Reaching the top rare for SEC hoop programs besides Kentucky

Reaching the top rare for SEC hoop programs besides Kentucky

January 22nd, 2019 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Tennessee on Monday became the first SEC men's basketball program other than Kentucky to earn an Associated Press No. 1 ranking since the 2013-14 Florida Gators, who were led by the senior quartet of Patric Young (4), Will Yeguete (15), Scottie Wilbekin (5) and Casey Prather (24). (University of Florida photo)

Photo by University of Florida

Tennessee men's basketball fans should take a moment and savor the Associated Press No. 1 ranking that was bestowed Monday upon coach Rick Barnes and his Volunteers.

Perhaps the entire Southeastern Conference should as well, because reaching the top has been rare in this sport for programs not named Kentucky.

Only 15 percent of schools ever to play Division I men's college basketball have attained a No. 1 ranking, and just five SEC programs have looked out from the summit of a weekly poll. Kentucky has been ranked No. 1 a whopping 124 times, a total that trails only Duke (140) and UCLA (134) nationally, while Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee have produced much shorter stints.

Kentucky's most recent No. 1 ranking occurred Nov. 28, 2016, and the Wildcats are the only program to climb to No. 1 in each decade since the inception of the AP poll in 1949.

Tennessee has reached No. 1 for the second time, with the first ascension in February 2008 lasting just one week due to a loss at Vanderbilt. The 2007-08 Vols were coached by Bruce Pearl and led by Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith, Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism, and they earned the SEC championship and were 31-4 before succumbing to Louisville in the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16.

Alabama was No. 1 for two weeks in December 2002, when coach Mark Gottfried, guard Mo Williams and forward Erwin Dudley led the Crimson Tide to a 9-0 start. The Tide plummeted from there, going 7-9 in SEC play and finishing a 17-12 season with a 2003 NCAA first-round loss to Indiana.

Arkansas has been No. 1 on 12 occasions, but none since November 1994, when the Razorbacks were seeking to defend their lone national championship. The Razorbacks of coach Nolan Richardson and sophomore forwards Scotty Thurman and Corliss Richardson were ranked No. 1 nine times during their 1993-94 title season.

The SEC team next to Kentucky in longevity at No. 1 is Florida, which has been ranked at the top 14 times. The Gators were never ranked No. 1 during their 2005-06 national championship season but were at the top for eight weeks when they repeated their crown in 2006-07.

Florida also was No. 1 for the final four weeks of the 2013-14 season, when Billy Donovan's Gators were led by the senior quartet of center Patric Young, forwards Casey Prather and Will Yeguete and guard Scottie Wilbekin. The Gators were the top overall seed in the 2014 NCAA tournament and reached the Final Four before losing to Connecticut.

Missouri has been No. 1 on six occasions but none since 1990, which was well before the Tigers made their 2012 arrival into the SEC.

It's a different story in SEC football, with Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Mississippi State having each been ranked No. 1 since Tennessee's first No. 1 ranking in men's hoops. The Vols have been ranked No. 1 18 times in football, finishing the 1951 and 1998 seasons at the top.

Every current SEC football program has been the AP No. 1 at some point in its history except for Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. South Carolina was ranked No. 2 for a week in 1984, before the Gamecocks were in the SEC, and Kentucky climbed to No. 3 late in the 1950 season.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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