Christening a Power

(Ronald Martinez)

Ronald Martinez

I’ll get to what this championship game meant for my Kentucky Wildcats in the next few posts, but I think for me the biggest story starts with UConn. Being a UK fan (The Greatest Tradition in the History of College Basketball / We Don’t Play College Basketball We Are College Basketball etc. etc.) I get really particular (read:insane) about classifying programs as truly elite and granting blue blood status (I’m allowed to do this because I have a blog and I can yell really loud). But anyway I’ve been particularly hard on UConn in this sense for a number of reasons. First off their fans on large are among the worst in college basketball. This is because in large part they have all the arrogance with none of the support. They do not travel to support their team (The last 2 final fours UConn has been to, the NCAA has even had to give away UCONN STUDENT TICKETS to local Texas school just to fill the seats. In 2011 this meant giving away UConn’s student tickets to Rice and Houston students and in 2014 TCU received the honors. You can tell me that people with jobs and responsibilities can’t get off work to fly to Texas and miss a day or 2 of work… but the students? C’mon… if anyone is gonna support the team it NEEDS to be the students.).

(Star-Telegram, Max Faulkner)

(Star-Telegram, Max Faulkner)

They only come out of the woodwork when the team is good, and they can’t even do that right. All in all I just don’t feel like the large majority of their “fans” are really invested in the team, and even after this win this will not change. UConn fans en masse will continue to be terrible. That does not, however, mean that they don’t have some real fans. They do have some excellent real support such as Aaron Torres of aarontorres-sports.com, but overall they do not have the mass support I consider imperative to be a true basketball power. Now, in truth very few schools proved the kind of support I consider truly necessary (one of which is of course Kentucky, but also Wichita State, Utah State and Kansas) and there are far more schools which look like powers that have exactly the same kind of terrible support as UConn (Florida is maybe the worst here, but there’s a veritable cornucopia of them), so I’m willing to let this slide for the time being in hopes that over time the good UConn fans can grow at the expense of the terrible ones.

Another one of my complaints in separating new-bloods from blue-bloods in college basketball is whether the school owes its success to the program, or the coach. UCLA is a begrudging blue-blood in my book, but it can’t be denied that they’ve never been the same without Wooden. They’re a pittance of a shadow of what they were with Wooden. Similarly, Syracuse is only what they are because of Boeheim, and they will take a major step backwards when he finally hangs it up (although Ollie’s success should give Orange fans hope). Duke has major history, but never had real success until Coach K arrived, and have surpassed anything that they previously were under his leadership. Schools like Kentucky (8 titles under 5 different coaches over 7 decades of success) North Carolina (5 titles under 3 coaches over 7 decades of success) and Kansas (3 titles under 3 coaches over 7 decades of success) have sustained success. Yes they all have their legendary coaches, but the program rises above all. For UConn? They were largely a creation of the arrogant egomaniac Jim Calhoun. In fact, the jackass was doing interviews after Monday’s championship as if he was still the coach. He can’t leave Kevin Ollie alone even after Ollie pulled off perhaps the most stunning run of all of UConn’s four titles. However, the fact remains that Ollie DID win this title.

(Jessica Hill, AP)

(Jessica Hill, AP)

I thought UConn would take a big step back after Calhoun The Tyrant left, but Kevin Ollie proved me wrong (which if it weren’t against my team I would have loved. Kevin Ollie is a great guy, fun to watch, and along with Fred Hoiberg will be in the NBA in a couple years which is a shame for College basketball). Moreover, UConn now has a quarter century of success to build on, and they have dominated the last 15 years of college basketball unlike any other program within that timespan (4 titles, 2 coaches, 15 years, but the programs success really started with that 90-91 season when they earned a #1 seed). So as far as sustained success and success belonging to a program rather than a man, UConn hits the criteria.

Also important to point out is the simple fact that UConn broke into hallowed ground with the 4th title. A sizeable handful of schools have 2 titles and that doesn’t really give them blue-blood status (does anyone think San Francisco and Oklahoma A&M [now Oklahoma State] are blue bloods?). Having three titles means a lot more as it puts you in the conversation with Kansas and Louisville but 4? Now you’re tied with Coach K and Duke, and you’re only 1 title behind UNC and the decrepit but formerly great Indiana Hoosiers. If this were Cincinnati, Wichita, Washington, or Tennessee I would have no problem proclaiming them a blue blood, so I can’t really deny UConn that status even if they have atrocious fans.

(Doug Pensinger, Getty Images)

(Doug Pensinger, Getty Images)

Also important is the UConn just plays good basketball. This is the same program that put guys like Ray Allen, Rip Hamilton, Caron Butler, and a bevy of other players into the NBA (Shabazz Napier, who I really learned to like sure to join them). They recruit and produce great talent. And whether this is arrogance or not I don’t care, but it means a lot to me that UConn had to go through Kentucky (the bluest of the blue bloods) for each of its last two titles (once in the final four to take on a Butler team that everyone knew couldn’t win, and now in the championship game). The same way it mattered that Arizona and Lute Olson, who had a lot of success for along time, weren’t really elite until 1997 when they went through a much better Kentucky team for the title, beating out Kentucky for a title can make you elite. (Also, just to add to this, they went through Duke in 1999 which certainly helps the case).

Moreover, as a side note I like that UConn is 4-1 in final four games. It shows they aren’t just on some crazy 25 year hot streak, but that they’ve had some pain and had to earn their status. I don’t know that I was really a Kentucky fan until I had to suffer through the West Virginia loss in 2010 and the UConn loss in 2011. If everything has always been handed to you and you haven’t paid for it with suffering, you don’t really deserve it (this is another one of my major problems with UConn supporters, but you already know how I feel about this). Furthermore, its not just losses, but you have to get SO CLOSE to victory, have it torn away, and then come right back the next year without losing heart. That’s a real fan.

Most UConn supports don’t deserve what they’ve been given and they won’t develop into a top tier fan base anytime in the near future. But even if they don’t, you can’t deny that UConn just stamped their ticket as an elite program. I’d like to see their success last longer than 25 years if they’re ever going to aspire to enter the conversation with programs like Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, and Duke, but they’re definitely pushing in the right direction. They are a burgeoning blue blood and a (shockingly) still rising elite power.

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