It was an underwhelming season

Wildcats deserve high praise, but rest of the hoops season wasn't very good

Originally Published: April 3, 2012
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

On Tuesday afternoon, Big Blue Nation will line the streets from Lexington's Blue Grass Airport to Man-o-War Boulevard to Red Mile Road to South Limestone to West Main and to the entrance of Rupp Arena.

That's where the celebration ceremony will be held.

[+] EnlargeKentucky Fans
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesBig Blue Nation is happy about how the season unfolded, but others are not.

A freshly made Final Four championship banner, Kentucky's first in 14 years, will soon dangle from the rafters. Experts will call this UK team one of the most gifted in Wildcats hoops history.

But then what?

If you're a Kentucky fan -- and believe me, UK followers swarmed the French Quarter like locusts to cornstalks -- life is good. And it will stay that way for days, even weeks, as BBN savors the Wildcats' 67-59 national title win against Kansas on Monday evening like a sip of Maker's Mark.

But eventually everyone will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and reality will return. And the reality is this: As dominant as the Wildcats were during this tournament (and nobody else was close), there was something unsatisfying about this season and about this particular March Madness.

Don't get me wrong: The best team won the Final Four. Kentucky had the most talent, the most future pros and the most will. The Wildcats tossed the refrigerator weight of expectations into their backpacks and still crushed everyone like snow cone ice.

What they did to Kansas in the championship game and to Louisville two nights earlier in the semis deserves a plaque outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It was basketball surgery, and UK removed the Jayhawks' and U of L's upset chances with a scalpel and forceps.

Look at the margins of victory: 15- and 16-point wins in the first two rounds, 12 and 12 to reach the Final Four, 8 and 8 against the Ville and Rocked Chalk. The Wildcats led Kansas by as many as 18, then sort of sputtered in -- not that anyone will engrave that on the trophy.

Months from now, when the NBA draft plays out, we're going to look back on this Kentucky roster and realize how achingly talented it was. And how staggeringly young it was.

The Final Four's Most Outstanding Player was freshman Anthony Davis, who had one of the great, weird lines in a championship game: 6 points (1-of-10 from the field), 16 rebounds, 6 blocks, 5 assists and 3 steals. Watching Kansas try to shoot over the dustmop-long arms of Davis was like watching someone try to shoot over a ceiling fan. Thwack.

And maybe that's why Kentucky's championship, although decisive and complete, also feels crazily hollow, like a giant swirl of cotton candy. Then again, so does the entire season.

[+] EnlargeCoach K, Bob Knight
AP Photo/Kathy WillensWin No. 903 for Mike Krzyzewski was one of the few highlights of the hoops season.

It's not the Wildcats' fault -- they signed, they came, they conquered. And now a starting lineup of three freshmen and two sophomores almost certainly is bolting to the NBA.

Davis, the consensus national player of the year? Gone. The second-best player on the UK team, freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist? Gone. Freshman point guard Marquis Teague? Gone. Sophomore guard Doron Lamb, who scored 22 against KU? Gone. Sophomore forward Terrence Jones? Gone. Add senior guard Darius Miller's departure and the Wildcats are reduced to -t-s.

UK coach John Calipari will restock the shelves with a new product, but the incoming stars will be renters, not buyers. They'll use the system like the system uses them, then bolt to the NBA before they ever learn the words to "My Old Kentucky Home."

Maybe the 2012-13 version will do what this Kentucky team did -- leave with a national title and confetti stuck to its sweat-soaked unis. UK's title march was often boring, predictable and almost anti-climactic -- and I mean that in a nice way. The Wildcats were that good.

But college basketball couldn't match Kentucky's level of excellence. If you were keeping a box score, the season shot 18 percent.

Thanks to a very large ship, the season began with such promise. North Carolina beat Michigan State in the inaugural Carrier Classic, not that anybody really cared. The actual winner was the USS Carl Vinson -- and anybody onboard that moonlit November night in San Diego.

And Sparty was also a co-star in another piece of November hoops drama. Again Michigan State played the part of Loser, this time stepping in front of the Mike Krzyzewski No. 903 victory train.

Krzyzewski passed mentor/friend/former coach Bob Knight on the all-time Division I wins list. He did it at Madison Square Garden and with Knight in attendance. Shining Moment alert.

And how often did we see the replay of Indiana's December game winner against Kentucky?

But the rest of the season was mostly a pockmarked mess. The controversy starting lineup:

• The accusations involving Syracuse assistant Bernie Fine, followed by coach Jim Boeheim's angry denunciations of those allegations.
• The Xavier-Cincinnati brawl.
• The NCAA-imposed suspension served by UConn's Jim Calhoun, the defending national champion coach.
• The gruesomeness of the Pac-12.
• The sad sight of Northwestern keeping its NCAA tournament oh-fer streak alive.
• No Butler.
• A March that was way too light on Madness. Yes, a pair of No. 2 seeds, Duke and Missouri, spun out in their openers (thank you, Lehigh and Norfolk State). Otherwise, that was it for huge upsets. And sorry, Ohio over Michigan doesn't qualify.
• President Barack Obama picking Carolina to win it all.

I'm not saying there weren't some memorable stories throughout it all (if you can't admire the journey of Kansas' Thomas Robinson, you're the world's only surviving heart donor). But it wasn't an especially likable season. Or, at least, it wasn't a season worth transferring to your iCloud.

Unless you're Kentucky.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter