Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball under Adolph Rupp covers the history of the University of Kentucky Wildcats college basketball team during the period from when Adolph Rupp was hired as head coach in 1930 through 1972. Under Rupp, Kentucky played as part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and as a member of the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The Wildcats under Rupp played its home games at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. During the forty years Rupp has served as head basketball coach, Kentucky compiled an overall official record of 876–190 (.822), won four NCAA championships (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958), one NIT title in 1946, appeared in 20 NCAA tournaments, had six NCAA Final Four appearances, captured twenty-seven Southeastern Conference (SEC) regular season titles, and won thirteen SEC tournaments.
Rupp gained the nicknames, "Baron of the Bluegrass", and "The Man in the Brown Suit". Rupp, who was an early innovator of the fast break and set offense, quickly gained a reputation as an intense competitor, a strict motivator, and a fine strategist, often driving his teams to great levels of success.
The 1948 Kentucky Wildcats not only won the 1948 NCAA title, but provided the core of the United States 1948 Olympic team that won the gold medal in the London Games. The core of five players that made up the Fabulous Five were Ralph Beard, Alex Groza, Wallace 'Wah Wah' Jones, Cliff Barker and Kenny Rollins.
A year later in 1949, the same team would win back-to-back champions, making Kentucky only the second team to repeat after Oklahoma A&M (Now Oklahoma State).
The Fabulous Five are considered one of the greatest teams in Kentucky basketball history. Over two seasons the Fabulous Five compiled a 68–5 record with two consecutive NCAA Championships.
On October 20, 1951, former Kentucky players Alex Groza, Ralph Beard, and Dale Barnstable were arrested for taking bribes from gamblers to shave points during the National Invitation Tournament game against the Loyola Ramblers in the 1948–49 season. This game occurred during the same year that Kentucky won their second straight NCAA title under Rupp. Rupp and the university were criticized by the presiding judge, Saul Streit, for creating an atmosphere for the violations to occur and for "failing in his duty to observe the amateur rules, to build character, and to protect the morals and health of his charges". Rupp denied any knowledge of the point shaving and no evidence was ever brought against him to show he was connected to the incident in any way.
At the conclusion of this scandal, a subsequent NCAA investigation found that Kentucky had committed several rule violations, including giving illegal spending money to players on several occasions, and also allowing some ineligible athletes to compete. As a result, the Southeastern Conference voted to ban Kentucky from competing for a year and the NCAA requested all other basketball-playing members not to schedule Kentucky, with eventually none doing so. As a result of these actions, Kentucky was forced to cancel the entire 1952–53 basketball season. Years later, Walter Byers, the first executive director of the NCAA, unofficially referred to this punishment as the first de facto NCAA death penalty, despite the current rule first coming into effect in 1985, thus the NCAA having no such enforcement power previous to that. Echoing Mr. Byers' view, the NCAA's official stance is very much the same, and they now state in hindsight, "In effect, it was the Association's first death penalty, though its enforcement was binding only through constitutional language that required members to compete against only those schools that were compliant with NCAA rules. Despite fears that it would resist, Kentucky accepts the penalty and, in turn, gives the NCAA credibility to enforce its rules."
The team returned with a vengeance the next year, posting a perfect 25–0 record (Rupp's only undefeated season), for which it was awarded the 1954 Helms National Championship. In addition, Kentucky also finished ranked #1 in the final Associated Press poll. On the team were three players who had graduated at the conclusion of the previous academic year. When, at the last minute, the NCAA ruled these players ineligible from post-season play, Rupp decided to skip the 1954 NCAA Tournament in protest.
Before the 1957–58 season began, Coach Adolph Rupp commented about the upcoming season, "They might be pretty good barnyard fiddlers, but we have a Carnegie Hall schedule, and it will take violinists to play that competition". When the Wildcats became notorious for, as Rupp put it, "fiddlin' around and fiddlin' around then finally pulling it our at the end," the team was tagged with the nickname "The Fiddlin' Five." The "Fiddlin' Five" became Rupp's fourth national championship team when it defeated Elgin Baylor and Seattle in the title game at Louisville's Freedom Hall, 84-72. After the game Rupp said, "Those boys certainly are not concert violinists, but they sure can fiddle."
The last of Rupp's most heralded teams were the Rupp's Runts. With no starter taller than 6'5", was arguably the most beloved in UK history. Despite its lack of size, it used devastating defensive pressure and a fast-paced offense to take a 27–1 record and top national ranking into the NCAA final against Texas Western.
The now historic 1966 NCAA championship game against Texas Western (now University of Texas at El Paso or UTEP) marked the first occurrence that an all-white starting five (Kentucky) played an all-black starting five (Texas Western) in the NCAA championship game. Texas Western won the game 72–65, on the night of March 19, 1966. This game, and the result of it, were especially significant as the game came at a time when the civil rights movement was coming into full swing around the country. In 1969, after actively recruiting black players for over six years (despite most of the other SEC teams threatening to boycott if a black player took the court), Rupp finally signed his first black player, Tom Payne, an athletic 7'-1" center out of Louisville. This ended the aspect of all-white Kentucky teams forever, and marked a new era with many notable black Kentucky basketball legends, including Jack Givens, Sam Bowie, Kenny Walker, Jamal Mashburn, Tayshaun Prince, Rajon Rondo, John Wall, and Anthony Davis.
Adolph Rupp left a lasting legacy on the Wildcats basketball program. In the fall of 1975 Lexington opened a new basketball arena for the Kentucky basketball program. The Wildcats moved off campus from Memorial Coliseum to Rupp Arena in the downtown metroplex. Appropriately the arena was named after the man that had built the program's tradition in the forty years that he was head coach. With an official capacity of 23,500, it is the largest arena designed specifically for basketball, as well as the largest indoor arena by capacity, in the United States. In Rupp Arena, the Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team regularly leads the nation in college basketball home attendance. The arena also regularly hosts NCAA tournament games including as the host of the 1985 NCAA Final Four, won in an upset by eighth-seeded Villanova.