Kentucky Wildcats Basketball

Kentucky's Unprecedented Leap to No. 1 in Preseason Rankings Exemplifies New Era

C.J. MooreCollege Basketball National Lead WriterOctober 17, 2013

This is what everyone expected: Kentucky at preseason No. 1. 

Remember last year and the NIT and Robert Morris? 

Forget about it.

The coaches didn't let that affect their judgment in Thursday's preseason coaches poll. The Wildcats became the first team to appear at preseason No. 1 in the poll's 23-year history after finishing the previous season unranked, according to Eric Prisbell of USA Today

John Calipari likes history. He's said he wants to be the first coach to go 40-0. And part of him has to love this.

He turned the most frustrating team he's ever coached into the most admired by signing what could go down as the greatest recruiting class of all time.

Better than the Fab Five. Better than any class John Wooden or Dean Smith or Mike Krzyzewski ever put together. 

Kentucky's six McDonald's All-American freshmen.
Kentucky's six McDonald's All-American freshmen.Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Calipari's six McDonald's All-Americans join a rotation that returns two NBA first-round talents already in place. 

From the NIT to the top. From flawed to flaunted.

This is about the time when the Calipari skeptics remind us that preseason polls mean little except to the fans and media.

Let's get that out of the way: It's true—they don't. No one wins on paper in October. 

But who has actually seen the Kentucky freshmen and has an idea of how good they can be? Coaches—on the recruiting trail. And those coaches voted UK No. 1 when Michigan State and Louisville were pretty good options (Nos. 2 and 3, respectively). 

Thursday's poll was a reminder of what college basketball has become. You want to be at the top? You better go after the rentals who would have bypassed college altogether before the NBA set an age limit. Teams like No. 2 Michigan State, with three upperclassmen in its projected starting lineup, could become the outliers. 

Look around at the rest of the Top 10:

  • Kansas lost five starters, but Bill Self's team is at No. 6 because of Andrew Wiggins and a few other talented freshmen.
  • Duke and Arizona would not be in the Top Five if it weren't for their star freshmen. 
  • Michigan lost two starters to the NBA. John Beilein's core is a talented group of freshmen and sophomores, and the Wolverines are ranked ninth. 

And these are coaches—not just the media—voting on the "unproven."

It's hard to throw that word around anymore. We feel like we know these kids from the start because their highlight tapes on YouTube and the national recruiting rankings that fans become obsessed with.

Bill Self (left) has the second-best freshman class, thanks to the addition of Andrew Wiggins (middle).
Bill Self (left) has the second-best freshman class, thanks to the addition of Andrew Wiggins (middle).Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Wiggins, Kentucky's Julius Randle, Duke's Jabari Parker and Arizona's Aaron Gordon are as known commodities as Louisville senior Russ Smith or Creighton's two-time All-American Doug McDermott. 

If you polled the general population and asked if they knew who Andrew Wiggins was and who Doug McDermott was, I guarantee Wiggins would win in a landslide. Over a two-time first-team All-American

We've come to accept that freshmen can make a huge difference.

But when you sit back and really think about Kentucky as preseason No. 1, and really think about a program that lost its last game to Robert (bleeping) Morris getting top-ranked honors, it really is unfathomable. 

Just look at the last 15 years: 

Postseason Finish the Previous Year for Preseason No. 1s
YearPreseason No.1Previous Season
1998-99DukeElite Eight
1999-00ConnecticutNational Champs
2000-01ArizonaRound of 32
2001-02DukeNational Champs
2002-03ArizonaSweet 16
2003-04ConnecticutSweet 16
2004-05KansasElite Eight
2005-06DukeSweet 16
2006-07FloridaNational Champs
2007-08North CarolinaElite Eight
2008-09North CarolinaFinal Four
2009-10KansasSweet 16
2010-11DukeNational Champs
2011-12North CarolinaElite Eight
2012-13IndianaSweet 16
2013-14KentuckyNIT First Round
ESPN.com

All of those No. 1s were already proven. They returned a lot of talent. They had previous success. 

Yet Thursday's news was not really news. It was expected. Just realize it was also unprecedented and is where college basketball is headed. 

Now let's see if the 'Cats can really make history.

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