Mark Story: Sorry all you other wanna-bes, but Kentucky is college basketball's capital

Herald-Leader columnistSeptember 28, 2013 

Basketball enthusiasts in Kentucky have long proclaimed that the commonwealth is America's college hoops capital.

Tough luck, North Carolina, but from 2008-09 through last season, the Bluegrass State has lived up to that claim.

Over this five-year period of Kentucky hoops bounty, major-college men's teams from the commonwealth have excelled.

Last season, Rick Pitino coached Louisville to the 2013 men's NCAA championship. The year before, it was John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats cutting down the nets.

U of L has made back-to-back Final Four trips. UK has played on college basketball's final weekend twice in the past three years. In 2012, for the first time ever, Kentucky and Louisville faced each other on college basketball's grandest stage.

Since 2008-09, five men's hoops teams from the commonwealth — Murray State, Morehead State, Western Kentucky, and of course UK and U of L — have won at least one NCAA tournament game.

In 2009-10, every men's hoops team from Kentucky that was then playing in NCAA Division I — the five schools listed above, plus Eastern Kentucky — all won more than 20 games.

That had never happened before in state history.

Too bad, Indiana, but in this five-year period of Kentucky hoops bounty, small-college teams from the commonwealth have excelled.

Twice in the past three seasons, teams from Kentucky have claimed the NAIA Division I national championship. Last season, second-year Georgetown College Coach Chris Briggs led the Tigers to their second national title.

In 2011, Kelly Wells coached Pikeville to the NAIA crown. That same year, Bellarmine brought the NCAA Division II men's hoops title to Louisville.

Take that, Kansas, in this five-year period of Kentucky hoops bounty, women's college basketball teams from the commonwealth have excelled.

In 2009 and 2013, Louisville advanced to the NCAA championship game, though perennial power Connecticut has denied Coach Jeff Walz and U of L the title both times. Still, the Cardinals march to the 2013 NCAA championship game included one of the epic March Madness upsets ever — a take down of defending NCAA champion Baylor and its star 6-foot-8 center, Brittney Griner.

Three times in the past four seasons, the Kentucky Wildcats have knocked on the door of UK's first-ever trip to a women's Final Four by advancing to the NCAA round of eight. Matthew Mitchell's Cats have yet to break through, but the Cats have established themselves as a legitimate Top 10 program.

Too bad, Ohio, in this five-year period of Kentucky hoops bounty, the commonwealth has bolstered its claim to having the most passion for college basketball.

This past season, the Louisville TV market was No. 1 in the nation (with a 4.5 rating) in terms of viewership of men's college basketball games on ESPN. Amazingly, Louisville has been the top market in watching ESPN college hoops broadcasts every season since 2002-03.

In Lexington, UK averaged 23,099 in men's basketball home attendance for 2012-13. Kentucky has led the nation in attendance eight seasons in a row and 17 times in the past 18 years.

Showing the depth of hoops interest in the Bluegrass State, Louisville was third in the nation last season in women's basketball home attendance, and UK was 11th.

So forget about it Tennessee, New York, California and all the rest. Over these past five seasons, the state of Kentucky has walked its talk and deserves the mantle of college basketball capital of these United States.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: Twitter: @markcstory. Blog:

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