In 2024-25, Kentucky basketball fans will see things they haven’t witnessed before

It is some six months until the return of the University of Kentucky’s “Big Blue Madness” heralds the dawn of another college basketball season in the commonwealth.

Likely, it will be some seven months until the UK men face Duke in the State Farm Champions Classic in what will be the first marquee game of the Mark Pope coaching era at Kentucky.

Presumably, it will be eight months or so until Pope and new Louisville head man Pat Kelsey match coaching wits in the UK-U of L rivalry for the first time each.

Yet months away from the return of college hoops in Kentucky, fans in the commonwealth are already assured of watching history unfold in 2024-25.

Thanks to the flurry of head coaching changes at in-state schools this spring, Kentucky’s college basketball followers are guaranteed to see things in the coming season that they have, either, literally, never seen before or have not witnessed in eons.

Let’s start with some of the history that will be made in Kentucky college hoops in 2024-25:

With Louisville’s firing of Kenny Payne, and Kentucky’s John Calipari (Arkansas) and Western Kentucky’s Steve Lutz (Oklahoma State) bolting for other jobs, it means that the UK (Pope), U of L (Kelsey) and WKU (Hank Plona) men’s programs will all have new head coaches in the same season for the first time.

To fully grasp the magnitude of that, keep in mind that Kentucky, Louisville and Western Kentucky are three of only seven men’s hoops programs in NCAA Division I history that have produced at least 48 seasons with 20 wins or more (the others are Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and UCLA).

New Kentucky coach Mark Pope, center in blue suit, will be part of a history-making group of first-year head men in the commonwealth when the 2024-25 men’s college basketball season tips off. Silas Walker/
New Kentucky coach Mark Pope, center in blue suit, will be part of a history-making group of first-year head men in the commonwealth when the 2024-25 men’s college basketball season tips off. Silas Walker/

Preston Spradlin’s exit to the James Madison coaching job after going 140-109 in eight seasons as Morehead State men’s head man, means the Eagles, too, will have a new coach in 2024-25.

A former Morehead State assistant, Jonathan Mattox returned to MSU from an assistant’s role at Murray State.

As best as I can tell — and I have spent all week wading through records — 2024-25 will be the first time in history that four of Kentucky’s NCAA Division I schools will all break in new men’s head basketball coaches in the same season.

Meanwhile, among the things that will be happening for the first time in a long time in Kentucky college hoops in the coming season are:

This coming season will be the first time that both Kentucky and Louisville debut new men’s basketball head coaches in the same season since 1925-26.

That year, Tom King launched a five-season stint as U of L coach in which he went 38-27, while Ray Eklund went 15-3 in his only season coaching the Kentucky Wildcats.

Neither new UK coach Pope or first-year U of L head man Kelsey have won an NCAA Tournament game in their prior stops as Division I head coaches.

What that means is that, for the first time since Adolph Rupp coached UK to the Final Four of the fourth NCAA Tournament in history on March 21, 1942, neither Kentucky or Louisville — at least one of the two — will employ a coach without a past Final Four on their résumé.

For the curious, the leaders in men’s NCAA Tournament victories among current Kentucky Division I head coaches are Northern Kentucky’s Darrin Horn and Murray State’s Steve Prohm, each of whom have won two games in the Big Dance.

As Western Kentucky head man in 2008, Horn coached the Hilltoppers to the Sweet 16 with victories against Drake (101-99 in overtime) and San Diego (72-63). WKU fell to UCLA (88-78) in the regional semifinals.

In Prohm’s first stint as Murray State coach (2011-2015) he led the Racers to a 58-41 win against Colorado State in the 2012 NCAA Tournament round of 64. MSU fell to Marquette (62-53) in the round of 32.

While at Iowa State, Prohm directed the Cyclones to an 84-73 win against Nevada in the 2017 NCAA Tournament round of 64 before ISU lost to Purdue (80-76) in its second NCAA Tournament game.

Other than Horn and Prohm, no other current Kentucky Division I men’s basketball head man has won a Division I tournament game.

The coming season will be the first time that Kentucky, Louisville or both will not have in their employ a coach who has won an NCAA championship since March 26, 1978, — the day before Joe B. Hall coached UK to its fifth national title by defeating Duke.

From that point, some combination of Hall, Louisville’s Denny Crum, Kentucky and Louisville’s Rick Pitino, UK’s Tubby Smith and Calipari have meant there has always been a national championship-winning coach working continuously in the commonwealth.

As of the tipoff of the 2024-25 season, that streak is over.

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