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Nebrasketball: A historical perspective on AP futility

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NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Nebraska Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Nebraska Cornhuskers do not have a lot to be proud of in terms of the men’s basketball program’s historical achievements. I do not even need to bother mentioning the NCAA Tournament black mark among fellow Power-Six programs it is so often repeated. The program has just six conference championships (1912, 1913, 1914, 1916, 1949, 1950), the most recent of which was when it was in the Big Seven, and one conference tournament championship (1994) in the waning years of the Big 8, all for a men’s basketball program that played its first season over a century ago in 1897.

However, one mark that may be less of a blackmark compared to fellow Big Ten programs is the AP Poll. Many people might have found it shocking to know that noted basketball powerhouse the Purdue Boilermakers only just attained No. 1 in the AP Poll for the first time in program history last week before promptly losing at Rutgers and dropping to No. 3 this week.

With that recent achievement in mind, I thought time was ripe to take a fresh look at “The Haves” and “The Have Nots” in the Big Ten to see how Nebraska stacks up against the competition in terms of AP historical ranking achievements. In addition, I also include some of the “Have Nots” from the Big 8 and a special category as well.

*Most of the data I was able to easily look up dates only as far back as 1958, however some select few date slightly further back and are noted as such. However, no schools included in the “Haves” and “Have Nots” are missing a ranking at No. 1 as a result.


The Haves:

Big Ten

Indiana

Times Ranked No. 1: 54

Overall AP ranking history: 30 Times (Preseason), 28 Times (Final), 560 Weeks (Total)

Illinois

Times Ranked No. 1: 17

Overall AP ranking history: 18 Times (Preseason), 28 Times (Final), 472 Weeks (Total)

Iowa

Times Ranked No. 1: 1

Overall AP ranking history: 15 Times (Preseason), 20 Times (Final), 382 Weeks (Total)

Michigan State

Times Ranked No. 1: 13

Overall AP ranking history: 26 Times (Preseason), 25 Times (Final), 478 Weeks (Total)

Michigan

Times Ranked No. 1: 22

Overall AP ranking history: 29 Times (Preseason), 23 Times (Final), 436 Weeks (Total)

Ohio State

Times Ranked No. 1: 37

Overall AP ranking history: 22 Times (Preseason), 24 Times (Final), 432 Weeks (Total)

Purdue

Times Ranked No. 1: 1

Overall AP ranking history: 22 Times (Preseason), 23 Times (Final), 381 Weeks (Total)

Wisconsin

Times Ranked No. 1: 1

Overall AP ranking history: 14 Times (Preseason), 17 Times (Final), 282 Weeks (Total)


The Have Nots:

Big Ten

Maryland

Highest ranking: No. 2, 37 weeks (1973, 1974, 1975, 1998, 2001, 2002)

Overall AP ranking history: 1

By complete quirk, the final AP Poll in Maryland’s 2002 national title season occurred prior to the championship game. The final Coaches Poll was released after the title game and had Maryland at No. 1, but for some reason the Terps did not get the honor in the final AP Poll and thus remain unranked at No. 1.

Minnesota

Highest ranking: No. 2, three weeks (1997)

Overall AP ranking history: 12 Times (Preseason), 10 Times (Final), 235 Weeks (Total)

The 1996-97 squad probably had the best shot at breaking into No. 1 after riding a 12-game win streak at one point. However, a loss to Kentucky in the Final Four would prevent moving up from No. 2 before eventually vacating all of the wins from that season for academic fraud.

Northwestern

Highest ranking: No. 6, two weeks (1958)

Overall AP ranking history: 1 Time (Preseason), 0 Times (Final), 16 Weeks (Total)

The best Northwestern squad ever finished 15-7. This is pretty much the most depressing program on this list.

Penn State

Highest ranking: No. 9, three weeks (1956, 1996, 2020)

Overall AP ranking history: 0 Times (Preseason), 2 Times (Final), 25 Weeks (Total)

The 20-5 team of the 2019-20 cancelled NCAA Tournament team was probably the best and that team finished the season unranked after climbing to No. 9 on Feb. 17.

