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Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Kentucky looks to change past history

By Ryan Feldman, ESPN Stats & Information

The Kentucky Wildcats have had a terrific season, but will that translate into a national championship?

The Wildcats finished 16-0 in the SEC. They’re the first power six team since the 2002-03 Kentucky team to finish undefeated in conference play.

Since 1977, of the eight Power Six schools to go undefeated in conference play, the 1995-96 Kentucky Wildcats are the only team to win the national championship.

But this Kentucky team is trying to avoid the same fate as the last three Power Six teams to finish undefeated in conference play. Those three teams –- 1998-99 Duke, 2001-02 Kansas, and 2002-03 Kentucky -- all fell short of a title.

1998-99 Duke Blue Devils
The Blue Devils were, by most accounts, one of the most dominant college basketball teams in recent memory.

A two-point neutral-court loss to Cincinnati in November was their only regular-season loss.

The Blue Devils, led by Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon and Shane Battier, scored at least 80 points in 30 of 33 regular-season games.

They ended the regular season with 27 straight wins and entered the NCAA Tournament with a 32-1 record after finishing 16-0 in the ACC and winning the ACC Tournament.

After winning its first four NCAA Tournament games by an average margin of 30 points, Duke got past Michigan State in the Final Four but lost by three to Connecticut in the championship game

2001-02 Kansas Jayhawks
The Jayhawks, led by Drew Gooden, Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich, finished the regular season 29-3 overall, 16-0 in the Big 12, after losing to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game.

Kansas advanced to the Final Four but lost to Juan Dixon, Steve Blake and the Maryland Terrapins, who went on to win a national title.

2002-03 Kentucky Wildcats
After finishing the regular season 29-3 overall and 16-0 in the SEC, the Wildcats fell short of the Final Four, losing to Dwyane Wade and Marquette in the Elite Eight.

That Kentucky team, led by Keith Bogans, Gerald Fitch and Chuck Hayes, ended the regular season with 23 straight wins after winning the SEC Tournament.

But there’s one huge difference between those three teams and the 2011-12 Wildcats: This Kentucky team went to the Final Four last season. Key players Terrence Jones, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb all have that Final Four experience that the Duke, Kansas, and prior Kentucky teams did not have the previous year.

If the Wildcats win the SEC Tournament, they’ll enter the NCAA Tournament with the same record (33-1) as John Calipari’s 2007-08 Memphis Tigers, who went on to lose in overtime to Kansas in the national championship.

That team’s lone regular-season loss was by four points to Tennessee.

This Calipari team is a Christian Watford buzzer-beater away from being perfect both in and out of league. No team has entered the NCAA Tournament unbeaten since the 1990-91 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, who lost to Duke in the Final Four.

Those teams we’ve cited all fell short of the ultimate prize. The 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats hope to avoid the same fate as their predecessors and end the season cutting down the nets in New Orleans.