Before John Calipari even coached his first game at Kentucky, he seemed to grasp the importance many UK fans attach to maintaining the Wildcats as the men's hoops program atop the all-time wins list.
In a presentation at a Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches clinic in September 2009, Calipari noted that UK, then with 1,988 all-time wins, and North Carolina, then with 1,984, were in a race to become the first to reach 2,000 all-time victories.
"We have to get to 12 wins before North Carolina gets to 16," Calipari said then. "I know that."
Not only did Calipari beat Carolina to 2,000 wins, in the years since Cal has expanded Kentucky's advantage in all-time wins over North Carolina from four in 2009 to 22.
Yet UK fans need only look west to find a relentless riser that has supplanted UNC as the prime threat to the Wildcats' claim as the winningest program of all time.
When Bill Self was hired as Kansas head coach before the 2003-04 season, the Jayhawks stood third in all-time wins, 48 games behind Kentucky and seven behind North Carolina.
After Saturday's contests, Kansas is within 11 wins of tying UK and was 11 victories ahead of UNC.
In its first 10 full seasons under Self (through the end of last season), Kansas gained an average of 3.8 wins a season on Kentucky. Over Calipari's first four full years as Kentucky head man, the Cats averaged a robust 30.8 wins a season — and Self and Kansas still gained eight total victories on UK over that span.
Among coaches at an elite level, Self has presided over far more than his fair share of "bad losses" in the NCAA Tournament — but he has yet to produce an overall bad year at Kansas.
Since 2003-04, Kentucky has had five seasons of double-digit losses. North Carolina has endured three such years. Kansas has had zero.
Calipari and Kentucky followed up winning the 2012 NCAA title with a 21-12 collapse into last year's NIT. After claiming the 2009 national crown, Roy Williams and North Carolina produced a 20-17 NIT slog of their own in 2009-10. KU backed up its 2008 NCAA title with a 27-8 season in '08-09.
Six times in the past seven seasons, Kansas has won more than 30 games.
The Jayhawks are in the midst of a nine-year run in which they have either won outright or shared the Big 12 regular-season championship every year. In an era of roster instability and mass parity in major college basketball, the league title streak produced by KU and Self is one of the more impressive achievements in American team sports.
(Here's an interesting topic to ponder: If Self were the Kentucky coach and had produced exactly the same results as he has at Kansas, with one national title and a second Final Four, could he have survived the NCAA tourney upset losses to Bucknell, Bradley, Northern Iowa and VCU? I'm not so sure.)
North Carolina lost its grip on second on the all-time wins list to Kansas on March 12, 2010. The Tar Heels wrested second place back that same season with a run to the finals of the NIT, but Self and Kansas marched past Roy and the powder-blue boys again during the 2010-11 campaign and have held the spot ever since.
Will Kansas overtake Kentucky?
If Self maintains the average 3.8 win a season advantage over Kentucky of his first 10 years, then KU will need three, maybe part of a fourth season, to pass UK.
Of course, as our friends in the financial industry remind us, past performance is no guarantee of future returns.
Interestingly, the current freshman-heavy Kansas roster, with likely one-and-done frosh Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, looks more like a Calipari-era Kentucky squad than the Kansas teams with a consistent veteran presence that have been the core of Self's tenure. At some point, modern college basketball roster churn may catch up with Kansas as it did with Kentucky in 2012-13 and North Carolina in 2009-10.
Self, who will turn 51 two days after Christmas, gave an interview to The Oklahoman newspaper last summer in which he expressed curiosity about coaching in the NBA. Some interpreted that as a signal sent by a coach open to a new challenge.
However, if Self stays at Kansas for the long term and if the Jayhawks continue to match the performance of the coach's first decade, well, Kentucky fans who relish their program being No. 1 overall in wins might want to make special effort to enjoy the precious present.
Then and now
This is how the men's basketball all-time wins list stood when Bill Self was hired as Kansas head coach before the 2003-04 season:
1. Kentucky 1,849
2. North Carolina 1,808
3. Kansas 1,801
This is how the men's basketball all-time wins list stands now:
1. Kentucky 2,119
2. Kansas 2,108
3. North Carolina 2,097
Since Bill Self became Kansas head coach before the 2003-04 season, the Jayhawks have been on a relentless march toward the top of the all-time wins list. Below are a comparison of the year-by-year records of Kentucky (UK), Kansas (KU) and North Carolina (UNC) since Self was hired in Lawrence.
Season UK KU UNC
2003-04 27-5 24-9 19-11
2004-05 28-6 23-7 33-4
2005-06 22-13 25-8 23-8
2006-07 22-12 33-5 31-7
2007-08 18-13 37-3 36-3
2008-09 22-14 27-8 34-4
2009-10 35-3 33-3 20-17
2010-11 29-9 35-3 29-8
2011-12 38-2 32-7 32-6
2012-13 21-12 31-6 25-11
2013-14 8-3 7-3 7-2
Totals 270-92 307-62 289-81