This Kentucky club falls well short of previous preseason No. 1s

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Kentucky Wildcats (USATSI)
The Wildcats need a big win in a big way over Louisville on Saturday. (USATSI)

The burden of expectation can produce a messy meal of results when teams don't perform as they're projected to.

In most cases, this is as much our (the media) fault as it is the team in question. But regardless of that inconvenient circumstance, the fact remains Kentucky is under fire for the second straight season because John Calipari can't get a cluster of new/future NBA talent to jell at an elite level. And from a historic perspective, these Wildcats are already significant underachievers.

How can we compare? Kentucky was the preseason pick for college basketball's best team this season, per voters in the Associated Press poll. Sitting at No. 1 back in October, with the best recruiting class in the history of the sport, Cal's Cats had a season of excitement and expectation that was already out of hand when 40-0 talk and T-shirts were part of the national conversation.

But the Wildcats have already lost three games (to three good teams) and have a huge one taking place on Saturday, in Lexington. Not only is it against hated rival Louisville, but the Cardinals -- remember, they are defending national champions -- have a case to be one of the two or three best teams in the country to this point, something Kentucky has ways to go before it can claim the same.

If Kentucky loses, there will undoubtedly be panic in the Bluegrass State. The home-court advantage against Louisville can be a boost, but also a burden. Imagine losing in Rupp Arena this year. Then you'll hear the moans and groans from Big Blue Nation. Will this team fail to make the NCAA tournament for the second straight year? Has John Calipari lost his touch? Can we still blame Tubby Smith?

Historically, it'll be a very bad look as well. The AP poll's preseason prognostication from the past decade has been pretty reliable in terms of picking the top program. I'm not only talking endgame. Consider, if UK falls Saturday, it'll have four losses before the calendar turns to a new year. Its three losses to date are already the most of any preseason No. 1 in the past decade, and the average total losses for the teams listed below at the end of the season: 4.8. An L to L'ville will mean UK is already more than 80 percent there. The average NCAA tournament seed is a No. 1. Over half the teams in the past 12 years haven't had a loss by the end of December, let alone three.

Kentucky faces a burden of history ahead, for sure, but winning over Louisville could be an antidote for early stumbles. Here's the past 12 years of preseason No. 1 teams and their records come Jan. 1 of that given season. After the slash, their end-of-season records, NCAA tournament seedings and final resting place. As of now, it's clear that 9-3 Kentucky is out of place.

2001-02: Duke: 10-0 / 29-4 (No. 1 seed); Sweet 16.

2002-03: Arizona: 7-1 / 28-4 (No. 1 seed); Elite Eight.

2003-04: Connecticut: 10-1 / 33-6 (No. 2 seed); national champions.

2004-05: Kansas: 8-0 / 23-7 (No. 3 seed); Round of 64.

2005-06: Duke: 12-0 / 32-4 (No. 1 seed); Sweet 16.

2006-07: Florida: 12-2 / 35-5 (No. 1 seed); national champions.

2007-08: North Carolina: 13-0 / 36-3 (No. 1 seed); Final Four.

2008-09: North Carolina: 13-0 / 34-4 (No. 1 seed); national champions.

2009-10: Kansas: 12-0 / 33-3 (No. 1 seed); Round of 32.

2010-11: Duke: 12-0 / 32-5 (No. 1 seed); Sweet 16.

2011-12: North Carolina: 12-2 / 32-6 (No. 1 seed); Elite Eight.

2012-13: Indiana: 13-1 / 29-7 (No. 1 seed); Sweet 16.

 
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