CBB Notes: 2/9
by Larry Ness
Kansas opened as the nation's No. 1 team, topping both major preseason polls. The Jayhawks received 55 of the 65 first-place votes in the AP poll and 27 of the 31 in the coaches' poll. Kansas held its No. 1 ranking through the first eight weeks of this year's regular season but a 76-68 loss at Tennessee on January 10 cost the Jayhawks the top spot in the polls. Texas found itself atop the polls on January 11 for the first time in school history. The Longhorns would open the season 17-0 (best start since 1932-33 season) and hold the nation's No. 1 ranking again on January 18.
However, Texas would lose at Kansas St later that night and then 88-74 the following Saturday to U Conn. That opened the door for Kentucky to take over the No. 1 spot, which the Wildcats did at 19-0 on January 25 (received all 65 votes in the AP and all 31 in the coaches'). However, just one night later, the Wildcats lost 68-62 at South Carolina. Come February 1, the Jayhawks were back where they started, as the nation's No. 1 team. It hasn't been a 'cakewalk,' as the Jayhawks survived an 81-79 OT win at Kansas St on Jan 30, a 72-66 OT win at Colorado on Feb 3 and last Saturday, won 75-64 over Nebraska in Lawrence. Considering the Jayhawks were favored by three TDs, the win was hardly impressive.
However, it did mark the team's 55th straight home win (longest active streak in the nation) and at 22-1, the Jayhawks remained the nation's No. 1 team when the new polls came out on February 8. Kansas has been ranked No. 1 in the AP poll 53 times, the fifth-most of any school (UCLA leads, having spent 134 weeks as the nation's No. 1 team). Kansas visited Austin, Texas Monday night and while the Longhorns were in a 'free-fall,' Texas had won six straight home games vs top-five opponents heading into the game.
Kansas outmuscled and outhustled Texas in just about every way, using a 22-0 run in the first half to take control and when Texas finally staged a late comeback, the Jayhawks slammed the door shut for an 80-68 win. Texas had already fallen to No. 14 in Monday's latest AP poll and the Longhorns have now lost five of seven games since that 17-0 start. As for Kansas, the 23-1 Jayhawks have their eyes on an unbeaten season in one of the nation's toughest conferences. Kansas is 9-0 in the Big 12, one of seven schools still unbeaten in conference play through February 8.
Going through an entire season without a loss hasn't been done since Bob Knight's Indiana team of 1975-76 finished 32-0 and when Kentucky lost 68-62 at South Carolina on Feb 26, every Division I school in the nation had at least one loss. Kansas and Syracuse are both 23-1 through Monday while 22-1 Kentucky should join them Tuesday night, as the Wildcats host 13-10 Alabama. Syracuse is off to the best start in school history and is ranked second in the latest AP poll (fourth No. 2 team in as many weeks), the school's highest ranking since the Orange spent six weeks at No. 1 in the 1989-90 season.
While Kansas, Syracuse and Kentucky (I'm assuming the Wildcats beat Alabama) are all 23-1, the Jayhawks are the only one of the three to be unbeaten in conference play. The last time the Jayhawks managed to get through its Big 12 schedule unscathed was back in the 2001-02 season at 16-0. Kansas was the only Division I school to finish unbeaten in conference play that year and since that time (including the Jayhawks' unbeaten season that year), just 19 schools have managed that feat. The most schools to stay unbeaten throughout their respective seasons in any one year has been three.
Memphis and Gonzaga have each accomplished "season-sweeps" of their respective conferences three times. Memphis went 16-0 in each of the last three seasons in C-USA but with John Calipari off to Kentucky, the Tigers find themselves 6-2 in league play this year and at 16-7 overall, the Tigers will likely have to win the C-USA tourney to be 'dancing' in mid-March. Gonzaga completed unbeaten seasons in the WCC last year, in 2005-06 and in 2003-04, but won't make it a fourth this year, having lost 81-77 in OT at San Francisco on January 30.
Kansas staying unbeaten in the Big 12 would be quite an achievement. Of the 19 schools to go unbeaten in conference play the last eight years (going back to the 2001-02 season), only Kansas (as mentioned) and Kentucky in 2002-03 (Wildcats went 16-0 in the SEC) accomplished the feat playing in one of the nation's "Big Six" leagues. The only other school to have more than one unbeaten conference season over the last eight years (joining Gonzaga and Memphis) is Davidson, which went unbeaten in the Southern Conference in both 2004-05 and 2007-08.
Still unbeaten in conference play along with Kansas through February 8 are in alphabetical order, Butler (14-0 in the Horizon), Cornell (6-0 in the Ivy), Morgan St (10-0 in the MEAC), Murray St (13-0 in the OVC), Princeton (4-0 in the IVY), Sam Houston St (8-0 in the Southland) and Siena (14-0 in the MAAC). Will any of these schools make it through unscathed? We'll keep an eye on them the rest of the way.
The Big East had the most schools in the AP's latest top-25 poll with five, including four schools in the top-seven. However, No. 4 Villanova beat No. 5 West Va 82-75 on Monday night in Morgantown, meaning the Mountaineers will likely need to win at No. 25 Pitt (in a rare Friday night game) to hold their top-10 ranking. The Big 10 and Big 12 each had four top-25 teams. The Pac 10 failed to place a school in the latest top-25 poll for the fifth straight week and as I mentioned last week, the conference is in real danger of getting just one NCAA bid come March for the first time since 1978.
The Mountain West Conference will be glad for the Pac 10's "lack of participation" and on Monday, found itself with three schools in the AP top-25 for the first time ever. New Mexico is the highest-ranked MWC school at No. 15 (Lobos have been ranked for three straight weeks), BYU checks in at No. 17 (Cougars have been as high as No. 12, which is the school's highest ranking since 1988) and UNLV returned to the rankings on Monday at No. 23, after an eight-week absence. Two conference unbeatens, Cornell (20-3) and Siena (21-4) are 'knocking on the door.'
The Big Red, on their way to a third consecutive Ivy League crown, have been ranked in the coaches' top-25 for each of the last two weeks (No. 22 this week) and a quick check of "Others Receiving Votes" in Monday's AP poll will show Cornell second on that list. "Doing the math," Cornell is 27th in the AP poll. As for the Saints, Siena received 18 votes, tied with St Mary's at 34th. For Siena to make up that much ground, the Saints will have to most likely "win-out."
My Friday column will check in on schools still winless in conference play along with the season's biggest 'flops.' That leads me into my closing note.
North Carolina won the school's fifth national championship (second under Roy Williams since 2005) last year. While the Tar Heels lost Hansbrough, Ellington, Lawson and Green off that team, North Carolina was still ranked sixth in the AP's preseason poll and 4th in the coaches' poll (actually had one first-place vote in both). However, heading into its Wednesday game with Duke, North Carolina has lost five of its last six games to fall to 13-10 overall and 2-6 in the ACC. Meanwhile, Duke is 19-4 overall (7-2 and in first-place in the ACC) and ranked No. 8 in the AP poll.
Since the AP poll began in the 1948-49 season, one of the schools has been ranked when they met 147 of a possible 163 times, including 128 consecutive games since Feb. 27, 1960. One of the teams has been in the top-10 in 115 of those games. Duke has held up its end of the bargain but as for the Tar Heels, an at-large bid at this point would be a 'gift!'
Good luck, Larry
Get all of Larry's winning sports picks
at Vegas Experts.