I’m gonna throw out 2 statements. On the surface, these 2 statements would seem to be contradictory. These two statements would seem to not be able to both exist.
STATEMENT #1: John Calipari has had the best run of any college basketball coach in the last 10 years.
STATEMENT #2: Fans have legitimate reasons to be disappointed in results.
Now, I am not saying that that anybody should have to agree with either or both of these statements. But my point is that you can make strong arguments that both of those statements are true. And it has made being a UK fan very difficult over the last decade, and especially over the last 5 years. Because since the shocking run to the title game in 2014, a run that everybody was OK with didn’t end in a title, UK’s tournament results have been:
2015: 38-0 but lose to Wisconsin in Final Four, Badgers go on to not win title
2016: Loss to rival Indiana in 2nd round, only 2nd round defeat in Cal tenure
2017: Buzzer-beater loss to UNC in Elite Eight
2018: Sweet 16 loss to 9-seed Kansas State, with 11-seed Loyola waiting in Elite 8
2019: Elite 8 loss to 5-seed Auburn, team UK had beaten twice in regular season
Kentucky has lost as the favorite in 4 of the last 5 NCAA Tournaments. And you can spin it any way you like, but they wasted the best team in this school’s history in 2015 and two of the most open draws in recent memory in 2018 and 2019. You can not dispute those facts.
And yet, you also can not dispute that John Calipari has more Sweet 16’s, more Elite 8’s, and more Final Four’s than anybody else in his tenure. He’s won 6 SEC Tournaments. He has a national title. And obviously he had changed the look of the NBA with UK stars throughout. He saved a program that was floundering under Tubby and Billy. His personality might fit this job more than any coach in history. And whoever follows him is probably screwed for what he has done to our expectations.
Are UK fans unreasonable much of the time? Absolutely. Probably more so than most fanbases. But that should not be used against fans who argue beating a 9, 11, and 5 seed to go to back-to-back Final Fours should be expected. And considering UK will put 5-6 guys into the NBA off those two teams, the talent was there. Not the talent from the 2012 or 2015 teams, but talent nonetheless.
John Calipari’s success is actually coming back to bite him. All of that “gold standard” and “everybody wants to be us” talk is great. It fits what we want to hear from our coach. It’s arrogant as hell and we are arrogant as hell. And for the most part, he backed it up. The totality of his tenure has been incredible. But it also does not make him and this program immune from criticism. They have had disappointing results in 4 out of the last 5 NCAA Tournaments. They have let multiple Final Fours slip through their fingers. They let 1 title slip through their fingers. Was it Cal’s coaching or does the blame lay at the players feet? We could argue all day long on that.
But the fact is this program is very difficult to pin down right now. John Calipari created a monster in this fanbase with his talking points and the early success in his tenure. And we now seeing what happens when you don’t feed the monster. When you disappoint in the tournament multiple times people feel like you sold them a bill of goods.
The only “bad” fans right now are those attacking the players on social media and elsewhere. They tried hard. I didn’t see an effort issue. I saw an execution issue. But this team, and most of the ones before it, have been enjoyable. Far more enjoyable than 2006-2009. So we should be thanking the kids right now for their efforts. But fans have a right to question why this keeps happening. You can only say “the tournament is random” so many times before you start to wonder why the tournament is random AGAINST us so often. John Calipari either needs to reassess how he promotes the program to us or the results in March have to change. Otherwise, you are going to have a conflicted fanbase for the remainder of his tenure.