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Kentucky is Alabama with a winter coat.
This has been my hypothesis for several years, but Louisville’s title last night confirmed that I’d been correct all along. Louisville is Kentucky’s Auburn, the school with a minority share of a state that’s crazy about a single sport. Basketball is to Kentucky as football is to Alabama.
Louisville and Birmingham, the largest cities in both states, are separated by just 367 miles on Interstate 65. The states of Kentucky and Alabama, perpetual laggards in relatively unimportant standings such as education, health, and percentage of residents with college degrees, have chosen to specialize in basketball and football, respectively.
It’s what they do.
The similarities between the sporting cultures of Alabama and Kentucky are uncanny — you have a massive state school that takes up the majority of the rooting interests — Kentucky and Alabama, spunky state schools that have a vibrant minority of fans — Louisville and Auburn, nearly identical populations 4.8 million in Alabama vs. 4.4 million in Kentucky, limited population growth from outsiders, and no pro sports in either state.
The states are mirror images of each other, with college sports more popular in their largest markets than in any other cities in the country.
Basketball is the sport of choice for just three states in the country: Kentucky, North Carolina, and Indiana. The other 47 states in the nation prefer football. No state loves football on television more than Alabama, none. And no state loves basketball on television more than Kentucky.
Now how far can the similarities extend?
The state of Kentucky is halfway to mirroring the state of Alabama’s recent four year run of title dominance. Just as Alabama and Auburn won football national titles in 2009 and 2010, so too have Kentucky and Louisville won basketball national titles in 2012 and 2013. So this begs the question, can Kentucky win the next two titles in a row to completely mirror the state of Alabama’s title run?
That’s uncertain, but Las Vegas has Kentucky favored to win the title in 2014 since John Calipari has assembled the best recruiting class in college basketball history. With eight or nine potential first round draft picks on the 2014 team — more than many NBA teams have on their roster — Kentucky will be the most talented team in the country next year. The Cats stand a great chance of locking down a title. What’s more, unlike Auburn’s out of nowhere run to the title in 2010, Louisville has been a top ten caliber basketball program for the past decade. The Cardinals aren’t vanishing like Auburn did after its national title run. CBS Sports has Louisville as the third best team in the country next year in its early look ahead to next season’s basketball rankings.
So you can make an argument that the state of Kentucky is stronger in basketball right now than the state of Alabama is in football.
Both Kentucky and Louisville will be making runs at the 2014 basketball title and while Alabama’s the preseason favorite to win the 2013 football title, Auburn will be happy with a bowl game in Gus Malzahn’s first season at the helm.
Right now Alabama is a one-team football state while Kentucky’s a two-team basketball juggernaut. Can Kentucky win two titles in a row? No way I’d bet on John Calipari to pull this off — Nick Saban destroys Calipari as a coach — but could Rick Pitino win one more and John Calipari win another as well?
That seems feasible since Kentucky is more dominant in basketball right now than Alabama is in football.
Yep, Kentucky is Alabama in a winter jacket, only better.