LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - I'm sure diehard Louisville fans have all kinds of conspiracy theories about why their favorite college basketball team was left out of the NCAA Tournament field. The NCAA hates them. The FBI had something to do with it. Or it's all the fault of (boo, hiss) chairman of the board David Grissom and interim president Greg Postel.
I understand their disappointment, but I also can't criticize the tournament committee's decision. One of Denny Crum's favorite sayings was, "You get what you earn." That's not always true, of course, but in this case it is.
This should not be considered a criticism of interim coach David Padgett, who had never been a head coach at any level until replacing Hall of Famer Rick Pitino last fall, or his players. To the contrary; I commend them for doing the best they could under bizarre, unprecedented circumstances.
But the tournament committee didn't even have UofL as one of the first four teams out of the field, so it wasn't even a close call. Of course, everything would have been different had it not been for what happened in the last 9/10ths of a second against Virginia, the nation's top-ranked team, on March 1 in the KFC Yum! Center.
I will spare you another retelling of how the Cards managed to blow a four-point lead with less than a second to play. The memory is still too fresh, too painful, too stunning.
Suffice it to say that had the Cards won that one, we wouldn't be having this conversation. We would be discussing their draw and their chances for advancing. Instead, the NIT beckoned and the Cards accepted an invitation to play Northern Kentucky in the first round on Tuesday.
The meltdown against Virginia will live forever in college hoops infamy.
That would have been the signature win the Cards so desperately needed. Instead, they were 0-10 against the best teams on their schedule – Purdue, Seton Hall, Kentucky, Virginia (three times), North Carolina, Duke, and N.C. State. Their best wins were against Florida State, Notre Dame, and Virginia Tech on the road. Nice, but no cigar.
All season I stressed the magnitude of what this team was trying to accomplish under its woefully inexperienced young coach. I felt that if the Cards could make the NCAA field, it would take virtually a miracle. They almost did it, but "almost" doesn't get it with a fan base accustomed to Final Fours and national titles.
I wish I could say the future looks bright, but nobody knows what to expect going forward. It seems almost certain that Padgett will not return, at least in the role of head coach. So who will be in charge next season? And how long will the program be forced to live with its neck on the chopping block of the FBI's investigation of shoe companies?
The team loses seniors Quentin Snider and Ana Malamud. Juniors Deng Adele and Ray Spading may opt for the NBA draft, ready or not. Others may want to transfer just to get a fresh start. The program has no recruits. The anger by some fans and donors over the firing of athletics director Tom Jurich shows no sign of abating, and Pitino keeps stoking the flames of discontent, recently calling the board of trustees the "board of traitors."
To make matters worse for the UofL loyalists who also feel it is their duty to hate the University of Kentucky, the Wildcats won the Southeastern Conference tournament title in St. Louis and are the No. 4 seed in the South Region. But the tournament committee also sent them to Boise, Idaho, and put a string of hard-to-beat teams in their path, beginning with Davidson in the first round.
I'd like to think that some of the disenchanted fans would get behind Coach Jeff Walz's UofL omen's team, which could go deep in the Geno Auriemma Invitational, also known as the NCAA omen's Tournament. In the foreseeable future, they may have to carry the university's flag while the en's program regroups.
And I'd like to see the fans turns out for the NIT games, but that may be asking too much from a group that's divided, bitter, angry, and just plain worn out by all the drama and penalties.
I remember when my doctor first told me, "Growing old isn't for sissies." These days, neither is being a UofL en's basketball fan. The disappointments will stop someday, but it may be later rather than sooner.
Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter who contributes regular columns to WAVE3.com.
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