The Nation Should Accept the Kentucky Wildcats As Its New No. 1

Jonathan LintnerSenior Analyst IJanuary 20, 2010

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 23:  John Calipari the Head Coach of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts during the game against the Long Beach State 49ers on December 23, 2009 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Every team in NCAA Division I basketball has lost—every team except 18-0 Kentucky.


And that's why regardless of what happened last season, regardless of coach John Calipari's past mistakes, and regardless of a preseason ranking achieved through potential alone, the Wildcats should be the nation's No. 1 team barring the results of Saturday's game against Arkansas.


It's also Kentucky that's on a clear-cut course to earn the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.


No RPI, strength of schedule, or quality of wins questions asked. No recruiting red flags raised. No other considerations after Texas, Kansas, and Michigan State all fell before Kentucky even stumbled.


Because there's only one perfect team left in college basketball, and it just happens to be the one that starts three freshman and cheats defeat night in and night out.


It too is the team that shot from the gate with two monstrous wins, only to look back a month later and realize victories over then-No. 11 North Carolina and then-No. 12 Connecticut had lost their luster.


But it's hard to blame the Wildcats for their weak schedule—one that planned to pit them against six teams ranked in the AP preseason polls and seven more that received votes.


Louisville was firmly out of the top 25 by the time the 'Cards and the 'Cats met on Jan. 4, and losses to Rider, Richmond, and Western Kentucky booted Mississippi State from its preseason spot in the rankings. That left Tennessee as the only remaining top 25 team left on Kentucky's slate that's actually playing like a top-25 team.


Entering Southeastern Conference play, the Wildcats' strength of schedule will improve.


South Carolina's potential is decent as long as Devan Downey remains in the lineup. Mississippi has staked claim to a consistent presence in the top 25. Even Vanderbilt, left for dead after three losses before Christmas, has won eight straight.


The schedule debate also questions the validity of the current RPI. Kentucky sits at No. 10, behind three-loss Georgetown and four-loss Wisconsin, thanks to a schedule that ranks 111th. In comparison, UAB is stuck at the way-too-bad No. 35 spot with the 135th-best schedule, and California is holding onto a top-25 spot with the second-strongest schedule.


Don't play the margin of victory card, either. This isn't the BCS.


Yes, it's easy to write off Kentucky for allowing an early win over Miami of Ohio to come down to a buzzer-beater by freshman John Wall. The same goes for an overtime victory against Stanford in Cancun.


The Wildcats also have a nasty habit of losing leads, and it doesn't matter how big; 12 points to Louisville, 11 to Georgia, 15 to Florida, or 19 to Auburn.


In each of those four games, Kentucky tied or trailed the opposition after building a double-digit lead. But the Wildcats showcased their potential in building big leads and displayed a will to win in fighting through adversity.


That's a will to win that not one other team has matched two months into the college basketball season.


The RPI has yet to sort itself out, the Wildcats' strength of schedule should hit the upswing, and some of the murkiness surrounding an impressive midseason ascent will soon clear up.


The only thing for sure right now are Kentucky's marks in the wins column, where it's the only team able to tout No. 1—and the only one—in that respect.

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