We should probably go ahead and change the name of the SEC Mens' Basketball Tournament. From this day forward, it should be called the "Kentucky Invitational." After all, it's the Wildcats' tournament. Kentucky has won four of them in a row, and the 'Cats have won 31 all-time while the rest of the league has won just 27. That is total dominance; more dominant than any other sport. Kentucky has more fans who travel than any other SEC school. No matter which venue is selected, the "Big Blue Nation" makes it a huge home court advantage. That was the case as usual last week as Kentucky defeated Tennessee 77-72 in the championship game in St. Louis. The Vols had beaten the Wildcats twice during the regular season but remember that old adage that it's hard to beat a good team three times in one year.
It appears that head coach John Calipari has gone away from the "one and done" approach to recruiting, at least for the last couple of seasons.
Having a group of talented freshmen who play for Kentucky one season and in the NBA the next wasn't conducive to winning national titles. Calipari has posted a 273-63 record at Kentucky in nine seasons, with his 2014 squad winning the NCAA Championship and finishing 38-2. The 2018 squad just a few weeks ago was teetering on the NCAA bubble as far as getting in the "Big Dance." A four game losing streak late in the season, gave way to a streak that produced seven of eight wins, taking them to their SEC title win.
Kentucky has as much overall tradition as any school in the country. The Wildcats are 2,237-688 all time; tops on the list. It all started with the late Adolph Rupp who won 890 and lost just 190 games from 1930-1972. That included four NCAA titles, 27 SEC regular season titles and 13 SEC tournament crowns. The "Baron of Bluegrass" was the dominant coach in college basketball for many years, until UCLA's John Wooden won nine NCAA titles in the 1960's and 70's. Joe B. Hall followed Rupp at Kentucky winning the 1978 NCAA crown and Rick Pitino Tubby Smith and John Calipari each claimed one national title. The bottom line is this; Kentucky has dominated SEC basketball as much or more than Alabama has dominated the leagues' football fortunes.
As we enter the world of "March Madness" this week, I don't see Kentucky advancing past the first two rounds of the tournament. The 2018 Wildcats are 24-10 on the year and they're seeded fifth in the South Region of this year's "Big Dance." Then again, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see the "Big Blue" advancing all the way to the Final Four. They're playing their best basketball of the season at just the right time. After all, it is Kentucky, it's basketball season and the Kentucky fan base is excited. And when it's over, they can look past football season and look forward to next year's "Kentucky Invitational" in Nashville.
* * *
Randy Smith can be reached at email@example.com