Mark Story: Barnhart tenure still lacks a non-hoops breakthrough

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 15, 2013 

Toward the end of each school year, I like to evaluate how the athletics departments at Kentucky and Louisville have fared and declare an overall winner between the two.

In 2012-13, there is no point. This year, Louisville won the Sugar Bowl, the men's basketball NCAA championship, finished as national runner-up in women's hoops and is currently playing in baseball's College World Series.

In the sports that move the needle, Louisville had a nicer year than any school in the country.

Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart upset some Cardinals backers last week by referring to U of L's unprecedented sports success in 2012-13 as a "nice year." It brought to mind another time when Barnhart laid down some provocative rivalry talk.

In 2002, in his first news conference after being named UK AD, Barnhart made a vow: "Make no mistake, we'll compete to own this state."

Eleven years since Barnhart threw down that marker, let's examine how Kentucky has fared against Louisville in the four most visible sports.

Football

UK record vs. U of L under Barnhart: 5-6

UK record vs. U of L before Barnhart: 3-5 (series resumed in 1994)

Record vs. U of L of head coaches hired by Barnhart: 4-6

Trend(s): After Kentucky won four in a row (2007-10), Louisville has taken the last two and will be favored to make it three straight Sept. 14.

Men's basketball

UK record vs. U of L under Barnhart: 7-5

UK record vs. U of L in most recent 12 games before Barnhart: 9-3

Record vs. U of L of head coaches hired by Barnhart: 4-3.

Trend(s): Louisville won last season, but Kentucky has beaten the Cardinals four of the last five (including the 2012 Final Four) and seven of the last 10.

Women's basketball

UK record vs. U of L under Barnhart: 4-7

UK record vs. U of L in most recent 11 games before Barnhart: 7-4

Record vs. U of L of head coaches hired by Barnhart: 4-6.

Trend(s): After Louisville won five in a row (2004-08), Kentucky has taken three of the last four including a dramatic victory last season.

Baseball

UK record vs. U of L under Barnhart: 13-9

UK record vs. U of L in most recent 22 games prior to Barnhart: 15-7

Record vs. U of L of head coaches hired by Barnhart: 12-8

Trend(s): The two schools are 7-7 head-to-head since 2007.

Summary

Kentucky has a winning record against Louisville in two of the four most visible sports since Barnhart's vow and a losing mark in two.

Even with the Hal Mumme-era NCAA probation Barnhart inherited, UK has done better vs. U of L in football under the AD than it was doing before he arrived. The Wildcats have fared worse against the Cards in the other three high-visibility sports under Barnhart than they were doing before he was hired.

However, the Tom Jurich-era Louisville Athletics Department is far more formidable across the board than the U of L that Kentucky was competing against prior to 1997.

Bottom line: Combined, UK is 29-27 against U of L in the four most visible sports since Mitch Barnhart came to Lexington. Rather than "owning the state," Kentucky is more holding its own against Louisville.

In terms of overall NCAA team championships, Kentucky has won two under Barnhart (rifle in 2011, men's basketball 2012) to one for U of L (2013 men's hoops, with the current Louisville baseball team still viable) under Cardinals AD Jurich.

The mystery

Barnhart's greatest achievement at Kentucky has been building UK into a legitimate all-around SEC athletics department, one that is strong in multiple sports.

In women's basketball Kentucky has played in three NCAA Tournament elite eights in the past four years; UK softball has made an NCAA tourney super-regional twice in the last three seasons; Wildcats volleyball has made it to three rounds of 16 in the past four NCAA tournaments; UK men's tennis has four straight NCAA tourney sweet 16s.

What Kentucky hasn't done (other than the rifle national title) is punch through into a College World Series or a Final Four in an NCAA tournament other than men's hoops or into a major football bowl game.

That's what Louisville has done. U of L has bolstered its three men's basketball Final Fours since 2005 with two football wins in BCS bowls, two appearances in the women's basketball national championship game, two trips to baseball's College World Series and one national runner-up finish in men's soccer.

The most puzzling aspect of UK sports in the Barnhart years is why Kentucky hasn't (other than the rifle national title) yet produced a "take the final step" post-season breakthrough of its own in a sport other than men's hoops.

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

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