There is a serious argument to be made that UK could have 5 national titles in 6 years under Calipari. They had the best teams in 2010, 2012, and 2015, only winning 1 of those. And then the draws fell nicely in 2011 and 2014 so that when UK was bounced from the tournament they were probably the best team remaining. Now it’s absurd to argue Calipari SHOULD have 5 titles because it’s just damn hard to win the NCAA Tournament. But each of the 4 years he hasn’t won it (did 2013 happen?) has been difficult for it’s own reasons.
Just which of those years has the title been the MOST in UK’s grasp? I put my rankings below:
What happened: The Cats made a fairly stunning run to the Final Four, needing a last second shot to get out of the first round. They went on to beat the overall #1 seed Ohio State, a very talented UNC team in the Elite 8 and then joined one of the worst Final Fours in history with UCONN, Butler, and VCU. But a horrible shooting night, including Brandon Knight’s 6 of 23 performance, led to a 56-55 defeat. UCONN would go on to win the title.
Why Its Number 1: Despite playing quite poorly against UCONN, the Cats were a Deandre Liggins 3-pointer away from winning that game. And there is NO DOUBT they would have crushed Butler in the title game. While that UK team might be Calipari’s 2nd or 3rd worst team, this is the title that they could have won the easiest. The draw in the Final Four was by far the easiest of any Calipari has faced and they essentially were 1 shot away from winning a title. Plus, they would have gone back to back in 2012.
What happened: The Cats were the best team in the country come tournament time and the only other team that should have challenged them, Kansas, was bounced in the 2nd round. UK clobbered 3 opponents to get to the Elite 8, where they face a 2-seed West Virginia who had over-achieved much of the season. But a tricky defense, horrible shooting night, and WVU clutch plays sealed UK’s fate in a loss.
Why Its Number 2: A couple reasons this isn’t as bad as the 2010-11 season. First, UK would have had to win 2 more games after this one to win the title, and Duke would have likely been a decent opponent. No guarantee the Cats romp in the Final Four. They likely win but who knows. Secondly, the game against WVU really wasn’t very close. The Mountaineers just whipped them, plain and simple. You can’t point to one moment or play that decided that game, like you can with Liggins and 2011. While this team was significantly better and maybe the best Cal team overall, the way they went out drops them to #2.
What happened: Despite playing inconsistently throughout the season, UK got hot at just the right time and went on one of the more memorable runs in school history. Dramatic shot after dramatic shot vaulted them to the championship game against UCONN. Unfortunately, a nervous bunch of Cats plus a tired roster seemed to be too much and UK faltered in the title game.
Why Its Number 3: It’s the only championship game on here so an argument could be made this should be #1. But the fact of the matter is this team was a surprise to even get there. Yes, losing in the title game hurts bad but that team probably shouldn’t have even had a title shot. The Final Four and whatever happened was just icing on the cake for an amazing run. And much like in 2010, the UCONN game wasn’t a great performance from UK. It was close and UK had it’s chances down the stretch, but there really wasn’t a key moment to decide that game. UK just wasn’t good enough.
What happened: The best regular season in school history, more memorable games than in any other season in history, incredible hype and coverage. 38 straight wins and it all came crashing down to Wisconsin in the Final Four. Some questionable decisions on offense, a terrible officiating call, and poor execution led to the demise.
Why It Number 4: It’s easily the most PAINFUL loss of the Calipari era. But that is not what this list is all about. This is about the title’s that UK SHOULD HAVE WON. And frankly, Wisconsin was a damn good team. Unlike in 2011 and 2014 when UK lost to mediocre UCONN teams in the Final Four, Wisconsin was legit. And then to back that up, would UK have beaten Duke in the title game? That was probably a 50-50 game, maybe slightly in UK’s favor. The point being this was the toughest Final Four UK has been in. It hurt to lose 38-0 and all of that. But what if this team was 36-2 instead. Don’t you think the 2010 and 2011 losses would have been considered bigger disappointments. Looking at it rationally, this was not the title that was easiest for UK to win.