The off-season is the most miserable time of the year for the adult Louisville fan. The NBA playoffs are a decent distraction as they give us high-level basketball with little to no emotional investment. But after that ends, you enter a miserable period where you have to wear suits to work every day in 90 degree weather and the only sports on TV involve fat guys hitting balls with bats made in Louisville. That’s it. Life has nothing to look forward to. That’s absolutely it. Well, that and Battlestar Galactica Blurays. I suppose you could also spend time with loved ones, assuming you are into that sort of thing.
The only thing the off-season is good for is the mental masturbation that comes with theorizing what might have been if a foul had been called here, or a shot had fallen there. In the aftermath of this year’s Sweet Sixteen, there was a lot of talk about how this was the worst UL loss since the 1975 National Semifinal game. Looking back on it, that talk was pretty ridiculous. Pretty much everyone on this year’s team already had a ring, and the game itself was a microcosm of UL’s season.
1) Outplay opponent
2) Have game secured with 5 minutes left despite missing foul shots all game
3) Stop moving ball and begin playing one-on-one
4) Commit bad fouls
5) Snatch defeat from jaws of victory
If that game had been played against Wichita State, I sincerely believe the collective fan response would have been a disappointed shrug. "Oh well, that’s the 2014 UL basketball team. Same thing all year. Still, they all got rings last year. So, who’s going to start at quarterback?"
Instead, the opponent was UK, and the aftermath resulted in people comparing the no-call on the Mangok layup to Terry Howard’s missed free-throws. On a personal level, things were not helped by prolonged exposure to UK fans. As someone who currently resides in, and has spent most of his life living in the hive of scum and villainy that is Lexington, Kentucky, I can assure you that such exposure was not a pleasant experience.
Based on anecdotal evidence from a father and uncles who will not shut up about the damn game to this day, I do believe the 1975 loss was the worst in UL history. That being said, it would be therapeutic to make a list of losses for the age 30 and under crowd that were objectively more painful than this year’s Sweet Sixteen. Because, after all, what is the off-season good for besides painfully reminiscing over what might have been?
1) 2009 Regional Final Loss to Michigan State
The less said about this game the better. As much as we loved this team, they did not possess what Jay Bilas would call "toughness." The rout of Arizona in the Sweet 16 was the worst possible thing that could have happened to UL. As Draymond Green would later say, UL essentially thought it just had to show up to win. This team probably wouldn’t have beaten UNC, and may not have beaten UCONN, but we will never know. This was supposed to be the year. The immediate aftermath saw ridiculous message board rumors of the FBI investigating point-shaving against Sienna in the round of 32. It turned out the FBI was indeed investigating something, it just wasn’t point shaving.
2) 2011 Round of 64 loss to Morehead State
Jesus Christ, this game. I’m almost tempted to bump it up to number 1. This team wasn’t even projected to make the NCAA field at the start of the year. Instead, they went 2-1 against the national champion and ran the national runner-up out of the building in the YUM! Center’s inaugural game. If Rakeem Buckles (even thinking of poor Rakeem makes me sad to this day) had not torn his ACL, there is no telling what this team could have done. Even with Rock’s injury, this team had the chance to do something special. Instead, it pulled literally the worst possible first round draw imaginable. We had control of the game when our senior leader (without whose leadership example the 2012 and 2013 runs do not ****ing happen) broke his ****ing leg. And even then, Morehead had to hit a miracle three to beat us. And my God, let us never speak of that year’s "One Shining Moment." Even with the influx of talent the following year and the revelation of Russ Smith, Elisha Justice was never the same player after missing the front end of that one and one. You know what, screw it. This loss was worse than 2009.
3) 1996 Sweet Sixteen loss to Wake Forest
Tim Duncan walked. That’s really all that needs to be said. That un-aging, immortal vampire ***hole walked. I only have one emotional tie to the NBA. I hate the San Antonio Spurs because I hate Tim Duncan with every fiber of my being. He walked. Granted, as much as my 12 year-old self fantasied about DeJuan Wheat hitting 13 threes and Samaki going for a triple double, it wasn’t going to happen. UK would have pasted us in the Elite 8, and that’s all there is to it. That UK team, along with 1990 UNLV, was the best since the end of the Wooden era. Still, Duncan walked.
4) 1997 Elite 8 loss to North Carolina
"Don’t worry, Matt. Denny Crum is 6-0 in regional final games. He will find a way. " -Harold Kleinert, March 23, 1997.
Thanks for that one, Dad. If we hadn’t lived in Lexington, I probably could have reported my father to child protective services for making that promise. If the NCAA hadn’t essentially forced out Samaki Walker, we would have been a national title contender. At that point, it was the single most meaningful UL game in the life of any UL fan born in 1983 or later…and our All-American turned his ankle during garbage time against Texas the game before. When we cut a massive half-time deficit to three points in the second half, I really thought it was going to happen. It didn’t happen, of course. It would have been the proper storybook ending for Denny Crum. Instead, he held on for too long, and a legend received a far less dignified exit than he deserved.
5) 2014 Sweet 16 Loss to UK
See above comments. The pain of this loss was intensely magnified because of the opponent. I may have cried afterwards. My longtime girlfriend/domestic -partner/best friend (she could give two ***** about sports) took me to Red Lobster the next evening and sat through both Terminator and Terminator 2 with me that Saturday night. God Bless that woman. Life went on.