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Humility, grace and the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

In the days leading up to Selection Sunday, Kentucky head coach John Calipari was asked by a member of the media what teams he was worried about potentially squaring off against in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. His response was to reel off the names of a handful of NBA squads. A few weeks later as the Wildcats prepared to take the floor in a national semifinal game against fellow No. 1 seed Wisconsin, Calipari freely admitted that he had watched no film on the Badgers because his team was "just worried about ourselves."

Maybe the comments shouldn't have surprised me as much as they did. After all, Calipari is the front man of a program whose fan base has spent the past 24 months fixated on (and making t-shirts for) the possibility of its two most recent teams going 40-0. Not only did neither of those squads achieve perfection, but they brought home the same number national titles as DePaul.

When I was making the drive from Louisville to Atlanta two Aprils ago, I had a feeling that in a short while I was going to witness the Cardinals win their first national championship of my (conscious) lifetime. What this premonition did was make me feel very excited, but also extremely nervous. What it didn't do was lead me to state my opinion on the future as if it were already a fact, mock the seemingly overmatched Wichita State team UofL was about to face in the Final Four, or make set plans for all the things I was going to do after Louisville cut down the nets on April 8. I was glad that the head coach and players I was supporting were equally cautious and respectful.

For whatever reason, prudence and civility seem to be a pair of traits that our friends 75 miles to the East have yet to master.

The top-ranked recruiting classes, the No. 1 rankings, the unprecedented amount of NBA Draft picks and, most recently, the pursuit of perfection -- it's all led to an increasingly popular sentiment from Kentucky fans that the Wildcats are the college basketball equivalent of Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide. The rightful ruler of the hardwood ready to take the baton from its SEC brethren once the final whistle blows in mid-January.

But few things in college basketball are as straightforward as they are in the world of its gridiron counterpart, and Big Blue Nation's claim to Alabama's -- they of three national championships in the last six seasons -- duplicate throne is no different.

Kentucky has received No. 1 votes in each of the last three preseason coaches and Associated Press Top 25 polls, and has started the last two season as both set of voters' pick to cut down the nets at the end of the year. In those three seasons, the Wildcats have lost in the first round of the NIT, been a No. 8 seed which advanced all the way to the title game before losing to a No. 7 seed and become the first team in college basketball history to start a season 38-0 before bowing out in the national semifinals.

It's a résumé that is more eccentric than it is impressive.

While Kentucky has recent accomplishments it can absolutely hang its hat on, those accomplishments certainly don't level the fellow efforts of programs like Duke or Connecticut or, say, the one that is still the Commonwealth's most recent national champion. And even if they did, what is there to gain by abandoning humility? The potential risk always outweighs the potential reward when you go down that road, and my guess is a healthy chunk of Big Blue Nation is still feeling a dose of that reality right now.

One of my favorite things about being a Louisville fan is that the average red and black supporter celebrates wins and is saddened by losses. I will take that option every single time when the alternative is being satisfied by victories and infuriated by losses. Sorry if that comes off as too boastful.

This column appears in the most recent issue of The Voice-Tribune