The Louisville basketball team climbed to No. 1 in the Associated Press poll this week and immediately backed it up with a 15-point thrashing of Connecticut Monday night. At first glance, the idea of coach Rick Pitino's squad rising to the top spot doesn't sound all that newsworthy. But it turns out that this is only the second time the Cardinals have ever been ranked No. 1 during the season. Louisville claimed the top spot in 2009 after winning the Big East tournament.
Considering the success of Louisville's program, it's remarkable that the Cardinals have spent so little time at No. 1. They've made 38 NCAA tournament appearances, reached nine Final Fours and won two national championships, a resume that makes them one of the most successful teams never to be ranked No. 1 before the conference tournaments (until now, of course).
All told, there are eight programs that have won an NCAA title but have never been ranked No. 1 in the AP poll, which began in 1948. One of them is Oregon, which won the very first NCAA tournament in 1939—and has never been ranked higher than No. 5. Another is the City College of New York, which won the 1950 tournament before leaving Division I in 1953.
It isn't just former powerhouses that have won the title without ever reaching the top ranking. Some of today's best teams have never been ranked No. 1, including Maryland (the 2002 national champions) and Villanova (1985). As for the Cardinals, it remains to be seen how long they'll be No. 1—they play No. 6 Syracuse on Saturday.—Jared Diamond and Rachel Bachman
A version of this article appeared January 15, 2013, on page D6 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Louisville Hasn't Spent Much Time at the Top.