on their record.
Thats a pretty good showing. There are a lot of schools who would love to have Kentucky’s dominance. But as most people know, the Wildcats have been on a downward slope and are at risk of allowing the UNC Tar Heel‘s to claim the most all time wins.
This slide started when Rick Pitino left Lexington to go back to the pros. Kentucky hired Tubby Smith to replace Pitino and Kentucky won a national championship. Of course it was a team of Pitino recruited players. Smith was allowed to explore other opportunities in 2007 and was replaced by Billie Gillispie.
Most Kentucky fans had been calling for Tubby to be dismissed for several years when it became apparent that he was not recruiting the level of talent to keep Kentucky at the top of college basketball but they were still making “the show”.
Gillispie had shown an ability at Texas A&M to bring a program in trouble back to life and this is what made him an attractive coach to Kentucky.
But Kentucky needed more than a turn around. It needed an image recovery. College basketball success is based a lot on recruiting the best talent. The best talent goes to schools who are always the best. But with the downward spiral, the best recruits were not choosing Kentucky. There was hope that Gillispie would be able to do this. But he hasn’t.
Most of you might be saying, its just his 2nd year and he’s still dealing with a lot of Tubby players. True that, but he’s not got the clout to get the big recruits. He’s not been able to manage his talent well and now unless there is some grace of the NCAA bracket gods, Kentucky will be not be going to the big dance.
UPDATE: The basketball gods did not shine on Lexington and UK did not make the 65 team field. Is it too much to ask for UK Basketball to be in the top 65 teams in the country?
Are we to the point where Gillispie needs his walking papers? In most cases, no, two years isn’t enough time to do anything. But this isn’t most cases. This is Kentucky. They need a big time coach with a big reputation that can get the caliber of players necessary to dominate. I don’t know who that is but the powers that be in Lexington need to be giving a serious look if they want to remain the Mecca of College Basketball.
Billy, you’re a nice guy and I believe there are a lot of colleges where you could do a great job. Kentucky isn’t right for you. Lets recognize this and get you to a school where you can be successful and get a coach in at Kentucky who can be what Kentucky needs.