It all started in 1949 with Saint Louis on top. And 68 years later, The Associated Press college basketball poll has ranked a total of 200 schools through more than 1,100 polls — 59 at No. 1.
Now, for the first time, the AP is using that data to go past the Top 25 of the moment and ask: what are the top 100 programs of all-time ? The schools at the top are a who’s who of college basketball royalty, starting with Kentucky. Kentucky is the all-time No. 1 with appearances in three-fourths of all polls and 124 No. 1 rankings.
The AP’s formula counts appearances to mark consistency and No. 1 rankings to acknowledge elite programs. The results don’t factor in national championships because the AP doesn’t release a poll after the NCAA Tournament.
The distinction is no surprise to Joe B. Hall, who coached Kentucky to its fifth title in 1978 and was an assistant under the legendary Adolph Rupp, eventually succeeding the “Baron of the Bluegrass” in 1973.
“Credit goes to coach Rupp for starting the fever with two straight titles in the 1940s and four overall during a time when all of the programs were beginning to develop,” said Hall, who took the Wildcats to three Final Fours in 12 years. “The fact that he laid such a solid foundation, and that four of us have followed him and won championships indicates how he built a program that has endured over time.”
The next top programs are North Carolina, Duke and UCLA — the only schools to be ranked at the top for more than 100 weeks. In the 1960s and 70s, the Bruins could have gotten mail addressed to “No. 1.”
Kansas, Indiana, Louisville, Arizona, Syracuse and Cincinnati round out a top 10 that includes only schools that have won national championships.
Programs similar to Kentucky, where Hall said tradition and pressure to succeed gave motivation to keep going.
“It infused me with the spirit to work harder,” Hall said. “Coaches feed off it and players feed off of it. I don’t know what the secret is, but success breeds success and the coaches that have been here, from (Rick) Pitino to Tubby (Smith) and (John) Calipari have enhanced the program and brought it up to the times.”
There have been plenty of changes over the years to how teams are ranked, just as there have been broader changes in the sport itself as hoops evolved from an older style to the amazing performances of today’s players, showcased through the flashy made-for-TV drama of the NCAA Tournament.
The AP poll started with 20 teams, then was reduced to 10 midway through the 1960-61 season. It returned to a Top 20 for 1968-69 and expanded to 25 teams starting in 1989-90. The first preseason poll was done before the 1961-62 season.
The poll has always been a guide for which teams deserve national attention, giving fans fodder to talk about where their schools fit in the pecking order of college hoops. It may not have always been correct top to bottom, but it has always been there.
Some notable names and numbers from the AP All-Time Top 100:
NO. 1 … OR NOT: UCLA has spent the most weeks at No. 1 (134) ahead of Duke (129), Kentucky (124) and North Carolina (110). No. 17 Maryland has the distinction of being the highest-ranked program never to have been at No. 1.
OUT OF IT: The only school to ever be ranked No. 1 and not finish in the top 100 is Indiana State. The Sycamores rose to the top of poll for four weeks in 1978-79 behind a forward named Larry Bird.
CONFERENCE CALL: Using current conference alignments the Atlantic Coast Conference led the top 10 with four schools — North Carolina (2), Duke (3), Louisville (7), Syracuse (9).
Expanded to the top 20 and the Big Ten pulls in front with six — Indiana (6), Illinois (11), Ohio State (12), Michigan State (13), Michigan (14), Maryland (17). The ACC picked up one school in the second 10 — Notre Dame (18).
IN A ROW: The record for consecutive polls ranked is 221 by UCLA from 1966-80. The current longest streak is Kansas at 161, a run that started Feb. 3, 2009. Arizona is next with 97 followed by Villanova at 73, Virginia (64) and North Carolina (62).
CENTURY MARK: There was a tie for 100th between Jacksonville and Mississippi.
ONE SPOT: 14 schools have appeared in a total of one poll, including Army, Boise State, Bucknell, Cleveland State, Iona, Kent State, Lamar, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Missouri State, Northeastern, Old Dominion, Pepperdine, Texas State and Wayne State.
SO SOON: Florida State was ranked 25th in the 1993-94 preseason poll. The Seminoles didn’t play the first week of the season but they dropped out and were replaced at No. 25 by Wisconsin.
When told his team had fallen from the rankings, coach Pat Kennedy said: “Well we did have a lousy week of practice.”
THE BIG JUMP: Kansas recorded the biggest jump-in in poll history in 1989-90. The Jayhawks were unranked in the preseason Top 25 but wins over No. 2 LSU, No. 1 UNLV and No. 25 St. John’s in the Preseason NIT had them at No. 4 in the first regular season poll. After five weeks at No. 2, Kansas was ranked No. 1.