Kentucky's basketball team had a pretty poor season this year, by normal UK basketball standards, and I think the fans are primarily to blame.
Kentucky had a great coach in Tubby Smith. In 10 years with UK, he won a national title, won the SEC tournament 5 or 6 times, garnered a #1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, won 20 or more games every year, and was all in all a great coach that kept Kentucky at the standard that fans have come to expect. Yet, because he had a style of play that was defense-oriented, and because his teams frequently lost early in the NCAA tournament to less-talented teams, fans of UK basketball more or less ran him out of town. He was the source of ridicule and critical comments pretty much from the time he started at UK, and one has to wonder if race wasn't at least partly to blame. Either way, the pressure got to be too much, and he resigned last year and took at job at Minnesota. This year at Minnesota, he won -- again -- over 20 games.
Kentucky hired Billie Gillispie to replace Tubby. They wanted Billy Donovan from Florida, but Donovan declined the offer. Gillispie has more or less been a total disappointment. Give him the benefit of the doubt for having to reshape a Tubby team primed for defensive play into a team with a more offense-oriented style, but nevertheless, one has to assume that a better coach would have turned the team around quicker. UK lost a lot of games early in the season, to mid-major teams who are not as talented as they are. They lost to teams like San Diego, Houston, and Gardner-Webb. At one point, they were an abysmal 7-9. Granted, since January, they have played better, and wound up with a 12-4 record in the SEC, but their final regular season record was 18-12. EIGHTEEN AND TWELVE!! They lost in the first round of the SEC tournament to a Georgia team who was 13-16 going into the tournament. Granted, Georgia ended up winning the whole thing, but that does not take the blame from Kentucky for losing to this team.
One can't help but recognize that the team would have been better this year with Tubby. Tubby never got a seed in the NCAA tournament as low as 11, and Gillispie was lucky to get that. A good argument could have been made that UK didn't deserve a berth in the tournament at all. They are a pathetically average team under Gillispie.
Maybe Gillispie will turn it around next year when he has some of his own recruits to mess with, but I am extremely disappointed in his first year. In fact, he has had, without question, the most abysmal first year of any Kentucky coach in the modern era (Pitino's first year doens't count, as the team was on harsh probation when he took over). Gillispie defintely has his work cut out for him if he wants to stay around.
I just feel irritated at how Tubby was run out of UK by the fans. He is a great person, a model citizen, was a successful coach who kept Kentucky at the standards people expect, and yet none of that was good enough, because he taught his team to play defensively, instead of offensively. And he has proven his worth by winning over 20 games with Minnesota in his first year -- while simultaneously Gillispie struggled to win 18 and keep UK above .500.
Tubby was a class act, while Gillispie seems to be a total clown. Maybe the problem wasn't losing Tubby, but hiring Gillispie to replace him. I guess time will tell. Maybe Gillispie will rebuild my confidence in him in the future, but right now, I think he is a travesty.