virginia cavaliers

The last time Virginia basketball was the AP’s No. 1 team, “E.T.” was in theaters, Tom Watson was U.S. Open champ, Ronald Reagan was serving his first term as president, and current Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett was 13 years old.

That was December 1982, during the senior season of legendary center Ralph Sampson. Now, 35 years later, Virginia has finally reclaimed the top spot in the rankings.

The Cavaliers rose to the top of the AP poll thanks to a week of chaos in college basketball. No. 1 Villanova lost to St. John’s, which had not previously won a conference game, while No. 3 Purdue fell twice, to No. 4 Michigan State and No. 14 Ohio State. So even though No. 2 Virginia suffered an overtime loss to the rival Virginia Tech at home on Saturday, the Cavaliers earned 30 of a potential 65 first-place votes to ascend to the top spot.

Behind the Cavaliers, Michigan State jumped to No. 2, having received 21 first-place votes, while Villanova and Xavier slotted in next, with nine and five first-place tallies, respectively. Here is the full top 10:

  1. Virginia (23-2)
  2. Michigan State (24-3)
  3. Villanova (23-2)
  4. Xavier (23-3)
  5. Cincinnati (23-2)
  6. Purdue (23-4)
  7. Texas Tech (21-4)
  8. Ohio State (22-5)
  9. Gonzaga (23-4)
  10. Auburn (22-3)

The USA Today Coaches poll, meanwhile, ranked Michigan State No. 1, followed by Virginia, Villanova, Xavier, and Cincinnati.

Voters in both polls wound up with substantially different rankings than the ones submitted by the NCAA Tournament selection committee, which revealed its “bracket preview” on Sunday. The committee had Virginia as the overall No. 1, with Villanova and Xavier also in the top four, but its final No. 1 seed went to Purdue, with Michigan State all the way down on the No. 3 line. Auburn was the committee’s No. 5 overall team but ranks only No. 10 in the AP Top 25 and No. 11 in the Coaches Poll, while Duke and Kansas also earned presumptive No. 2 seeds despite ranking No. 12 and 13, respectively in the AP poll and No. 10 and 13, respectively in the coaches’ version. Ohio State and Gonzaga, which rank in the top 10 in both polls, failed to crack the top four seed lines.

Some years college basketball features a clear top team or maybe a handful of squads that quickly separate themselves. This is obviously not one of those years, with a mess of solid groups trading places atop the rankings.

And as for Virginia, that 1982-83 Cavaliers team with Sampson wound up losing to eventual champion NC State in the regional final. We’ll see if Tony Bennett’s squad can do better this year.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports,, and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.