The sky isn't falling in Lexington, Kentucky fans. A loss to Gardner-Webb just feels that way.
There's no glee or Schadenfreude behind that sentence, either. I may think Tubby Smith got the short end of the stick, but that doesn't mean I can't empathize with an unexpected, frustrating loss. Every fan can. Just last season, my Jayhawks lost at home to Oral Roberts, Old Dominion handed Georgetown its first on-campus loss since 1982, and Missouri State shocked Wisconsin.
And those were all losses by Top 10 teams. To have No. 22 Kentucky lose -- even at home -- is surprising, but only because Kentucky's tradition. If No. 25 Kansas State loses its opener on Friday, there won't be the same reaction.
(Seriously, this happens every season, and usually in November. Just yesterday I was reminded of a 2003 Kansas loss at Nevada. That was Bill Self's first season at Kansas and me and my buddy Jeff were ready to drive to Chapel Hill and force Roy Williams to return to Lawrence, no questions asked. But I digress.)
The Wildcats, to quote coach Billy Gillispie, "got our tails whipped," and ruined any chance Kentucky of showing off its new coach and fab freshman Patrick Patterson in NYC next week, but maybe it's a good thing. Losses like this help a team focus.
After all, Gillispie won his Kentucky debut, then said UK had plenty of work to do, particularly on defense. Senior Joe Crawford played sparingly in the opener vs. Central Arkansas. Same with stud freshman Alex Legion. A loss like this never sits well with fans or coaches, but in different ways.
In the long run -- we're talking NCAA Tournament titles here, not early season rankings -- that'll pay off, and Gillispie knows it.
|Andy Lyons / Getty Images|
|Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie couldn't get his team to play enough defense vs. Gardner-Webb.|
More encouraging is that initial message board fan reaction leans that way. (Except for one comment on this game thread. This wasn't Chaminade over Virginia and Ralph Sampson.) Some blame the players, some blame Tubby for leaving the cupboard bare. And some do blame Gillispie.
Mostly, the loss shows Kentucky can't have a bad night and still win, like some Wildcat teams have in the past. As March Madness has shown in recent years, that gap between majors and mid-majors closes more each season. Gardner-Webb may not make the NCAA Tournament (the Atlantic Sun doesn't have a Davidson or VCU that'll dominate, but the Bulldogs will have their work cut out for them), but the only real loss out of Wednesday is Kentucky's NCAA Tournament seed.
This is still a team that will play in the Big Dance. The 'Cats may not beat North Carolina, Indiana, Louisville or even Houston, but they'll be at least .500 in SEC play and probably end up as a 6 or 7 seed.
Even in future seasons when Gillispie molds Kentucky into a legitimate Top 25 team, more losses like this may occur. That's life in college hoops nowadays.
But wait for March. That's all that really matters, right?