Kentucky basketball is back. No, not like John Wall dominating North Carolina climbing out of the Billy G shambles, but there’s no doubt there is a new buzz around Kentucky basketball that feels like old times.
It feels like we have entered a new era of Kentucky basketball. Sure, the Cats have still been relevant since that dreadful night in Indianapolis, but Kentucky hasn’t been “it.” It’s evident over the last three seasons. Ulis and Muray were fun, but that run came to a halt in the round of 32. It seems like we didn’t really fall in love with Fox and Monk until February. Last year’s team felt like a chore to watch if we’re being honest with ourselves. Then the Bahamas rolled around this year, and just when you could feel the excitement coming back, it went away in an instant with Duke winning in a landslide on election night.
Don’t mistake me: we’ve also had some great games in that time, a la South Carolina in 2016, De’Aaron Fox tearing up Lonzo Ball in the sweet sixteen in 2017 and the comeback in West Virginia a year ago. Those teams just couldn’t sustain that excitement. But this team is different. This team has brought a buzz to Lexington that hasn’t been here since 2015 (which feels like a lifetime ago), but they’re doing it differently.
When Cal first got to Lexington, it was a spectacle, unlike anything we’ve ever seen. There were rock stars like John Wall, and the program was bringing megastars like LeBron James and Jay-Z into Rupp Arena. It was fresh, and as a kid during that time, it was a sin to miss a game. But, after the loss to Wisconsin, it felt like losses just didn’t hurt as bad, and for me anyway, sometimes watching the Cats just wasn’t a priority. The emotional investment had been taken out of us, and the past three years have been a far cry from the first half of the Cal era.
I had the feeling that landing a rockstar recruit or going on a final four run is what it would take for the joy and excitement to be back in Lexington. But it’s been quite the opposite. If I told you a fan base and program that’s been somewhat reeling since a final four loss four years ago would get energized during the regular season after losing by 40 to one of their most hated opponents, it’d be hard to believe. One would think, well surely they’ve got a once in a generation athlete to excite them, right? No, that’s not the case. It’s a team with comradery, meshing perfectly before our eyes and building momentum to sustain our excitement.
This Kentucky team is three points away from being 19-1. We’ve seen big-time wins over North Carolina and Louisville and just clinched the third consecutive victory over a ranked team – the energy in Lexington is something we haven’t seen in a while, and there’s still more to be done. Kentucky is undoubtedly on the radar for the National Championship, and with two match-ups against Tennessee in February, the Cats have a real chance to solidify themselves as a team well above the rest of the field.
That should give us, the BBN, incentive to get excited like we used to. As someone who has openly criticized the Rupp Arena atmosphere for its lack of enthusiasm throughout the last few years, last night was a glimpse of the Rupp Arena of old, the place that could bring the stars out and could fill the top row 30 minutes before tip-off. It’s the atmosphere it should be and the atmosphere of a fan base that is finally excited again. That atmosphere should be expected; it’s obvious we’re capable.
There are six home games left this year: the Cats will play three more teams currently ranked in the top 25 (LSU, Tennesee, and Auburn), then there’s Senior Day… Only Arkansas is a 9 p.m. tip on a Tuesday night. That’s at least four of the last six games that should demand a great Rupp Arena atmosphere.
If this team hasn’t brought back the excitement to Lexington that’s been missing the last few years, then I don’t know what will. This team is about to do something special, and the big blue nation finally feels re-energized.
Follow me on twitter: @BrentW_KSR