Mark Story

Could Stoops and Petrino end up on hot seat? Key questions for 2018-19 Ky. sports

If Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops, left, and Louisville head man Bobby Petrino, right, do not produce strong seasons in 2018, each could begin 2019 with some heat beneath their respective coaching seats?
If Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops, left, and Louisville head man Bobby Petrino, right, do not produce strong seasons in 2018, each could begin 2019 with some heat beneath their respective coaching seats? aslitz@herald-leader.com

The implosion of the University of Louisville men's basketball program with the subsequent ousters of Rick Pitino and Tom Jurich was the dominant story of the 2017-18 college sports year in Kentucky.

Yet college athletics in the commonwealth in 2017-18 supplied its share of uplift, too.

Football gave Kentuckians a final year of watching the brilliance of Lamar Jackson and the grit of Stephen Johnson at quarterback.

Louisville women's basketball made its third all-time Final Four trip.

The Murray State and Western Kentucky men's hoops programs enjoyed renaissances, the former reaching the NCAA Tournament, the latter making the NIT semifinals.

Now, with both the good and bad of the last school year in the rear-view mirror, it is time to turn the page and identify the key stories to watch in 2018-19 at Kentucky's NCAA Division I schools.

Reid Travis
Reid Travis averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game as a low-post strongman for Stanford last season. John Locher AP

Kentucky

Reason to be stoked: The addition of standout Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis will inject John Calipari's ever-youthful Wildcats men's basketball roster with the maturity and experience that was sorely lacking a season ago.

The big question(s): 1.) Can a veteran UK football roster with 16 returning starters overcome a more difficult schedule in 2018 to produce Kentucky's third straight bowl trip? 2.) If that doesn't happen, is Mark Stoops feeling some heat?

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops talks to the media after his team’s spring game on Friday night.

Chris Mack shaking hands with Vince Tyra
Landing a coach as accomplished as former Xavier head man Chris Mack, right, was a coup for new University of Louisville Athletics Director Vince Tyra, left. Timothy D. Easley AP

Louisville

Reason to be stoked: After the misery of recent years for U of L men's basketball fans, new Cardinals Coach Chris Mack is in the coaching sweet spot: He has enough talent on his first Louisville roster to be competitive but expectations are so lowered by the recent program adversity that any success will carry a Cinderella feel.

The big question: After Bobby Petrino 1.0 at Louisville (2003-06) yielded 41 football wins for the Cardinals including an 11-1 season and a 12-1 year, Bobby Petrino 2.0 (2014 through the present) has produced "only" 34 wins and no double-digit-victory seasons. If U of L does not make a major step upward this fall, does some coaching heat build beneath Bobby P., too?

Taveion Hollingsworth
Western Kentucky guard Taveion Hollingsworth, Kentucky’s 2017 Mr. Basketball and 2016 Sweet Sixteen MVP, is one of the recruiting jewels that Rick Stansbury has attracted to Bowling Green. Austin Anthony Daily News via AP

Western Kentucky

Reason to be stoked: After leading WKU (27-11) to the NIT semifinals, Hilltoppers men's hoops coach Rick Stansbury has continued to make hay as a recruiter. For next season, Stansbury has added lavishly-hyped Nigerian big man Charles Bassey and Auburn graduate transfer forward Desean Murray to a talented returning nucleus that starts with Lexington product Taveion Hollingsworth.

The big question: After a difficult first year (6-7) as WKU football coach, can Mike Sanford Jr. return the good feelings to Hilltoppers football in spite of the graduation of star quarterback Mike White and facing a brutal 2018 schedule that includes only five home dates and road games at Wisconsin and Louisville?

A.W. Hamilton
This winter, new Eastern Kentucky University men's basketball coach A.W. Hamilton will try to lead the Colonels to their first OVC Tournament appearance since 2015 and their first NCAA tourney trip since 2014. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Eastern Kentucky

Reason to be stoked: After EKU men's hoops went 38-55 the past three seasons, the Colonels have turned to former Scott County High School standout A.W. Hamilton as head coach to right the ship.

The big question: After Mark Elder went 3-8 and 4-7 in his first two seasons as Eastern football coach, can the former Butch Jones assistant turn the tide in year three?

Preston Spradlin
Preston Spradlin led Morehead State to an 8-21 record in his first full season as the Eagles' men's basketball coach last season. Tim Webb

Morehead State

Reason to be stoked: The Eagles have never played in a women's NCAA basketball tournament. After back-to-back 20-win seasons, Coach Greg Todd has three senior starters who scored in double figures last season back for one more shot at making program history.

The big question: After Preston Spradlin went 8-21 in what everyone knew would be a rebuilding project in his first full season as MSU men's hoops coach, how far back up the OVC ladder will the Eagles climb this winter?

Trevon Faulkner
Kentucky's 2018 Mr. Basketball, ex-Mercer County star Trevon Faulkner joins a Northern Kentucky program that has played in the NCAA Tournament (2017) and NIT (2018) over the past two seasons. Matt Goins

Northern Kentucky

Reason to be stoked: The NKU women's hoops program has gone 9-22 in each of head coach Camryn Whitaker's first two seasons, but it is adding a highly-touted recruiting haul of in-state stars in Taylor Clos (Campbell County), Ally Niece (Simon Kenton) and Emmy Souder (Mercer County).

The big question: Even with Kentucky's 2018 Mr. Basketball, Trevon Faulkner, joining an NKU roster that returns senior star Drew McDonald (17 points, 9.6 rebounds), can Norse Coach John Brannen withstand the transfer of 2016 Mr. Basketball Carson Williams (to WKU) and and lead Northern to its third straight 20-win season?

Turley
Murray's Macey Turley moved the ball against Shelby Valley in the girls' All "A" Classic championship game in Richmond on Jan. 28. Matt Goins

Murray State

Reason to be stoked: After helping Murray High School to three 1st Region titles and two All "A" Classic championships, Macey Turley, Alexis Burpo and Lex Mayes are joining their old high school coach, current MSU women's head coach Rechelle Turner, to try to turn around the Racers' program.

The big question: After losing senior stars Jonathan Stark and Terrell Miller Jr. to graduation from a 26-6 team, can Racers men's hoops coach Matt McMahon reload and keep Murray State atop the OVC?

Mark Story: 859-231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

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