I am a Kentucky fan, and because I am a Kentucky fan, I know about expectations. It’s not so much that victory last night–Kentucky’s eighth national championship–wasn’t a thrill. It’s not that everyone in Lexington clicked off their television sets and sighed a sigh of a job well done, a season well-lived, and with a glass of bourbon waddled off to bed. No, there were riot squads, and college kids dancing in the street, and cars and couches burning, and people on top of traffic signals, firetrucks stolen. It was joyous and raucous and overwhelming mayhem. It’s just that it’s been expected mayhem:

This NCAA Tournament is about Kentucky and whether anybody can stop Kentucky. That seemed pretty clear two weeks ago, clearer a week ago, and is plainly obvious now. Louisville, Kansas and Ohio State all have a lot of fans, of course, and those fans will watch primarily to see if their team can win the national title. The rest of us want to know if somebody can beat Kentucky.

The Wildcats have the best team, far and away the best talent, and a very good coach, no matter what you think of him. Still, do you think we can turn the hype switch off for a minute?

But does it take something away when it’s been expected all along? People have been predicting their crowning since game one of the season; the Big Blue Nation has all but said that this year’s team is the best Kentucky team, ever. And it’s not just about this team–it’s about Kentucky basketball in general. The expectations are for continued success, a perfect lineage, a perfect name. Does that change the achievements? When a championship feels deserved from the very start–what then? How do you get out from under that weight? How does the game seem fun anymore?

John Calipari is the right man to navigate this kind of psychological pinning–mostly because he oddly seems to enjoy the expectation part of his Kentucky job, or at the very least has the knack for having some fun with it. But he’s also perfect for the job because he lives very intimately (as we all do in some shape!) the self-same psychology of perfectability. Listen to his brief post-game interview with ESPN’s Andy Katz and you can feel the weight that has come off, the exhaustion of relief… and the excitement at taking on an even grander new project for perfection. Championship? Eh. Look forward! Next, Perfection!


“We’ve had the most wins in 2008 and now this year we had 38 wins; no other program has done that,” said Calipari of winning 38 games with Memphis in 2008 before losing the title game to Kansas and then winning 38 this season. “Let’s go get them all. Let’s get seven guys drafted in the first round. I hope we have six this year.”

If Calipari is right, that means freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb are all leaving. And maybe he meant senior Darius Miller would slip into the first round.

The decisions shouldn’t take too long.

The players don’t necessarily have to decide by April 10 — the NCAA’s deadline. They can wait until the real draft deadline of April 29 under NBA rules.

No one made any pronouncements Monday night.

But it’s hard to see a scenario in which Davis doesn’t declare, since he’ll be the No. 1 pick in June.

Kidd-Gilchrist was irritated and denied an ESPN.com story that he would declare when it was reported last week during the regional in Atlanta. But Kidd-Gilchrist would be a top-five pick if he were to declare, so no one could blame him if he were to bolt.

Jones declared last season and returned. He wanted to see his draft status. He’s still a first-round pick. Lamb and Teague played exceptionally well when the games mattered most but that doesn’t mean they should jump to the league — yet.

If they do, the Wildcats have another fresh crop to come in quickly behind them.

Kentucky has a stellar class so far with small forward Alex Poythress, center Willie Cauley and shooting guard Archie Goodwin, along with NC State transfer point Ryan Harrow. But it could once again skyrocket to No. 1 if the Wildcats were to land the top two players remaining in the class of 2012, center Nerlens Noel and small forward Shabazz Muhammad. The Wildcats are also involved in top position players Anthony Bennett and Amile Jefferson, both power forwards, as well as center Tony Parker and small forward Devonta Pollard.

Calipari said Monday night that he doesn’t have to deal with the question of winning a title anymore. He reached the Final Four in 1996 at UMass. He went in 2008 with Memphis and lost in the title game. He took Kentucky to the Final Four in 2011. And now he has a title in 2012.

“I told my wife I’m glad it’s done,” Calipari said. “Now I can get about my business of coaching basketball and getting these players to be the best that they can be.”

“I can get on with that,” he continued. “I don’t have to hear the drama. I can just coach now. I don’t have to worry. If you want to know the truth, it’s almost like, ‘Done, let me move on.'”

And the next challenge is apparently an undefeated season. Wouldn’t you expect Calipari to raise the bar on himself and the program?

“What they expect at Kentucky is to be undefeated and win every game by 25,” Calipari said. “That’s Kentucky fans.”

Calipari is feeding the beast now more than ever. He delivered a title in Year 3. Now he wants to top a championship with an undefeated season.

Let the chase begin again.