For the first time since March 7, 1989, the Southeastern Conference failed to place a team in The Associated Press basketball poll.
The snapping of that streak of 361 polls caused Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings to taunt those who see a weakened SEC.
"You're catching us at an all-time young," Stallings said on the SEC coaches' teleconference Monday. "... People sure seem to want to make a big deal about it right now. But that's OK because they need to take their shots while they can."
According to the collegerpi.com Web site, the SEC has only one team in the nation's top 30 in Ratings Percentage Index: Tennessee at No. 19. The league has five teams with an RPI of more than 100. At No. 68, UK is among nine league teams outside the top 50.
And in the conference RPI, the SEC remains sixth (much closer to No. 7 Mountain West than No. 5 Pac-10).
"It seems to me that maybe the only real difference is maybe not a can't-miss, top-10 team in the league as there's been in the past," South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn said. "Maybe that's where a lot of it is coming from."
Job One: Rebounds
On his weekly radio show and then during a news conference, UK Coach Billy Gillispie stressed the need to improve the defensive rebounding.
He cited UK's solid defensive numbers (league-leading 36.7-percent field-goal accuracy by opponents). But Mississippi and South Carolina grabbed 15 and 18 offensive rebounds in beating the Cats last week.
UK big man Patrick Patterson suggested that going for blocked shots hurt the defensive rebounding by putting players out of position.
Said Gillispie: "I don't think the numbers indicate we're going after that many blocked shots." The UK coach traced the rebounding problem to allowing opposing guards to penetrate (thus distorting the defense) and not rotating fast enough into rebound position.
Win with offense?
In this age of toughness and defensive intensity, Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury offered a quaint thought. His Bulldogs depend on offense.
"We have to win the war offensively," he said.
That's because State's four-guard approach reduces the effectiveness on defense and rebounding.
"We have to be able to make some baskets playing small," he said. "That's not always the most comfortable thing to take on the road with you, to go to Rupp Arena and make shots."
Here are some numbers: State has made 42.2 percent of its three-point shots in victories. The Bulldogs have made only 26.4 percent of their three-point shots in seven losses.
Guard Barry Stewart, who needs 46 points to reach 1,000 in his career, can be a leading indicator. In the last four games, he's made eight of 33 shots (six of 24 from three-point range). In the previous three games, he made 15 of 24 shots (11-for-15 from beyond the arc).
Stansbury described his team as "fragile." Only one starter, Jarvis Varnado, weighs more than 175 pounds. And Varnado is no strongman at 6-foot-9 and 205 pounds.
"We're not very tough physically or mentally," Stansbury said. "But we've been finding a way."
That way? "Scoring baskets," Stansbury said.
Varnado likes Rupp
In the State media guide, Varnado says his favorite road trip is to Rupp Arena.
"Just their atmosphere," he explained. "The fans are real involved."
His only game here was uneventful. When State played at UK two years ago, he had two points, two rebounds and one block in 17 minutes.
State reserve Riley Benock is a sophomore from Meade County High, Stansbury's alma mater.
When asked if he'd had requests for tickets from people from home, he said, "From the day I committed back in high school, I've had ticket requests. Seriously."
State's leading scorer, Ravern Johnson (12.8 ppg), has blown hot and cold lately. On Jan. 24 against Georgia, he had 21 points in the first half and none in the second. Against Ole Miss last weekend, he had 15 points in the first half and five in the second. . . . Tom Hammond and Rupp Runt Larry Conley will call the game.