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by Larry Ness - 01/20/2010
The Texas Longhorns rose to No. 1 back on January 11. Kansas was the nation's preseason No. 1 and stayed atop the rankings until losing 76-68 at Tennessee on January 10, which gave Texas its opportunity to claim the AP's top spot for the first time in school history. The Longhorns would garner 56 of the AP's 65 first-place votes with Kentucky (the only other unbeaten team) getting the other nine. Kansas would fall to No. 3 back on January 11, ending a nine-week run at No. 1. That gave Kansas 51 weeks all-time as the nation's No. 1 team, the fifth most of any school.
Texas won 90-83 at Iowa State on January 13, winning its first-ever game as the nation's No. 1 team. The Longhorns then edged Texas A&M back in Austin last Saturday (Jan 16), 72-67 in overtime. As the saying goes, "uneasy is the head that wears the crown." Texas' (17-0) two close wins allowed them to remain the AP's No. 1 team again as the new week opened on Monday (Jan 18), as the Longhorns actually gained one first-place vote (received 57 of 65). Kentucky (18-0), still the nation's only other unbeaten team, was a solid No. 2 getting the other eight first-place votes.
However, the Longhorns' 17-game winning streak ended Monday night, as the Wildcats beat them 71-62. Kansas State moved up to No. 9 in the latest AP poll earlier in the day (KSU's first top-10 ranking since the Wildcats finished the 1972-73 season ranked 9th by the AP) and celebrated Monday night by knocking off the nation's No. 1 team. Neither team shot well but KSU held Texas (averaging just over 89 PPG) to a season-low 62 points. Despite KSU's two high-scoring guards Pullen and Clemente shooting a combined 4-of-24 from the floor, KSU improved to 16-2 on the season, including 11-0 (6-0 ATS) in Manhattan.
So look who is poised to claim the nation's No. 1 ranking come next Monday? John Calipari and his undefeated Kentucky Wildcats have just one game on this week's schedule and that's a Saturday home game vs the 8-9 Arkansas Razorbacks (Arkansas will host Florida on Thursday night, before visiting Lexington). Calipari's success is unquestioned at the college level (we'll not dwell on his stint as the Nets' head coach). He took over U Mass at the beginning of the 1988-89 season and stayed eight years. The Minutemen would go the the NCAA tourney in each of his last five seasons, including reaching the Final 4 in his final season of 1995-96.
U Mass was 142-25 (.850) In Calipari's last five years in Boston with his Final 4 team going 31-1. He then left for the NBA but returned to the college ranks at Memphis to begin the 2000-01 season. The Tigers would win 253 games in his nine seasons while posting nine consecutive 20-win seasons, including an NCAA record four consecutive 30-win seasons from 2005-06 through 2008-09. His teams earned nine consecutive postseason bids, including six NCAA appearances. In his three trips to the NIT, Calipari's teams made it to Madison Square Garden each time, winning the title in 2002.
Calipari's Memphis team was a collective 137-14 (.907) over the last four seasons, the most wins in any four-year stretch in college basketball history. The 2007-08 team went 38-2, setting an NCAA record for wins in a single season but lost in the national championship game to Kansas when the Jayhawks rallied from nine points down with 2:12 left in regulation to send the game into OT where Kansas would prevail 75-68. However, as everyone is aware, both of Calipari's Final 4 teams, the 1995-96 Minutemen and the 2007-08 Tigers, have had their Final 4 appearances vacated by the NCAA for rules violations.
Calipari inherited a Kentucky which had won 18 games two years ago (lost in the first round of the NCAA tourney) and 22 games last year (lost in the NIT quarterfinals). The 6-4 Jodie Meeks (23.7 PPG), who broke Dan Issel's 39-year-old record of 53 points in one game last season when he had 54 in a 90-72 win over Tennessee on January 13, declared for the NBA draft and was taken in the second round by the Milwaukee Bucks, the 41st player chosen. Through January 19, Meeks is averaging only 13.5 MPG and averaging a modest 4.8 PPG. He would have been an outstanding perimeter scorer for the Wildcats this year and one wonders just how good the 2009-10 Wildcats would have been if Meeks had stayed?
Clearly, the 2009-10 edition of the Wildcats is pretty darned good even without Meeks. The 6-9 Patrick Patterson returned for his junior season and has averaged 16.3 PPG and 7.9 RPG plus sophomore guard Darius Miller has chipped in 7.3 PPG. However, it's "the new guys" (a Calipari staple), who have been the difference-makers for the Wildcats. No one has made a bigger impression than 6-4 freshman guard John Wall, who leads the team in scoring (17.1) and assists (6.9), while adding 3.7 RPG. Two more freshman, the 6-11 Cousins (15.3-9.3) and 6-1 guard Bledsoe (11.4-2.8-3.0) have also made major contributions.
The 6-7 Darnell Dodson (7.1) is a "Calipari special." Dodson was signed by Pitt in 2007 but didn't make it through the NCAA Clearinghouse and enrolled at Miami-Dade CC. He was not allowed to return to the Big East, so he signed with Memphis and played a second season with Miami-Dade (a school which featured six other Div I signees last season). He was set to join Memphis this year but when Calipari left for Kentucky and brought assistant Orlando Antigua with him (Antigua is a former Pitt assistant who originally recruited Dodson for the Panthers), Dodson was allowed to follow the two coaches to Lexington.
Kentucky is averaging 82.2 PPG while shooting 50.0 percent as a team. The Wildcats are holding opponents to 65.3 PPG on 38.4 percent from the floor, an average margin of victory of 16.9 points. However, despite its 18-0 mark, Kentucky is a modest 8-8 ATS. While it's unlikely the Wildcats will go through the season unbeaten, it's highly likely they'll move to 19-0 this coming Saturday by beating the mediocre Razorbacks. A win will guarantee that the Wildcats will be the nation's new No. 1 team come Monday.
If so, it will mark the 89th time the Wildcats will have been voted the AP's No. 1 team, the fourth-most of any school. UCLA has spent 134 weeks as the AP's No. 1 team, the most of any school. Duke has been ranked No. 1 the second-most of any school, spending 111 weeks at No. 1 with North Carolina claiming the top spot 105 times.
Closing thought: Where is the Pac 10? Not a single Pac 10 team was listed among the AP's top-25 poll released back on January 11. Again this week when the the latest poll was released on January 18, no Pac 10 team made the list. Looking among the category of "others to have received votes," one will find Arizona State (14-5) ranked 43rd, behind noted basketball powerhouses like Cornell, William & Mary, Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion. Cal (11-6) and Washington (12-5) were both among the preseason top-25 teams with Cal ranked 13th and Washington 14th but neither school received a single vote in the latest poll. John Wooden is not pleased.
Good luck, Larry