Kentucky basketball hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since defeating Houston in the Sweet Sixteen in March 2019.
The four-year drought desperately needs to end this weekend in Greensboro, not only for the program and Big Blue Nation but for John Calipari. Sure, the 2019-20 Wildcats looked poised to advance in March before COVID canceled the postseason, but Kentucky fans learned last year there are no guarantees.
The Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament as a No. 6 seed in the East, where they will face No. 11 Providence and former Kentucky forward Bryce Hopkins.
Given the lack of recent success and zero Final Four appearances since 2015, the pressure is on Calipari and Kentucky to not only win a game in March but to make a run that shows there is still life in Lexington.
ESPN’s Paul Finebaum spoke about the pressure on Calipari this week during an appearance on ‘McElroy and Cubelic In The Morning.’
“This is a critical couple of weeks for him to state the very obvious,” Finebaum said. “He had done a good job this year of calming everything down. Because, six weeks ago, we weren’t sure they were in the tournament. But he threw a lot of that goodwill away in Nashville.”
“I don’t think there is a specific end date for Kentucky. This is not, you have to make it to the championship game. You have to make the Final Four. But you’d better look good in the tournament,” said Finebaum. “You’d better not lose in the first round. Or the second round. You have to get out of that first weekend.”
If chalk holds, Kentucky would need to defeat Providence on Friday and No. 3 Kansas State in the second round on Sunday. The Wildcats eliminated Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen in 2018.
Finebaum believes anything short of a Sweet Sixteen berth is a bad sign for the program and its head coach.
“For Kentucky basketball? The fact that I’m saying just get to the Sweet Sixteen is the absolute must thing? It just shows you how far this program has fallen,” Finebaum said. “The end of this conversation is to be determined. But if Kentucky is out of this thing by the end of the weekend? It’s a bad sign.”
Kentucky and Providence tip-off at 7:10 p.m. ET. Friday in Greensboro with coverage on CBS.