The immediate past college basketball season in the commonwealth of Kentucky was genuinely historic.
In 2009-10, for the first time ever, the men's basketball teams at all six NCAA Division I schools in Kentucky won 20 games or more — Kentucky (35-3); Murray State (31-5); Morehead State (24-11); Western Kentucky (21-13); Eastern Kentucky (20-13); Louisville (20-13).
To the frustration of a basketball-mad state, what last season didn't provide was a Kentucky team in the Final Four.
In the 21st century, only two teams from our state have made it to college basketball's largest stage — the Louisville men in 2005 and the U of L women in 2009.
As our state's pent-up yearning for more Final Four participation reaches Mount St. Helens' levels, here are 10 story lines that will bring intrigue to the 2010-11 college basketball season in Kentucky.
10. Fab Frosh Redux?
A year ago, freshmen standouts John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe started on a UK team that won 35 games. All three, along with fellow first-year player Daniel Orton, became first-round NBA Draft picks.
Talk about tough acts to follow. A new, lavishly hyped John Calipari recruiting class led by Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and, maybe, Enes Kanter, has the daunting task of living up to that standard.
9. Sweet 16 for Murray?
Last season, Billy Kennedy's Racers beat Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and went to the final buzzer against eventual national runner-up Butler in the second round. With key players Isaiah Canaan, B.J. Jenkins and Ivan Aska back, Murray fans think advancing to the school's first-ever Sweet 16 is realistic.
8. Paradise regained?
In 2009, the Louisville women played in the national championship game. Last season, U of L went 14-18. The difference, of course, is that the Cardinals lost mega-star Angel McCoughtry after the title game loss to Connecticut. This season, Cards Coach Jeff Walz welcomes a recruiting class that ESPN HoopGurlz rates No. 5 in the country in a bid to show that U of L women's hoops can fly without its Angel.
7. Faried's last stand
It was a mixed summer for Morehead State men's basketball. The school ran afoul of the NCAA over recruiting violations committed by a booster (though it was not banned from post-season play). On the plus side, Kenneth Faried chose not to enter his name in the NBA Draft. With the return of the bouncy double-double machine for his senior year, the Eagles are a viable threat to dethrone Murray State in the OVC.
6. Queen Victoria
A year ago, Kentucky women's basketball forward Victoria Dunlap emerged as a genuine star, winning SEC Player of the Year and leading UK's surprise run to the NCAA tourney round of eight. Knowing she will be a marked woman this season, what will Dunlap produce for an encore?
5. Ricky P. on the spot?
Rick Pitino hasn't provided Louisville fans much positive news over the past year. A thin roster minus four starters from a mediocre (by U of L standards) 20-13 team a season ago makes it highly uncertain whether that is going to change this winter. Back in the day, Pitino built his name by motivating undermanned teams to overachieve. This would be a prime time for the coach to recapture that magic.
4. Pettigrew's last stand
When Elizabethtown's high-scoring Steffphon Pettigrew was capturing Kentucky's 2007 Mr. Basketball award, his hope was to earn a chance to play at UK. The Cats never came up with a scholarship offer, so the burly 6-foot-5 tweener wound up at Western Kentucky. In his first three years on the Hill, Pettigrew has played on teams that have won a combined three NCAA Tournament games (the same number UK has won in the same period). Last year, however, WKU missed the Dance. Now a senior, Pettigrew (14.9 points, 5.9 rebounds in 2009-10) will try to help Western get back.
3. Miller time?
After two mostly inconsistent seasons, Kentucky swingman Darius Miller showed signs late last season of fulfilling his ample promise. He had a career-high 20 points against Wake Forest in the NCAA tourney second round, then followed that up with a lock-down defensive job on Cornell long-range bomber Ryan Wittman in the round of 16.
Miller built on that over the summer with strong play in UK's summer tour of Canada. Is this the year Kentucky's 2008 Mr. Basketball (Mason County) consistently takes his game to the proverbial next level?
2. U of L's new house
This winter, Louisville will play its first season in the $238 million KFC Yum Center. The downtown arena will seat some 22,000, has seven levels and 71 luxury suites. Now that U of L has access to a state-of-the-art new facility, how long will it be before arena envy spurs Kentucky to action?
1. Final Four drought
As Kentucky Wildcats fans are all too aware, UK has not played on college basketball's final weekend since 1998. This year, the chances of the Kentucky men ending the drought may well rest on whether the NCAA thinks Turkish big man recruit Enes Kanter is actually an amateur.
Yet, perhaps for the first time ever, the men's team may not even be UK's best bet to make the Final Four. Matthew Mitchell's women have stars Victoria Dunlap and A'dia Mathies back plus a well-regarded incoming recruiting class.
Wouldn't it be something if it takes girl power to get UK back to college basketball's promised land?