A year after the University of Kentucky won its first NCAA Tournament Championship since 1998, the University of Louisville capped its first title run since 1986 with a win Monday over Michigan.
And the Bluegrass State’s affinity for roundball success doesn’t extend only to the state’s two largest schools. Other Kentucky schools have found the spotlight in recent years.
In 2009, a buzzer-beater by Lyon County’s Ty Rogers kept Western Kentucky alive, and the Hilltoppers gave UCLA a scare in the Sweet 16 before the Bruins moved on to the Final Four.
In the last two seasons, WKU has emerged from middle-of-the-road regular season records to win the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and move on to the field of 68. This year, they hung tight for 40 minutes with Kansas and nearly pulled off the first 1-versus-16-seed upset in history.
Morehead State won a play-in game in 2009 and then, as a 13-seed in 2011, knocked off Louisville.
And then, there’s my alma mater, the Cinderella darlings of the 2011-12 season, Murray State. The Ohio Valley Conference, long a one-bid league, has been dominated by the Racers, who have won 15 of the league’s 50 conference championships.
In 2010, MSU upset Vanderbilt and went to the wire with eventual national runner-up Butler. In 2012, after a one-loss regular season, the Racers entered the big tournament as a No. 6 seed and beat Colorado State before losing to Marquette.
And all of that is in addition to what the Cardinals and Wildcats have done.
Including this season, Louisville has advanced to the Final Four three times in the last nine years.
But, of course, it all comes back to the Big Blue.
UK won the 2012 tournament after advancing to the Final Four the year before and the Elite Eight the year before that, ending the program’s most recent dark period that stretched from the last part of Tubby Smith’s run as head coach through the two seasons under Billy Gillispie.
Since the arrival of current coach John Calipari, the ‘Cats are at the top of each season’s recruiting class rankings. That worked pretty well the first three seasons – this year, not so much.
Still, UK’s hoops legacy continues on. Currently, 20 former ‘Cats are on NBA rosters.
To my eyes, we’re coming back around to another golden age of college basketball. As I was growing up, the top programs came from Kentucky (UK and Louisville), North Carolina (UNC and Duke), Indiana and Kansas. After some stumbles from a few of those teams, they’re all at or near the top now.
For this year, it’s the Cardinals. So congrats, UofL fans.
And enjoy watching as the 2014 and ‘15 Wildcats keep the trophy in the Commonwealth.
Justin McGill is general manager of The Cadiz Record and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.