Two Final Four appearances and a nearly perfect season over the past four years make the University of Kentucky basketball program an underachiever, according to an ESPN article posted Tuesday morning.
UK topped ESPN’s list of five teams that have “underachieved with great recruiting classes” over the past four seasons, joining Louisiana State, UNLV, North Carolina State and UCLA.
The Wildcats have had three No. 2 recruiting classes and one No. 1 class nationally in that span, according to the ESPN rankings, but they’ve also had quite a bit of success on the court.
Kentucky was one of just three schools to advance to two Final Fours from 2013 to 2016 (Syracuse and Wisconsin were the others), and the Cats have a 115-33 overall record during those seasons.
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“However, the Wildcats missed the NCAA Tournament once in that span and then received a No. 8 seed the following year,” wrote ESPN’s Jeff Borzello. “Injuries have played a factor (Nerlens Noel in 2013), but there’s also been underperforming among the elite recruits.”
UK went 21-12 during the first season during the time frame in question, landing in the NIT after Noel suffered a season-ending knee injury. The Cats were 29-11 the following year, losing to UConn in the national title game after starting the tourney as a No. 8 seed. Next came UK’s 38-0 start before a loss to Wisconsin in the Final Four, and the Cats finished 27-9 this past season, losing to Indiana in the round of 32.
None of the other schools on ESPN’s list of underachievers made it past the round of 16 during the past four NCAA tournaments.
Duke is 116-30 over the past four seasons — one more total victory than Kentucky — but the Blue Devils did win the national championship in 2015. Kansas, another perennial powerhouse, is 118-29 in that span but hasn’t advanced to the Final Four since 2012. Arizona, which has enjoyed tremendous recruiting success under Coach Sean Miller, is 119-26 over the past four years but also hasn’t been to a Final Four in that span.
Arizona had a top-six recruiting class in each of the four years studied. Duke had two No. 1 classes in those four years, and the other two were ranked in the top 12. Kansas had three top-10 classes (the other was ranked No. 13) in that span.
No school came close to Kentucky’s recruiting rankings from 2012-2015, however, and the high expectations with no national title to show for it surely landed the Cats on ESPN’s dubious list, whether that’s fair or not.
ESPN team recruiting rankings (2012-2015)