There are two sporting competitions, in tournament format that captivate us unlike any other this time of year: college basketball’s NCAA Tournament, also known as “March Madness,” and the UEFA Champions League.
In late winter and early spring, sports fans all across the globe are transfixed by both tourneys. In this month we see both March Madness and the UCL transpire, so it’s a whole non-stop sports buffet on tap right now.
The time has come for college basketball/European football doppelgangers. And this isn’t the first time that we’ve done the soccer/football/futbol synergies with college basketball, or with teams in other sports as well.
Be sure to check out our 2014 World Cup Round of 16 nations-college basketball program doppelgangers.
Kentucky Wildcats = Manchester United
We couldn’t help but pair up the winningest program in college basketball, who boast of eight national championships, with the European capital of trophies. United have won a record 20 League titles, 12 FA Cups, 6 League Cups and a record 21 FA Community Shields.
However, the last half decade of seasons has seen a substantial decline; for both of these high profile, big glamor programs.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, as league champion in 2013, United have only won the following: one FA Cup, one Community Shield, two League Cup and one Europa League title.
Yes, those are trophies, but extremely minor ones, especially so when compared to the standards that United supporters hold.
It’s the same deal in Lexington. Since the Wildcats last national title in 2012 (almost the same year), they have two Final Fours and a national runner-up and three Elite 8s. That’s impressive almost anywhere else, but at UK that’s disappointing.
UK basketball is the most over-covered and over-analyzed college basketball team on the planet. Because there’s always a demand for Kentucky analysis and discussion.
Just like Manchester United is the most over-analyzed and over-discussed world football team.
Again, because fans, especially so in the MUFC Family and the Big Blue Nation demand this level of coverage. Also, both franchises have all the money in the world to get all the top talent they want.
How that money should be spent, and on who is a debate for another time and space.
However, both are not shy about flexing their financial muscle when recruiting and signing elite level players, so naturally there is a kind of a mercenary reputation (and deservedly so) attached to their brand.
That said, they both seem to reached their highest zenith when they have a good core of home grown players mixed within the roster.
How They’re Doing This Season
Funny you should ask that, as Kentucky was just eliminated from March Madness yesterday. This now marks three straight seasons in which Big Blue hasn’t reached beyond the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Not really a big deal anywhere else, but when you’re a blue blood that is simply unacceptable. The really ugly 9-16 season of 2021 was especially brutal for the BBN. Maybe the seat is warming for John Calipari.
Maybe it is not given the lifetime level contract that UK gave him.
As for United, first year manager Erik ten Hag may be on his way to turning the club’s fortunes around.
Last month he guided the club to their first trophy (League Cup) since 2017.
A half-decade without silverware isn’t the end of the world, of course, but it kind of is when you’re considered among the European giants.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Sports Bank. He’s also the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He’s written for numerous publications, including the New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune. He regularly appears on NTD News and WGN News Now. Follow the website on Twitter and Instagram.