COLUMN: Only problem Cats face in Houston is not winning



With a new venue and a new week comes a new set of expectations.

“We aren’t satisfied with a Final Four,” UK freshman guard Brandon Knight said.

Frankly, you shouldn’t be, Brandon. Not when your team’s improbable run to the Final Four has been outmatched, at least as far as improbability goes, by Cinderella teams Butler and Virginia Commonwealth — and to an extent, Connecticut — and put the Cats in a position where an extended stay in Houston needs to be the goal.

“I plan on continuing a little longer,” UK senior forward Josh Harrellson said.

As surprising as it may be that the Cats have reached the Final Four, at this point, anything less than bringing home an eighth national championship to hang from the rafters of Rupp Arena should be considered a failure.

UK had good reason to groan over the luck of the draw, or lack thereof, when it was placed in the toughest of the NCAA Tournament’s four regions — the East Region. However, having survived that gauntlet, the Cats find themselves in the fortuitous position of being in the weakest Final Four in the 73–year history of the NCAA Tournament.

Conspicuously missing from the remaining field is a No. 1 or No. 2 seed — the first time a Final Four has failed to have at least one of the top-eight seeded teams in the tournament.

Add together the seeding of VCU (No. 11), Butler (No. 8), UConn (No. 3) and UK (No.4) and you have the highest seed total in the history of the Final Four (11+8+3+4=26, an underwhelming total).

The remaining field means that it’s time for the Cats’ championship pedigree to shine through — UK has more Final Four appearances than the three other schools in the national semifinals have combined.

For VCU and Butler head coaches Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens, a Final Four appearance has more than exceeded their job requirements. For Smart, just getting into the Tournament should be lauded as a major accomplishment.

On the other hand, UK head coach John Calipari is the highest-paid coach in college basketball, so he cannot settle for semifinals. Or even finals. He was brought to Lexington to win titles. Several, in fact. That’s how Calipari’s success will be measured at the end of the day.

The one saving grace for this year’s group of Cats that somewhat minimizes the pressure to win, is that this run seems to be a year late, considering last year’s team’s dominance, and next year’s team’s expected dominance, considering the No. 1 recruiting class Calipari is bringing to the Bluegrass.

Even so, now that this team is here, on the cusp of its own shining moment, the title seems to be there for the taking by the “Payback Cats.”

The expectations of Big Blue Nation can shift once again this weekend and include visions of grandeur, just as they did when Calipari usurped Billy Gillispie as the leader of the Commonwealth’s team.

He made his expectations clear from the beginning: championship or bust.

Nick is a journalism senior. Email [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @KernelCraddock.