Rutgers

Highest ranking: No. 3, three weeks (1976)

Overall AP ranking history: 3 Times (Preseason), 2 Times (Final), 36 Weeks (Total)

Talk about rotten luck. The best season in Rutgers history was 1975-76 when the Scarlet Knights went 31-2, but the Hoosiers went undefeated (the last Power-Six program to do so). The Scarlet Knights lost to Michigan in the national semifinal and then lost to UCLA in the third place game (that was a thing back then) for the only two losses of the season. Comparisons between RU’s strength of schedule and Iowa football’s 2021 strength of schedule may not be completely unfair, but still arguably overly generous to Iowa football.


Special Guest:

Creighton

Highest ranking: No. 7, four weeks (2016, 2020, 2021)

Overall AP ranking history: 4 Times (Preseason), 6 Times (Final), 112 Weeks (Total)

The Bluejays are yet another team that has a question mark, though a real one at final ranking at least, next to the 2019-20 season. This was not a team that would have won the national title (only homer writers would claim that, and I am not one). However, the final ranking might have improved as CU headed into March at No. 7 with wins in 11 of the final 13 games. Those wins included beating Villanova (ranked eighth), Seton Hall (10th), Marquette (19th), Butler (21st), and Seton Hall again (eighth). Though, there was also Doug McDermott’s senior season that ended in a painful belly flop.


Big 8:

Colorado

Highest ranking: No. 6, one week (1962)

Overall AP ranking history: 1 Time (Preseason), 6 Times (Final), 55 Weeks (Total)

The 2014 team might have had a shot to up the ante in highest ranking, but a devastating acl tear in January ended those hopes.

Iowa State

Highest ranking: No. 3, one week (1957)

Overall AP ranking history: 7 Times (Preseason), 10 Times (Final), 163 Weeks (Total)

Not really much to add here beyond noting the number of times the Cyclones have entered March ranked inside the top-10 is rare enough you don’t need any toes to count them all.

Oklahoma State

Highest ranking: No. 2, two weeks (1992)

Overall AP ranking history: 10 Times (Preseason), 19 Times (Final), 272 Weeks (Total)

One of the best Cowboy teams, the 1991-92 team, won 18 games in a row, but then ran into the Huskers of all teams in Lincoln to suffer the first of eventually eight losses on the season. The Big 8 eventually made Oklahoma State forfeit all of its league wins on the season after the league discovered a transcript snafu with junior college transfer Randy Davis that rendered him ineligible for the season. I guess sometimes the Big 8 can be more harsh than the NCAA.

Texas A&M

Not a Big 8 member, but hey, why not let another No. 1-less program join the party

Highest ranking: No. 5, two weeks (2016, 2017)

Overall AP ranking history: 6 Times (Preseason), 4 Times (Final), 115 Weeks (Total)

The 2015-16 squad that won 10 in a row, including wins over Gonzaga and Baylor, saw a promising season derailed by injuries. and finished the season with four losses in the final five games of the season.

Texas Tech

Highest ranking: No. 6, one week (2018)

Overall AP ranking history: 2 Times (Preseason), 7 Times (Final), 102 Weeks (Total)

Hilariously this team went on to fall to Virginia in the national title game of 2019, yet finished all the way back at No. 9 in the final AP Poll of the season. Because that makes so much sense...


Last, but certainly not least (that would arguably be Northwestern depending on your preference of metrics used)

Nebraska

Highest ranking: No. 8, one week (1966)

Overall AP ranking history: 2 Times (Preseason), 2 Times (Final), 34 Weeks (Total)

So yeah, that is a bleak record in the AP Poll. All four times Nebraska has ranked inside the top-10 of the poll came in February of 1966. Okay, maybe Northwestern has it better as those four times are spread over two seasons...