John Calipari: This team goes where I take them
1.) Some of the major portents that can be discerned from UK’s past championship seasons are in conflict in 2019;
2.) If you trust the patterns of the past, UK’s chance of claiming its ninth NCAA title in 2019 is correlated to whether or not the No. 4 Cats (24-4, 13-2 SEC) beat No. 7 Tennessee (25-3, 13-2 SEC) in Saturday’s 2 p.m. contest at Thompson-Boling Arena.
At least three of the major “UK basketball title-year omens” will be tested in March Madness 2019.
The omen: The “Kentucky football 10-win-season” factor.
When Josh Allen, Benny Snell, Lynn Bowden and Co. bested Penn State in the VRBO Citrus Bowl to give Kentucky football a 10-3 record, the happiest person in the commonwealth should have been John Calipari.
The only other times in UK sports history when the Wildcats football team reached 10 wins, the Kentucky men’s basketball program went on to win the NCAA championship in the same school year.
Real factor or coincidence? Two prior school years is not enough of a sample size from which to draw conclusions.
I do think when UK football is good, it takes some pressure off Kentucky basketball by giving Wildcats fans another outlet for their zeal.
Omen two: The “in-state player as top-six scorer” factor.
Kentucky has never won a men’s NCAA basketball championship without a player from the commonwealth among its top six scorers.
The 1948-49 UK championship team had Beard (second) and Jones (third).
Kentucky’s 1950-51 title team featured Owensboro products Bobby Watson (third-leading scorer) and Hagan (fifth) plus Madisonville’s Ramsey (fourth).
Rupp’s final NCAA title team in 1957-58 boasted Lexington’s Vernon Hatton (leading scorer), Hazard’s Johnny Cox (second), Hebron’s John Crigler (third), Farmington’s Adrian Smith (fourth) and Ashland’s Earl Adkins (sixth).
Joe B. Hall’s 1977-78 NCAA champs had Lexington products Givens (leading scorer) and James Lee (fourth).
Louisville native Derek Anderson was the fourth-leading scorer for Rick Pitino’s 1995-96 national champions (with Lebanon’s Anthony Epps as starting point guard). Scott Padgett of Louisville was third-leading scorer for Tubby Smith’s 1997-98 title team.
Maysville’s Darius Miller (sixth-leading scorer) upheld the tradition on UK’s 2011-12 national championship team.
Real factor or coincidence? Alas, the current season is the second straight year UK does not have a scholarship player from the commonwealth on its roster.
My guess is UK will someday win an NCAA title without a native Kentuckian among its key players — but, since the NCAA tourney began in 1939, it never has.
Omen three: The “Kentucky championship teams beat Tennessee” factor.
Not one of UK’s eight NCAA title teams ever lost to Tennessee.
The history: Both Rupp’s 1948 and ‘49 title teams each swept UT two games in the regular season, then beat the Volunteers again in the SEC Tournament semifinals.
The other six Kentucky NCAA championship teams all went 2-0 vs. Tennessee.
Real factor or coincidence? Stipulating that there have been many Kentucky teams that swept Tennessee but did not win NCAA titles, I think there is something to this one.
UT has often been a thorn in the Cats’ paws, especially in Knoxville. It does not seem a coincidence that eight of the UK teams that had the talent and grit to win at UT also had enough of both qualities to win national championships.
After running the then-No. 1-ranked Volunteers out of Rupp Arena with an 86-69 beat down on Feb. 16, the 2018-19 Cats are halfway to the season sweep of the Big Orange.
If the Cats can win at Tennessee under this season’s circumstances, they will have shown the mettle of a team that can win it all.