UK’s No. 1 ranking just a number


Michael Kidd-Gilchrist drives to the basket against Portland at Rupp Arena on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011. Photo by Scott Hannigan

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist watched (former) No. 1 Syracuse lose on Saturday night as an impartial observer, even as he knew it meant UK would be the new No. 1 team.

Maybe he didn’t get caught up in it because UK’s been there before this season. Maybe it’s because opponents bring their best every game regardless of UK’s ranking. Maybe it’s because he didn’t want to pull a Chane Behanan and say something stupid.

Whatever the reason, Kidd-Gilchrist — and the rest of the team — wasn’t too concerned with the new number next to the team’s name.

“It’s just a number at the end of the day,” he said.

It is. It’s a totally arbitrary number assigned by People Who Know Things at a time of the year when it matters absolutely zero amounts of anything.

“I was trying to get a hold of (Syracuse coach) Jim Boeheim,” head coach John Calipari said. “I was so mad at him. It’s just an added thing. … We’ll address it for a second or two, but we’ve just got to play.”

Still, UK deserves the ranking. It received 92 of 96 possible first-place votes from coaches and media, a number built on both resume and reputation.

“We’re young,” Kidd-Gilchrist said, “but we’re good, too.”

The No. 1 ranking at the end of the season is, of course, the only one that matters. UK could lose this week, and — what would it matter?

Nothing, really. In fact, Calipari would be fine with it, as he’s trying to find the optimal balance between developing a “will to win” and learning from your losses, two seemingly irreconcilable messages.

“We probably need a loss so that we’ll come together and say, ‘We’re not losing like this,’” Calipari said. “We’re getting manhandled and winning close games, so they think it’s OK.”

Then again, a loss would mean losing the No. 1 ranking again.

The Cats have been ranked No. 1 two previous times in Calipari’s three years, but have held onto the top spot for a combined three weeks.

Earlier this season, Indiana took the ranking away at its home court.

UK would have to survive two more road games this week — at Georgia Tuesday and at LSU Saturday — to keep the top ranking.

“The crowd’s going to be into it with the new rankings,” forward Terrence Jones said.

Although, he said, the crowd’s always into it when UK visits.

Said Kidd-Gilchrist, “I love the pressure.”

So if UK loses the No. 1 next to its name, no big deal.

But it wouldn’t fit into Kidd-Gilchrist’s plan to keep it.

“All we got to do is win games,” he said, “and we’ll be No. 1 forever.”

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