Kentucky has made it to the NCAA title game 12 times, tying us with UCLA for the most appearances of all time. (Note: UCLA has technically made it to the NCAA final 13 times, but their 1980 runner-up was vacated.) These two programs are obviously two of the most iconic of all time, however their paths to 12 NCAA final appearances could not be more different.
UK has only won back-to-back titles one time, in 1948 and 1949. We also had the 3 year stretch from 1996-1998 when we won two titles and made the final game in 1997. However, there was also a 20 year title draught between 1958 and 1978, an 18 year drought between 1978 and 1996, and most recently a 14 year draught between 1998 and 2012. Even when you sprinkle in the 1966, 1975, 1984, and 1993 Final Four appearances, you can see that there have been valleys along with the peaks of Kentucky basketball.
UCLA is best known for their dynasty under legendary coach John Wooden. The Bruins won their first title in 1964 and repeated in 1965. Then, in 1967, the dynasty began. They would rattle off not 1, not 2, not 3…but 7 straight national titles before finally losing in the 1974 final four. UCLA came back to win it all in 1975, and then 20 years later in 1995, but you can see the stark contrast between the success of UCLA and the success of Kentucky.
The point of all of this is that it got me thinking, what should a fan expect after a run to the national championship game? To me there are two ways of looking at it. First, you could take the approach that you must obviously be a good program, with a good coach and a good group of players. Under this way of thinking you should be able to “plug and play” and be competitive year in and year out. However, the second way of thinking isn’t so bright. Maybe you reached the championship game because you had a group of 5 seniors who had stuck together and gained experience over the years. Now, this group will be graduating and you will undoubtedly experience a large drop-off.
Looking back at Kentucky’s 12 national title appearances, do our teams generally just “reload” or do we have to “rebuild?”
1948 Title- 32-2, National Champions in 1949
1949 Title – 25-5, NIT 1st Round in 1950
1951 Title- 29-3, NCAA Elite 8 in 1952
1958 Title- 24-3, NCAA Sweet 16 in 1959
1966 Runner-Up- 13-13, no post season in 1967
1975 Runner-Up- 20-10, NIT champions in 1976
1978 Title- 19-12, NIT 1st Round in 1979
1996 Title- 35-5, NCAA Runner-Up in 1997
1997 Runner-Up- 35-4, NCAA champions in 1998
1998 Title- 28-9, NCAA Elite 8 in 1999
2012 Title- 21-12, NIT 1st Round in 2013
2014 Runner-Up- ? in 2015
In summary, in year’s were Kentucky has finished as the national runner-up we have a combined record of 68-27 with a NIT championship and a NCAA championship in the year after. After a NCAA championship we are 185-51 with a runner-up finish and a repeat NCAA championship. So, Kentucky has a 71.6% winning percentage in years after a runner-up finish and a 78.4% winning percentage after a national title. When you combine the records, Kentucky has a 76. 4% winning percentage when coming off of a NCAA championship game appearance. This is nearly identical to the all-time winning percentage of 76.1%.