Friday, July 15, 2011

Is Louisville a Top 10 Program?

Turns out these words aren't very scary.
As I was riding in my car yesterday afternoon I turned the radio station to the Afternoon Underdogs. I rarely do this since the program is heavily slanted towards Louisville and I think Tom Jurich actually writes the material for the DJs much like Roger Ailes makes sure that his Fox News casters cover the "news" topics of his choice.

I was intrigued by the debate that was going on between the hosts and the call in listeners. They were debating on whether or not Louisville was an all time top 10 basketball program. Nobody seemed to disagree that the top 5 programs are UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke and Kansas, pretty much in that order.

After the top 5, there is a huge drop off in numbers of wins, Final Fours and overall championships. So, where does Louisville fit into the grand scheme of things? Are they a top 10 program?

The schools that I would consider to be the next 5 are, in no particular order, Michigan State, Arizona, Louisville, Indiana, and Syracuse. All of these schools have multiple Final Fours, multiple national championships, high winning percentages and a great deal of tournament appearances.

The difference between the top 5 and the next 5 is overall historical relevance. The top 5 have been the top 5 pretty much since college basketball started and have stayed at the top ever since, with lulls in between here and there, but nothing significant.

Also, one of the top 5 has been in a Final Four or the National Champion in every decade since the 1940's. Yes, the 1940's.

The next 5 teams have had their success stories, but they have not had the longevity of the blue bloods of college basketball.

Since the topic of this blog post is Louisville, let's focus on them. Louisville's first NCAA Final Four was in 1958 but did not reach it again until 1971. From 1971 to 1986, Louisville won two national championships and finished in the Final Four a total of four times. Then, the bottom fell out. From 1986 to the present Louisville has been to one Final Four and that was in 2005.

Louisville had a 15 year window when they were truly great but have faltered since. Their program has not had the impact and sustainability that the top 5 programs have had.

Louisville is a top 10 program, but the chasm between them and the top 5 is about as wide as the Pacific Ocean. It's a nice program but it's not a great one.

In today's 24 hour news cycle it is mostly about "What have you done for me lately?" which flies in the face of this argument. It takes away historical relevance and fans outside of Louisville tend to forget two measly championships in the Dark Ages of the 1980's. They tend to remember and cling to the recent failures of a team going out of the first round of the NCAA tournament against schools like Cal and Morehead State.

If you were to ask a casual basketball fan not from the state of Kentucky, they would easily identify the #1 program in the state as the University of Kentucky. They might know that Louisville has a basketball team, that Rick Pitino is the coach and Karen Sypher is his mistress, and that Louisville has flopped in the tournament recently.

There are fans of the top 5 schools in every corner of the country and in some instances all over the world. Again, you would be hard pressed to find a Louisville fan outside the city of Louisville, let alone outside the state of Kentucky. There is no question that Louisville has a very devoted home following but that is where it stops. Louisville is not a nationally recognized team and greatness is not synonymous with their name.

That's my take on the argument. I will concede that Louisville is a top 10 basketball program but the distance between them and teams like UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke and Kansas is too great to consider them elite.

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