For only the second time in school history, the Vols are the No. 1 team in the AP Poll in men’s basketball. Last time this happened, Tennessee ended up losing the very next game they played, falling 72-69 to No. 18 Vanderbilt. This time around, the Vols will look to hold on to that No. 1 ranking a little longer.
Through 12 weeks of the 2018-19 season, the Vols have been ranked inside the top five of the AP Poll in all but three of those weeks. This is the earliest the Vols have earned the No. 1 ranking in college basketball. Last time, Tennessee rose to No. 1 in late February for one week. This time, they earned the top spot a month earlier than they did in 2008.
So what does history say about teams who are ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll at this point in the season?
Over the last 12 seasons, there have been eight different teams ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll at the start of the 12th week of the poll. Florida, Memphis, Duke (twice), Kentucky (three times), Ohio State, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Villanova (twice) were all the No. 1 team in college basketball in Week 12 of the AP Poll over the last 12 seasons. So how did those teams go on to fare for the rest of the season?
Since the 2006-07 season, all but one team ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll in the 12th week of the season (2015-16 Oklahoma) has gone on to win at least 30 games. Even that Oklahoma team, though, still had a lot of success that season. The Sooners were a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and made it to the Final Four.
Of those 12 teams, all were at least a two-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and eight earned a No. 1 seed in the tournament.
All but one of the 12 previous teams ranked No. 1 at this point in the season made it to at least the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. The only team that didn’t was the 2016-17 Villanova squad that went 32-4 overall, earned a No. 1 seed, and got bounced in the second round by Wisconsin. But then Villanova would make up for it next season and win the National Championship.
Oddly enough, last year’s Villanova squad that won the title and went 36-4 overall was No. 1 in the AP Poll in Week 12 of the season, too.
Speaking of national titles, three of the 12 teams who were ranked No. 1 at this point in the season over the last 12 seasons ended up winning the National Championship. The 2006-07 Florida Gators, 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats, and 2017-18 Villanova Wildcats were all No. 1 at this point in the basketball season, and all ended up winning the NCAA Tournament.
The 2007-08 Memphis team that was ranked No. 1 in Week 12 made it to the NCAA Tournament Finals, and two other teams (2014-15 Kentucky and 2015-16 Oklahoma) made it to the Final Four.
When an SEC team has been ranked No. 1 at this point in the season, they’ve made it to at least the Elite Eight every time.
Florida won the national title in 2007, and Kentucky made it to the Elite Eight in 2010, won the title in 2012, and made it to the Final Four in 2015.
History doesn’t always predict the future, but it can give us good hints of how things might turn out. If recent history is any indication about how the Vols’ 2018-19 season will go now that they’re the No. 1 team in college basketball at this point in the season, then they should be in store for a good ride in the coming months.
Over the last 12 seasons, 91.7 percent of the teams ranked No. 1 at this point in the year have won at least 30 games, 66.7 percent earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, 66.7 percent made it to at least the Elite Eight, 50 percent made it to the Final Four, and 25 percent won a National Championship.
Odds are, the Vols will end up making some more positive school history in the next few months as long as they stay healthy. And history backs up that assumption.