Texas’ Rick Barnes and Kentucky’s John Calipari know a loss is coming.
They don’t know when. They don’t know where. But they are convinced it will happen.
The last two remaining unbeaten teams are Texas and Kentucky. When the new Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll comes out Monday the two teams will likely be ranked 1-2 after top-ranked unbeaten Kansas fell to depleted Tennessee 76-68 Sunday in Knoxville.
“I don’t think anybody in college basketball is going to go undefeated,’’ Barnes said by phone from Austin Sunday night. “People called me to tell me that Kansas got beat. I can’t honestly tell you who was the No. 1 team in the country the second week of January last year. But I can tell you who won the national championship. And that team [North Carolina] started the conference (ACC) at 0-2 after everyone thought they would go undefeated.”
Barnes and Calipari said Sunday night that neither watched the Kansas-Tennessee game. But when they heard the score they weren’t shocked that Kansas lost a game.
“I’ve said this for years that you’re going to have five bad games, but you hope that they’re against teams you can beat anyway,’’ Calipari said by phone from Lexington. “We haven’t played well the last couple of games.’’
Kentucky squeaked by Georgia at home Saturday at Rupp Arena 76-68, trailing at the half by one to the projected last-place SEC East Bulldogs.
Kentucky goes to Florida Tuesday night on ESPN (9 p.m.) after the Gators lost at Vanderbilt Saturday in Nashville.
“It’s going to be hard for us to win with our young group of freshmen,’’ Calipari said. “Four of top six are freshmen, with a sophomore and a junior. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that it’s going to be a really hard game. We’re going to have to go in there and battle. We’ll have to execute more than we have. We’ll have to be more aggressive than we’ve been the last couple of games.’’
Calipari said Kansas’ loss doesn’t mean the Jayhawks are suddenly not a good team, a Big 12 or national title contender. Conversely, scrappy Tennessee isn’t about to become Final Four-bound because it beat the top-ranked team at home with six scholarship players after the suspension of three (Brian Williams, Cameron Tatum and Melvin Goins) and dismissal of another (Tyler Smith) for their role in a New Year’s Day traffic misdemeanor arrest with guns and marijuana in a rental car.
Kansas has had everyone’s best shot this season and nearly got taken down by upstart Cornell at home Wednesday night, needing to beat the Big Red in the final minute at Phog Allen.
Kentucky, like Duke, North Carolina and now Texas, gets the same treatment every time it plays a game.
“There are certain schools over a long period of time that have the target on their back,’’ Barnes said by phone from Austin, Texas, Sunday night. “When they play us, because of where we are, the games are harder. The fans have more energy. There is more emotion. But what you have to do is embrace it and it helps you. You have to be ready to play every night or you’re going to get beat and sometimes a little bit of pain never hurts anybody.’’
Texas got pushed to the final few possessions in a road win at Arkansas. While the Longhorns have looked Final Four good in wins over Michigan State in Austin and North Carolina, at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, they beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi by only six on Jan. 2.
“I guarantee you if you look at the tape they played differently against us than others,’’ Barnes said. “Last year, Nebraska beat us and stormed the court up there. This is part of being consistently good. That’s why I truly admired teams that always do well, that always have the target on their back.’’
Barnes previously coached at Providence (Big East) and Clemson (ACC) and said he could sense when the respective elites in those conferences were the target.
“Now I’m on the other side of it,’’ Barnes said of Texas being the target. “It helps you. You’ve got to be ready to play every night or you’re going to get beat.’’
Texas is at Iowa State Wednesday and regardless of how well the Cyclones are playing, Hilton Coliseum can be one of the toughest places to play in the country. The Longhorns then come home to rival Texas A&M next Saturday and then go to Kansas State and Connecticut the following week, providing the Longhorns with plenty of possible losses.
“From when I first broke into it 30-something years ago, there are more teams that can play,’’ Barnes said. “There’s always pressure on the big boys.’’