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Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Northwestern drops out of the Top 25, but at least it got there

By Eamonn Brennan

Losing to Illinois in overtime and getting blown out by Michigan State are two surefire ways to lose your Top 25 ranking. Just ask Northwestern.

After all, it was just last week the Wildcats made a triumphant run into the Associated Press' top 25 for the first time since 1969. That was thanks to Northwestern's best start in years -- 11-1 with wins over Butler, Iowa State, and Notre Dame. There was and still is perfectly legitimate talk about whether the Northwestern Wildcats can do what the Northwestern Wildcats have never done: make an NCAA tournament.

They'll have to relaunch that campaign from outside the Top 25; Northwestern's two aforementioned losses, which opened Big Ten play last week, have cost them their spot in the AP's purview, which is OK. The Top 25 is basically meaningless at this point; NCAA tournament teams aren't chosen by how many media votes they received in the first week of January.

Still, though, at least Northwestern was ranked, if only briefly. There are plenty of college hoops teams who would settle for that. The Wall Street Journal and APPollArchive.com put together a list of the remaining longest AP poll droughts. Rutgers, come on down!

The longest gap between poll appearances, according to Keith Meador of APPollArchive.com, now belongs to Rutgers, which was last ranked on March 13, 1979, 541 AP polls ago. Next comes Oregon State, last ranked at the end of the 1989-'90 regular season, when senior guard Gary Payton led the Beavers to a 5th-seed in the NCAA tournament, where they were upset in the first round by Ball State. Oregon State, now coached by President Obama's brother-in-law, hasn't come close to the tournament since then.

Technically, South Florida is the only BCS school never to be ranked in the AP poll, but the Bulls only began playing in a BCS conference -- the Big East -- in 2005.

The team with the next best shot is probably Oregon State. Craig Robinson has effected a quick rebuilding project in Corvallis that, at this pace, should have the Beavers in the Top 25 at some point in the next few years. In the meantime, Northwestern, enjoy it. You may not have stayed very long, but hey, at least you got there.