March Madness is here! With just a week to go until Selection Sunday, Kentucky is primed to win the upcoming NCAA Tournament. We won’t know the field until March 13.
We do know that the Wildcats will be in the tournament and will be considered one of the favorites.
Kentucky is synonymous with March Madness, having won eight NCAA titles and appeared in 17 Final Fours. Will they make it again in 2022? While online sports betting in Kentucky still isn’t legal, there’s hope that could finally change. A sports betting bill has been filed in the state for this year.
But for every NCAA title won by Kentucky, there are a couple of heartbreaks. Caution, this may bring up some painful memories for Kentucky basketball fans, but these are the Wildcats’ March Madness teams that left fans feeling blue.
1954: We won’t go
Let’s just start by saying that Kentucky and the NCAA, the governing body for college sports, haven’t always been friends. The NCAA gave the Kentucky basketball program and coach Adolph Rupp the death penalty (no games) for the 1952-53 season alleging game–fixing connections.
Kentucky played four exhibition games instead and started practicing for the 53–54 season. When it started, they were dominating. The Wildcats went 25-0 in the regular season, but trouble loomed.
Three Wildcats had graduated from school the year it could not play. It appealed to the NCAA to let those three play in the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA waited until the Wildcats sealed their spot in the tournament before saying those three players were ineligible. In contrast, today, you can bet they’d be considered graduate players and be allowed to play.
Rupp refused to enter the tournament without his three players, figuring the NCAA was just looking to stick to Kentucky again. La Salle, a team Kentucky thumped by 13 in the regular season, won the NCAA title.
March Madness 1992: Unforgettable
Kentucky and the NCAA were at odds again in the early 1990s and the organization banned the Wildcats from tournament play for three years.
In 1992, seniors Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey and Sean Woods got their shot at going to the NCAA Tournament. Boosted by sophomore sensation Jamal Mashburn, the Wildcats won the SEC East and were seeded No. 2 in the East Region.
They rolled into the Elite Eight where they met Duke. In what is widely considered the greatest basketball game of all time, Christian Laettner hit a buzzer-beater from the foul line after a full-court pass from Grant Hill. Duke won 104-103.
The senior class, the four players who stayed around, had their jerseys immediately retired and Coach Rick Pitino and the state of Kentucky refer to them forever as “The Unforgettables.”
2003: A Wade too far
The Wildcats started slowly under Tubby Smith. They were 6-3 before senior Keith Bogans got the team going and Kentucky went on a 26–game win streak that included big wins over Notre Dame and blowing out then No. 1 Florida at Rupp Arena.
In the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky was rolling, but Bogans hurt his ankle in the regional semifinal. He still suited up for the Wildcats match-up with Marquette. It turned into a disaster. The game became the coming-out party for future NBA superstar Dwyane Wade, who had a triple-double.
Marquette ended the first half on a 35-16 run and downed the Wildcats 83-69.
2010: The Wall Comes Down
It was the first year for Coach John Calipari and the Wildcats were loaded with talented freshmen. Kentucky started 19-0 behind John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.
They entered the NCAA Tournament 32–2 and crushed their first three opponents, including Wake Forest by 30 points.
In the East Region final, Kentucky met West Virginia and coach Bob Huggins. The Mountaineers frustrated the ‘Cats with a 1-3-1 zone and Kentucky went ice cold from the floor, shooting just 4-32 from three-point range and 16-29 from the line.
Joe Mazzulla had the game of his life for West Virginia with 17 points and the Mountaineers won 73-66.
2015: Kentucky 38 and Oh No
The 2014-2015 Kentucky basketball season was one for the books.
In the regular season, Kentucky stomped Louisville by eight, whipped North Carolina by 14, walloped Kansas by 32 and UCLA by 39 points.
They got revenge on West Virginia (see above) in the Sweet 16, taking down the Mountaineers by 39 points.
Only nine games were decided by 10 points or less. Kentucky was the first college basketball team to ever be 38-0 and people were calling it the greatest team of all time.
Two games away from being 40-0, Kentucky met Wisconsin in the Final Four. The Badgers had been looking forward to the match-up all year after losing to the Wildcats in 2014. This time, Badgers star Frank Kaminsky had 20 points and 11 rebounds and Wisconsin kept it close before going on a game-ending 15-4 run to win 71-64.
Kentucky still finished No. 1 in the final AP Top 25 poll, but the dreams of a perfect 40-0 season were dashed.