FOX Sports Exclusive
Another one-and-done for UK ... in NIT
On April 2, 2012, 70,913 fans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans watched the welcoming of a new world order in college basketball. John Calipari’s one-and-done-dominated Kentucky team won Coach Cal his first national title, and affirmed that the Calipari Way – to win national championships by turning your program into an NBA factory for teenage phenoms – would be the way into the future.
At that point, we already knew that Cal was bringing in the best recruiting class in the nation for the 2012-13 season, so we all wondered: Would a team other than Kentucky ever win another national championship?
“I wanted this to be one for the ages,” a gloating Calipari told reporters after winning his first national title.
The evil Calipari empire was born.
On Tuesday night, 352 days later, Calipari found himself in a rather different situation in what was essentially a high school gym in Moon Township, Pa., a mile from where he grew up outside Pittsburgh.
The postseason tournament? The NIT.
The opponent? Robert Morris University, the 124th-best team in the nation, according to RPI rankings, and an NIT eighth-seed compared to Kentucky’s one-seed.
The venue? Well, see for yourself:
Kentucky averaged 23,099 fans at home this season. Robert Morris' total attendance in 15 home games: 15,692.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 20, 2013
The result? The defending national champion went down, 59-57, getting knocked out in the first round of the NIT by the top team in the Northeast Conference. That’s right: The end of Kentucky’s season came in front of 3,444 people to a team whose losses earlier this season included Savannah State and Quinnipiac.
“This was humbling,” Calipari said afterward.
That’s one word for it. Humiliating might be another.
Twitter exploded with Calipari-mocking, mean-spirited snark, in a way Twitter has never before exploded as a result of a first-round NIT game, and, we should hope, never will again:
I would make a joke about Kentucky but I think they just made it for me.— The Phog (@phoggg) March 20, 2013
Chin up, Kentucky fans, this loss will soon be vacated— Matt Sussman (@suss2hyphens) March 20, 2013
Kentucky missed the NCAA tourney & lost in the NIT 1st round. This is the worst version of the Wildcats since Tim Tebow ran the Jets offense— Not Bill Walton (@NotBillWalton) March 20, 2013
(Ouch. Nothing worse than a Tebow dig.)
More than we love the underdog winning in America, we seem to love it more when the champion loses. We laugh. We make fun. We say they deserved it. It brings out the have-nots’ inner jealousies of the haves, and it can be ugly. Who doesn’t like seeing the Yankees missing the playoffs, or the Patriots getting their hearts broken on a fluke fourth-down catch at the end of a Super Bowl, or Mike Tyson getting his butt handed to him by Buster Douglas?
Just hope that you did all the Kentucky-hating you could on Tuesday night. Because on Wednesday, a teenage kid in Dallas, Texas, named Julius Randle will announce where he’s going to school. The big power forward is a top-five recruit in the nation, and Kentucky is among three schools he has visited. If he commits to Kentucky on Wednesday, Kentucky will have a historically great recruiting class. If he doesn’t commit to Kentucky, the Wildcats are still in the running for the No. 1 recruit of 2013, Andrew Wiggins, who would give them a historically great recruiting class. If neither of them decide on Kentucky, they’ll still have the best recruiting class in the nation for next season.
And after the game Tuesday, several of this year’s Kentucky freshman class, including Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin, said they plan to come back to Kentucky for their sophomore years. So be sure you got all your Kentucky-hating out now, because pretty soon, the evil empire will rule again.
Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @ReidForgrave or email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com.
More Stories From Reid Forgrave