UK Fans Exhibiting a Great Deal of Patience…or Are They?
Big Blue Nation's chatter about Tubby Smith began about 17 years ago in 2001 after the Wildcats missed the Final Four for the third year in a row.
Kentucky had made it to three straight national title games from 1996 through 1998, winning it all in the first and third years.
It was the kind of thing that reinvigorated a fan base who, before the arrival of Rick Pitino and his incredible post-season success with the 'Cats, had begun to wonder about the health of its program.
Between the 1978 championship season and 1993, Kentucky only went to one Final Four, in 1984.
Flash forward to nearly identical scenario that saw UK not make it back to the final NCAA weekend until 2011 after the '98 title.
Thirteen years. Thirteen LOOONNNNGGG years.
When Tubby Smith left in 2007, it was not a moment too soon for Cat fans.
He had never missed the tournament. He had never lost a first-round game in the tournament.
But he never returned to the Final Four after 1998, and that just wasn't enough for Big Blue Nation.
And that rabid fan base was rewarded with Billy Gillispie, who, in his first season, coached UK into an 18-13 season and a first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament as an 11-seed.
John Calipari rode to the rescue in 2009 and immediately got the 'Cats back to the Elite Eight and then four of the next five Final Fours, including the 2012 national title.
And now here Kentucky is, in the same spot it found itself in back in 2001--a third year removed from the last Final Four appearance after a run that resembled '96-'98.
Before we go any further, let me say that I do NOT believe there should be ANY chatter about John Calipari's time being up at Kentucky. It's 2018 and runs like in the old days just don't happen anymore.
That leads me to my point...a notoriously prickly fan base when it comes to post-season success has seemingly been rather quiet of late.
Is Big Blue Nation exhibiting the kind of patience we never saw with Tubby Smith? Because, let's face it, we have all KINDS of social media today.
When Tubby left in 2007, that sort of thing was in its infancy. And, boy, was the chatter loud!
I wonder about this apparent sufferance because I see a school like Villanova, who doesn't go the one-and-done route, rack up 30-plus-win season after 30-plus-win season AND Final Four appearances in two of the past three years.
I see Charles Matthews transfer from Kentucky to Michigan, become the NCAA Tournament West Region's Most Outstanding Player, and punch a ticket to the Final Four.
And I have to wonder how much longer Wildcat fans can see all this happen and begin to think about the future.
North Carolina went seven years between 2009 and 2016.
And don't get me started about traditional powers UCLA and Indiana. The Bruins have won more championships that any other school in NCAA history--11. But they won their last title 23 years ago and were in their most recent Final Four TEN years ago.
And the Hoosiers? Why haven't they completely lost their minds, by now? This is one of the great college basketball programs in a state that LOVES its basketball at ALL levels.
But it's been 16 years since a Final Four appearance by Indiana and 31(!) years since the last national title.
I hope Kentucky fans ARE being patient and understand that this kind of thing can happen in this day and age. But, absent that, maybe they're being quiet because they're just not sure who could step in and give them what they want.
Although, I will say this. If this DOES stretch to 31 years (it won't), UK fans will seriously have an argument.