Friday, March 30, 2007

My “Point”

Frequent poster (and Buckeye fan) Mike asked in the comments of “Kentucky Dreamin’” what my “ultimate point” of the post was. My ultimate point, if there is one, is that Kentucky fans have lost all sense of perspective.

First of all, as I point out above, Tubby Smith was successful at Kentucky, and is arguably the most successful SEC coach during his tenure.

In fact, look at the SEC winners (regular season and tournament) since Tubby 1998, Tubby’s first year –

Regular Season

1998 Kentucky
1999 Auburn
2000 Florida, Kentucky, LSU, Tennessee
2001 Florida, Kentucky
2002 Alabama
2003 Kentucky
2004 Mississippi State
2005 Kentucky
2006 LSU
2007 Florida

Tournament

1998 Kentucky
1999 Kentucky
2000 Arkansas
2001 Kentucky
2002 Mississippi State
2003 Kentucky
2004 Kentucky
2005 Florida
2006 Florida
2007 Florida

If you are keeping score over that period –

Regular Season

Kentucky – 5
Florida – 3
“Others” – 6 (with splits)

Tournament

Kentucky – 5
Florida – 3
“Others” – 2

So during his tenure, Tubby won 50% of all regular season titles, and 50% of the tournament titles. Not bad for a 12 team conference.

And, contrary to popular Kentucky belief, it wasn’t all done with “Pitino’s players”. The 03’ and 05’ SEC regular titles, and 3 of the 5 tournament titles, would have had nothing to do with Pitino.

Not only has the SEC grown more challenging – as well as larger – winning the NCAA title has become far more challenging. Kentucky has NCAA titles for the following years –

1948
1949
1951
1958
1978
1996
1998

Now, let’s look at how the NCAA tournament format has changed over those years –

1948, 1949 – 8 teams
1951 – 16 teams
1958 – 24 teams
1978 – 32 teams
1996, 1998 – 64 teams

Of course, now there are 65 teams with the “play-in” game.

In other words, you had the same base mathematical chance of winning the tournament in 1951 as you have of making the Final Four currently.

Further, based strictly on numbers, 5 of Kentucky’s titles were mathematically far easier to win than the last 2. Not to mention, the popularity of college basketball (in large part because of the NCAA tournament) has increased dramatically. Presently there are 336 Division I-A basketball teams (as compared to about 120 football teams). While those 336 teams vary widely in terms of competitiveness, with the current “One-and-done” NCAA tournament format, winning it all, or even making the Final Four, is harder than ever.

Of course, in looking at the SEC records above, one notices what is apparently driving Kentucky fans quite insane – and that is the recent rise of Florida, coupled with Florida’s run of an SEC record 6 consecutive wins over Kentucky.

Like seemingly everything else of the Kentucky thought process lately, Wildcat fans are taking Florida’s recent success way out of perspective. Prior to last year, Florida had an unenviable record of 5 consecutive first or second round NCAA eliminations (Smith had no where near such a poor record). Then, in 2 year’s time, UF wins the NCAA title and gets back to the Final Four (notably, UF did not win the SEC last year).

What is the common element of UF’s recent success?

Well, that common element is something exceedingly rare – 5 players who won a national title and then decided to return to school. Based on conflicting media reports, this has either never happened before, or if it did, it was in the era of black and white TV. How this happened is even rarer, in that 3 of UF’s starting 5 come from families affluent enough (Noah, Horford and Green) that they could essentially afford to put off the NBA draft for a year.

How many top college prospects come from families so fortunate? Very few. How many end up on the same team? Well, the odds are staggering.

I give Donovan all the credit in the world, but am fully aware of this – the recent success that Kentucky so clearly covets is a result of once-in-a-lifetime luck. (Unless, that is, Donovan somehow has a recruiting strategy geared towards athletic affluent kids.) No one expected UF to be this good last year (we were not even ranked pre-season).

And, whether Billy stays or not, we will be nowhere close to this good next year.

So, my final point is this. If it has been the lifetime desire of Billy Donovan to coach at Kentucky, he should go there, regardless of the money offered. Florida can easily match anything UK could offer, but that is really not the point. For a man like Donovan who has reached a pinnacle of success in his chosen career, he will never be more marketable than he is now. Although I would be highly disappointed, I would understand his decision.

However, Kentucky fans need to ask themselves this – what is the chance that, if Donovan comes, he will exceed what Smith achieved?

The answer is very slight.

In fact, I will say this now – if Donovan goes to Kentucky, he will not do better than Smith did in his 10 season. Why?

Because it is virtually impossible.

Kentucky fans swept up in rumors of private planes and purchased horse farms seem to have completely lost perspective as to what Donovan may be able to achieve for them. Two years ago, as he was eliminated for the 5th consecutive time in the 1st or 2nd NCAA round, they wouldn’t have wanted him.

Now, they are swooning because of the results of 2 years of an 11 year career where Billy the Kid was lucky enough to “catch lightning in a bottle”, and have 5 starters from a national championship team return.

It has never happened before.

And it won’t happen again.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Thanks Mergz, makes sense.

I guess I will say this, Billy may have caught lightning in a bottle but he did it with kids who were not highly recruited by most schools. Donovan went out and got kids that fit his style of play. That tells me he is a damn good coach.

If he were to go to UK, the chances of getting those same "good fits" but at a higher athletic level increase. Kids are like coaches, they want to go where they will be the center of attention, and I think Donovan would be a bit more successful than you are giving him credit for. Is he Tubby Smith successful? I guess there's only one way to find out...