I am so tired of hearing the bellyaching on local sports radio here in Louisville, and what I would assume is 10 times worse in Lexington, about what a failure this team was for not getting to the Final Four. I don’t know how you define “successful season”, but in my book, 35-3 and an Elite 8, SEC Regular Season and Tournament titles, and big wins over EVERY one of our biggest rivals is what I would call a success.
It’s almost a birthright in this state to have the attitude that UK should go to the Final Four every single year, and I am not saying that is a bad attitude. It’s good to have lofty goals for the program, its part of what makes this fanbase the best in the country. But, this theory of “Final Four or Bust” is getting a little old for me, because in this time of great parity in college basketball, people need to recognize: IT IS VERY HARD TO MAKE THE FINAL FOUR.
Only 1.1% of Division-1 teams make the Final Four each season, and only 6% of teams that make the NCAA Tournament make the Final Four. There are obviously tons of factors that go into a Final Four run, but for the sake of argument for this years UK team, let me respond to several of the complaints that some UK fans have had about missing it this year:
1) We were a #1 seed.
-Since 1985, only 43 1-seeds have made the Final Four out of a possible 104 teams, or 41%.
-Of the 61 1-seeds who lost before the Final Four, 43 of them lost to teams seeded 3 or worse. So, if anything, UK did better than many of the 1-seeds before them.
Point is, being a 1-seed should theoretically give you the easiest run to the Final Four, but the stats don’t back that up. Reason is there are an INCREDIBLE amount of elements involved in winning 4 straight games in a tournament setup. Location of games, style of play/matchups, coaching, are just a few of those factors involved. It’s just not as easy as saying “we were a 1-seed and that automatically means we should beat every team seeded lower.”
2) Look at our elite talent
-Since 1985, only 36 out of the 130 AP 1st Team All-Americans made the Final Four, or 27%.
-2006 Duke, 2001 Duke, 1998 Arizona, 1998 Kansas, 1991 UNLV all had two 1st team All-Americans. Only 2 of those teams made the Final Four. ’06 Duke, ’98 Arizona and ’98 Kansas all lost BEFORE the Elite Eight.
Again, its easy to say that UK had the most talent in the country, and I agree. But I can give you many more examples of where the most talented team (’91 UNLV, ’93 Michigan) did not win the national title or even make the Final Four (’98 Kansas, ’03 Arizona, ’06 Duke). It’s not as easy as just rolling the ball on the floor, and the most talented team always wins. Sometimes the better TEAM beats the most talented. On Saturday, I felt that West Virginia played a much better TEAM game than Kentucky. And often times, that is enough to overcome superior talent.
3) The draw opened up so well
-That depends on how you look at it. Wake Forest and Cornell were fortunate draws for Kentucky, there is no doubt. But, Kentucky was also the only 1-seed to have to play a 2-seed. And the selection committee admitted that West Virginia had been considered for the 4th 1-seed, meaning Kentucky got a pretty rough draw there. And as Kansas (the supposed best team in the country) showed us, there is no such thing as an easy draw.
The whole point is that while everybody in the UK fanbase should be disappointed, and even devastated by the loss, we should also admit that the NCAA Tournament has become such a crap shoot these days, making it incredibly difficult to make it to the Final Four.
In my opinion, a season does NOT completely hinge on making the Final Four. I fully expected this team to make it to Indy, but now that they haven’t, I can still admit what a fantastic season this truly was. And I can recognize what a truly great accomplishment it is for a team to make the Final Four, and the joy you should feel when that happens for UK someday should dwarf the despair you feel over them EVER missing it.