It is either going to happen, or it is not going to happen. The stakes have never been greater. The expectations have never been higher. The “what if’s” are gone, banished to The Island of Irrelevancy and Hypothetical Questions. Perfect seasons in college basketball are the rarest of rare athletic feats in all of sports. It is not supposed to happen. In fact, it hasn’t happened in almost four decades. Above all other college basketball fan bases, no one comprehends this better than Big Blue Nation. We understand Kentucky basketball is at the precipice of something so special, so unique, it may never happen again. To achieve immortality, a ninth national championship must come home to Lexington. There is no other way around it. Win or go home. A new banner hanging in the hallowed rafters of Rupp Arena is no longer voluntary. It is mandatory.
Raise your hand if you called for an undefeated season last season (I am raising my hand). Raise your hand if you questioned the platoon system (my hand is still raised). Raise your hand if you didn’t believe nine McDonald’s All-Americans could share points and playing time (my hand is still raised and getting tired). Raise your hand if you thought the schedule was just too hard (switching to my other hand now). Don’t blame yourself. It’s OK. From a newborn wearing a UK onesie to the last of The Greatest Generation in Western Kentucky, every Big Blue Nation member dreamed about being undefeated. More times than not, we had to talk ourselves off the proverbial ledge, lest we get our hopes up too much. Now, we are here. The dream can become a reality. It is right in front of our faces.
By the time most of you read this, Kentucky will either be an undefeated national champion, or the victim of an upset so big that it will shake March Madness to its very core. Of course, I prefer the former. But what happens if it is the latter?
An upset would be crushing and jarring to our collective Big Blue Nation soul. The amount of therapy and bourbon needed to soothe the pain would be beyond substantial. “They had it. IT WAS RIGHT THERE FOR THE TAKING. What happened? Oh, the misery!” we would scream to ourselves and curse to the heavens. But maybe Coach Cal and the boys just couldn’t close it down. No matter how hard they played, basketball can prove to be a fickle game. Just ask John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins about the 2010 West Virginia game. Kentucky was head and shoulders above the Mountaineers, but for one game—just one game—West Virginia got the better of them. That’s all it took and Kentucky was out. It could happen again. History can, and sometimes unfortunately will, repeat itself. But do we allow one loss to taint an otherwise perfect season? Perfect, in the sense of an undefeated regular season, an SEC regular season championship, an SEC tournament championship, and post season accolades for Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl Towns, and Coach Cal? I say no. I refuse to allow one loss to taint an otherwise season for the ages. I am aware that it is so much easier said than done. I am not stupid. I know myself well enough to recognize how difficult not seeing Kentucky win it all would be. The pill we would be forced to swallow would taste worse than those lima beans you still refuse to eat on Thanksgiving and larger than the biggest vitamin on the shelf. For all the misery Big Blue Nation may have to go through, I am not going to let that define this magical season.
This team is as special as it gets, folks. “Special” is a term thrown around a little too loosely nowadays. Whether it applies to a sale at the furniture store, a limited engagement as an event, or a term of endearment for a loved one, “special” has evolved to go hand in hand with just about everything in our everyday lives. But I challenge that this Kentucky team is as “special” as anything Big Blue Nation will see in our lifetimes. An undefeated regular season in a Power Five conference is in itself a special accomplishment, one that hasn’t happened since Jerry Tarkanian and the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV left mushroom clouds hanging over college basketball way back in 1991. The biggest difference between that UNLV team and our Kentucky team, besides being undefeated rolling into March Madness? First of all, the NCAA and their Infractions Department aren’t camped outside Memorial Coliseum. For those too young to remember that UNLV team, they were Public Enemy #1 in the eyes of the country. UNLV were bad, bad boys that would crush their opponent’s soul on the court, then get photographed in a hot tub with a known Las Vegas “fixer” after the final horn sounded. From community works and academic success, to role models and “getting” what it means to play basketball for Kentucky, this squad has the character and lack of ego rare among the college basketball elite. Forget the undefeated talk for a second and cherish those kids playing their hearts out for our beloved Blue.
And how could we forget the thirty-point thrashing of Kansas? The all-out annihilation of UCLA in Chicago? Beating Rick Pitino and his Dirty Birds in their house? The throttling of Texas? Witnessing the beautiful freak of nature that is Willie Cauley-Stein? The enormous talent of Karl Anthony-Towns? The cold faced assassins known as The Harrison Twins? We could all go on and on about how spectacular this team has been. There is no doubt Coach Cal will win more national titles at Kentucky before he leaves. But will those teams be more enjoyable than this one? I don’t see it.
Of course, all of this could be much ado about nothing. Maybe Kentucky will steamroll all over March Madness, finishing the season undefeated with their ninth national championship in tow. Everybody is predicting it. Professional sportscasters have proclaimed it would take an act of God for Kentucky not to cut down the nets in Indianapolis on April 6. One opposing coach went so far to jokingly say he’d “need to call Jesus” before battling UK. The odds are in our favor, BBN.
But no matter what happens. Keep enjoying the ride. It may not come around again. Ever. This season has been more special than any in Kentucky history. Refuse to let a loss define it. •