Mark Story: Bluegrass State is the king of college hoops

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 20, 2012 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

Here in the commonwealth, we like to fancy ourselves as the "basketball capital" of these United States.

In a big-picture sense, however, it's a hard claim for us to make stick.

Unlike our equally hoops-mad rivals North Carolina and Indiana, we don't have an NBA team inside our state. Hard to be the nation's basketball capital without representation at the highest level of the sport.

We struggle at the other end of basketball, too. In recent years, our production of home-grown hoops talent is putrid.

Even though the recruiting geeks say there are finally signs of an uptick in Kentucky turning out high-level hoops talent, it's hard to lay claim to being the nation's basketball capital when your production of significant players has been this dismal in the 21st Century.

Yet, this winter, the state of Kentucky does have reason to boast about its standing in one important part of the basketball pantheon. Right now, the commonwealth has a legitimate claim to the mantle of college basketball capital of these United States.

The No. 1-ranked team in men's NCAA Division I college hoops is from Kentucky (the University of Kentucky).

The last team to lose its first game of the season in all of men's NCAA Division I college hoops is from Kentucky (Murray State).

There is only one state with three teams — No. 1 UK; No. 14 Murray State; No. 17 Louisville — ranked in the current AP men's Division I college hoops Top 25.

It's Kentucky.

It is subjective, but the case can be made that the most talked-about player in all of men's college hoops this winter is playing in Kentucky, UK's Anthony Davis.

It is subjective, but the case can be made that the most talked-about mid-major player in all of men's college hoops this winter is playing in Kentucky, Murray State's Isaiah Canaan.

Kentucky's so-called small-college teams are pulling their weight, too.

The No. 1-ranked team in men's NCAA Division II college hoops is from Kentucky (Bellarmine).

There is only one state with three teams — No. 1 Bellarmine; No. 12 Kentucky Wesleyan; No. 15 Northern Kentucky — ranked in the most recent NCAA Division II poll's top 15.

It's Kentucky.

With Transylvania at No. 16 in the most recent Division III men's rankings, the state of Kentucky has ranked basketball teams at each of the three levels of NCAA hoops.

Even in a year in which our state's NAIA Division I men's programs, traditionally among the nation's elite, don't seem to boast quite their usual fire power, there are three teams from the commonwealth — No. 8 Lindsey Wilson; No. 13 Georgetown; No. 20 Campbellsville — ranked in the most recent Top 25.

Only one state can lay claim to the reigning NCAA Division II national champion (Bellarmine) and the reigning NAIA Division I national champ (Pikeville).

It's Kentucky.

Kentucky's women's teams are doing their part, too.

Even with the recent slump by the University of Kentucky, the commonwealth is one of two states (Texas being the other) that has two teams ranked in the top 16 — No. 13 UK and No. 16 Louisville — of the current AP women's NCAA Division I college hoops Top 25.

Kentucky has three teams — No. 8 Cumberlands; No. 17 Georgetown; No. 21 Campbellsville — ranked in the most recent NAIA Division I women's Top 25.

Centre (No. 21 in NCAA Division III) and Union (No. 22 in NAIA Division II) give the commonwealth ranked women's teams in four different classifications.

Only one state can claim the reigning National Christian College Athletics Association women's national champion (Kentucky Christian University).

It's Kentucky.

Of course, not everything is coming up roses in Kentucky college basketball in the winter of 2012. Most notably, Western Kentucky University's men's and women's hoops teams are both performing far below their historically high standards.

Still, overall, 2011-12 has so far shaped up as a golden moment in the long, not uneventful history of college basketball in the commonwealth.

So that oft-voiced claim in these parts that the state of Kentucky is the basketball capital of the United States?

Right now, across college basketball at many different levels, it rings true.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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