The new college basketball season begins with a number of amazing streaks intact.
In two seasons, Kansas is likely to surpass North Carolina (27, from 1975 through 2001) for the most consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. The Jayhawks sit at 26 and show no signs of slowing down.
Currently, Stephen F. Austin is working on a streak of three straight seasons with at least 16 conference wins, 17 if one includes the conference tournament. That’s a remarkable feat. Other schools at all levels of college basketball manage to amaze us with their yearly feats. Everyone continues to aim at them, but they continue to thrive.
One can continue to provide examples of active college basketball streaks which deserve our highest respect and admiration. Three of them, however, acquire a particularly lofty place, and those are the ones we’ll unpack below:
3 – TWO STRAIGHT SEASONS IN WHICH THE SEC CHAMPION HAS GONE 21-0 IN LEAGUE PLAY
Is the SEC God’s gift to basketball? Anything but.
With that having been said, last year’s SEC produced five NCAA tournament teams. True, only one joined Kentucky in the round of 32, and none accompanied the Wildcats beyond that point. Still, it’s not as though every team other than Big Blue was the Little Sisters of the Poor. Moreover, every team that hosted Kentucky treated the occasion as its Super Bowl. Furthermore, it’s not as though Kentucky would have been a No. 2 seed (or a 1 seed shipped to the West) had it lost one of those SEC roadies. Yet, the Wildcats stayed on the wire every single time. They wobbled a few times but never fell off.
That’s extremely impressive.
In the SEC Tournament, playing three games on three straight days without a break, the temptation to just say, “Ah, the heck with it — let’s rest up for the tournament that really matters,” was considerable.
Nope — Kentucky didn’t stop caring or working. A regular-season championship was accompanied by a tournament championship. 21-0. Perfection. Truly and literally — perfection. College athletes don’t attain that very often.
Amazingly enough, as great as Kentucky was last season, Florida did the same thing a year earlier, pulling off 21-0 en route to the Final Four.
Great teams, great coaches, remarkable displays of consistency — that’s something to celebrate. Can John Calipari make it three in a row? We can’t wait to find out.
2 – WISCONSIN HAS NEVER FINISHED LOWER THAN FOURTH IN THE BIG TEN UNDER BO RYAN
The Badgers — when Bo Ryan took charge of them in 2001 — were not that far removed from a Final Four appearance under Dick Bennett. Yet, everyone knew what Wisconsin basketball represented. Punishing defense, unceasing dedication to hard work… and athletes which were far from the most dynamic on the court. It took a long time for Wisconsin to reinvent itself at the offensive end of the floor and integrate players with the skill sets of Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky.
In 2008, Wisconsin was a perfect example of a 3 seed which did not have the best players on the floor in an NCAA tournament game against a much lower seed.
Every year, one of those games occurs. Last year, No. 7 Michigan State versus No. 3 Oklahoma was an example. So was No. 7 Wichita State against No. 2 Kansas. The seedings offered no true measurement of indication of the supposed disparity in talent.
In the 2008 edition of the Big Dance, Wisconsin was waxed in the Sweet 16 by No. 10 Davidson, a double-digit seed which had similarly outclassed No. 2 Georgetown in the round of 32. A fellow — you might have heard of him — named Stephen Curry ushered Wisconsin out of Ford Field in Detroit. Even when Wisconsin did get to the Sweet 16, the Badgers occupied the identity of the team with less firepower. Most of the time — not all — this was true in the pre-Dekker, pre-Kaminsky years.
Yet, throughout those seasons — dating all the way back to 2001-2002 — Wisconsin never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten. The Badgers have NEVER had to play a Big Ten Tournament first-round game; they’ve always gotten a bye into Quarterfinal Friday in Indianapolis or Chicago.
Keep in mind that some great Tom Izzo teams at Michigan State; the Robbie Hummel teams at Purdue; Thad Matta’s Mike Conley and Greg Oden teams at Ohio State; a few highly-ranked Indiana teams under multiple coaches; and several high-level Illinois teams under Bill Self and then Bruce Weber all coexisted with Wisconsin at various points along the way.
Never — not once — did the Badgers slip to fifth place in the conference.
For perspective: North Carolina was fifth just last season in the ACC.
Arizona finished seventh in the Pac-10 in 2008.
Kentucky had the seventh-best conference record in the SEC (fourth in the SEC East at a time when the league still used divisions) in 2009.
Wisconsin — almost as much as the next school mentioned below — set the gold standard for annual quality in the Big Ten. Bo Ryan is a wizard, and if he can finish fourth this season without Dekker and Kaminsky, how much more we will marvel at him for keeping this streak alive.
1 – KANSAS WINNING A SHARE OR MORE OF THE BIG 12 IN 11 STRAIGHT SEASONS
This is the kind of accomplishment which speaks for itself and needs no embellishment. What perhaps puts this feat in perspective is how often other coaches and programs have failed to seize their moment of opportunity.
Oklahoma with Blake Griffin couldn’t overthrow Kansas.
Texas with Kevin Durant couldn’t stage a palace coup.
Iowa State had a great chance last season… and then lost to Baylor at home.
Frank Martin left Kansas State, perhaps halting the Wildcats’ run at Big 12 supremacy. (The word “perhaps” is used in the sense that while KSU has in fact ceased to excel in the league, it’s unclear as to whether Martin leaving was or is the primary source of that drought. It’s debatable.)
West Virginia and Bob Huggins could not build on the 2010 Final Four appearance.
Oklahoma State — where Bill Self might be coaching today had Roy Williams remained in Lawrence — has annually squandered talent under Travis Ford.
In many ways, the experiences of other Big 12 programs do the best job of magnifying what Self and Kansas have accomplished.