The Race For 2,000 WinsPosted by jstevrtc on November 12th, 2009
As I write this, the North Carolina men’s basketball team just finished off their second win of the 2009-10 season against North Carolina Central. The University of Kentucky squad will play their first game this Friday, November 13th against Morehead State. That means that as of right now, the UNC program has amassed 1,986 wins in its incredible history. UK will start this season with 1,988. From this, it looks like in the Race For 2,000, we have a real barnburner on our hands.
Well, if you’re a Tar Heel supporter and you’re reading this, I have some bad news. We don’t. To Wildcat fans: you can fire up the sewing machines and start creating that banner. Call the silkscreeners and start cranking out T-shirts. I’m calling it.
The wins have occurred over time in such a way that both programs will get to the 2,000-win mark early in this season’s schedule, and we know the early part of any season is a time of the year when many teams load their schedule with a fair number of cupcakes and a few big non-conference names thrown in there for RPI/strength-of-schedule boosting. UNC and UK have both done this for this season, and this is nothing new for anyone. This season started with UK leading the race with 1,988 wins to UNC’s 1,984. UNC’s early start this week pulls them to within two wins. So let’s see how the rest of their schedules look up until December 5th, when Kentucky and North Carolina meet up for a monumental clash at Rupp Arena:
North Carolina: Valparaiso, Ohio State (in NYC), California OR Syracuse (in NYC), Gardner-Webb, Nevada, Michigan State.
Kentucky: Morehead State, Miami (OH), Sam Houston State, Rider, Cleveland State, Stanford OR Virginia, UNC-Asheville.
For the sake of argument, let’s say both teams start the season perfectly up to this point. That’s no guarantee; UNC-Ohio State, UNC-California/Syracuse, or even UNC-Nevada could be interesting. Kentucky has it a little easier up to here, so we’re actually helping the Tar Heels by assuming a perfect start to the season. But let’s say it happens — this would put the race at UK with 1,995 and UNC with 1,992 going into the head-to-head matchup.
Then comes the rather huge game on December 5th. This will be an amazing game no matter what, since there’s a good chance both of these teams will be undefeated and ranked in the top five or six in the nation. UNC has owned the series of late, but this one’s in Rupp at a time when Kentucky’s trying to announce that they really are back in the game again, so to speak. So that game’s definitely got some teeth, and it’ll be a beauty. Now, this is not an attempt to upset Kentucky fans, but let’s say UNC goes into Rupp and wins. That would make it 1,995 to 1,993 in favor of Kentucky.
The rest of the pre-conference-play schedules for both teams AFTER the UK-UNC game are as follows:
North Carolina: Presbyterian, Texas, Marshall, Rutgers, Albany, at College of Charleston.
Kentucky: Connecticut (in NYC), at Indiana, Austin Peay, Drexel, Long Beach State, Hartford, Louisville.
Even with UNC sweeping that stretch of games and achieving a 15-0 start to the season, that puts them at 1,999 and going for #2,000 versus Virginia Tech on January 10th, 2010. If we assume the UNC game as Kentucky’s only loss on the year, that would make them 11-1 for the season and have them going for #2,000 against Long Beach State on December 23rd, 2009. If Kentucky drops the UNC and Connecticut games, UK would still play for #2,000 against Hartford at Rupp Arena on December 29th.
In other words, now that both programs are so close to 2,000 wins, Kentucky’s four game lead to begin the season looms large. As noted, the absolute earliest that North Carolina could play for their 2,000th win (and a 16-0 start to the season) is January 10th. Kentucky has not only that four game lead to start the year, they also have 16 games before January 10th, compared to UNC’s 15 — meaning even if Kentucky drops a game to anyone, they actually have an extra game to make up for it. The only way North Carolina can get to 2,000 wins first is if UNC is a perfect 15-0 AND Kentucky is 11-5 after UK plays Georgia on January 9th. That would have both programs at 1,999 wins and UNC with the next game on the calendar, the aforementioned tilt with Virignia Tech on 1/10. Kentucky’s next opportunity for #2,000 would be on 1/12 at Florida, not exactly an easy win. Kentucky could certainly drop the UNC and Connecticut games, but finding three other losses in that pre-conference lineup is tough. Looking back at the UK schedule, besides UNC and UConn, the three most likely losses would be at Indiana on 12/12, either Stanford or Virginia on 11/25, and Cleveland State (picked 3rd-4th in the Horizon) on 11/24, the latter two games being played on a neutral court in Cancun, Mexico. Not out of the realm of possibility… but also not likely. If UK wins each of those three games, UNC would need some Gardner-Webb and VMI-types of upsets to happen in UK’s pre-conference schedule. And that’s if Kentucky loses to both UNC and Connecticut.
There’s one particularly juicy possibility for Wildcat fans that hasn’t been discussed, and it’s much more likely than the above scenario. If Kentucky loses exactly three games up through December, they’d be 11-3 with 1,999 all-time wins, and their next game would be at Rupp Arena on 1/2/10 against… Louisville. That atmosphere in Rupp Arena is almost unfathomable — the Kentucky program going up against its in-state (and some would say biggest) rival with the chance to not only avenge last year’s loss at the hands of Edgar Sosa’s last-moment dagger, but also the opportunity to achieve win #2,000 over the Cardinals and of course Rick Pitino, the man many Kentucky fans consider the biggest traitor since Benedict Arnold. Throw in the fact that Pitino and John Calipari probably aren’t privately messaging each other on Facebook every night… that might be the toughest Rupp Arena ticket ever. If that game comes to pass, I wouldn’t be surprised to see those in attendance wearing tuxedos and evening gowns.
So, it appears that Kentucky’s got the Race For 2,000 all sewn up. North Carolina would have to go a perfect 16-0 to start the season and Kentucky would have to lose a few games to unlikely foes. If UNC stays perfect and UK starts dropping games they shouldn’t, we’ll revisit this. Still, despite the prestige and the bragging rights that come with being the first to hang that 2,000-win banner in your arena, we know that’s not the real goal for either of these teams this year.
A final consideration: North Carolina fans will note that this is Kentucky’s 106th season of college basketball, and only UNC’s 100th, which means UNC got there in fewer seasons. Kentucky fans will respond by noting that, despite playing more seasons, UK (2,624) has actually played fewer games than UNC (2,687), making their quicker achievement of 2,000 wins even more remarkable. I’ll leave it up to the masses to determine how much all of that matters. No matter the verdict, one thing’s for sure: speaking as a fan of college basketball, the Race For 2,000 has been one fantastic ride.