Going into this weekend, Kentucky and Virginia were the only unbeaten teams in Division I. They were at the top of The Associated Press Top 25 poll: UK No. 1, UVa No. 2. And maybe you didn't know that each hired their coach on the same day: March 31, 2009. John Calipari at Kentucky and Tony Bennett at Virginia.
Yet how each got from there to here varies greatly.
"I don't think there's ever been two programs doing as well as they're doing, and doing it as differently as they appear to be doing it," said Dave Odom, a former Virginia assistant who coached against Kentucky as the head man at Wake Forest and then South Carolina.
Kentucky gives recruiting analysts a reason to live. The roster is packed with McDonald's All-Americans/future NBA first-round draft picks. One-and-done, er, succeed-and-proceed is UK's credo.
Virginia does recruit, rumor has it. Bennett talks about his program being built upon "five pillars": humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness.
In the San Francisco Chronicle last week, sportswriter Jake Curtis noted the stark differences. Kentucky's recruiting classes ranked first or second nationally each year Calipari has been coach. Virginia's classes usually ranked outside the top 25, sometimes not in the top 40.
Since 2009, Kentucky has had 26 players ranked among ESPN's top 40 high school prospects, 14 first-round picks and 17 early entrants in NBA drafts. Virginia? No top-40 recruits nor first-round picks. One Cavalier entered an NBA draft before the end of his senior year (Sylven Landesberg had been suspended for academic failings. He went undrafted in 2010.)
Each path — Kentucky's and Virginia's — can lead to success.
"There's no one way to skin a cat," basketball elder statesman C.M. Newton said.
Counting the injured Alex Poythress, Kentucky has nine McDonald's All-Americans this season. Virginia has none. But don't try to tell Newton, who played for UK and later coached at Alabama and Vanderbilt, that the talent disparity is as great as those numbers suggest.
"Anybody who thinks Virginia doesn't have players is wrong," he said. "Or thinks Cal has all the players, that is wrong.
"What happens is those (Virginia) players develop in a year or two. Then they're there (at the level of UK freshmen)."
Last week ESPN analyst Jay Bilas touted Virginia wing Justin Anderson as a possible ACC Player of the Year. But Bilas suggested that a one-for-all approach made Virginia good.
"They don't let anybody take them out of their style," he said. "They're going to get the shot they want.
"And they're going to guard you five-as-one every possession."
Of course, Kentucky is not so different in terms of seeking a cohesive playing style.
Odom noted other similarities. UK and UVA each have size, reflect their coaches' belief in fundamentals and abhor the opponent getting offensive rebounds.
Both teams' defenses are similarly effective, although as Odom noted, there is a 180-degree difference in guiding principle.
"Virginia is very adept at protecting the inside and forcing you to the outside," he said. "Kentucky does the opposite. They go hard at you on the perimeter, forcing you inside where you have to face their size."
Both styles work. Going into this weekend, Kentucky ranked first in field goal defense (31.0 percent) and second in points allowed (50.6 ppg). Virginia ranked second in field goal defense (33.8 percent) and first in points allowed (50.4 ppg).
Of course, Virginia's more deliberate style of offense is a factor in limiting opponents' scoring.
Odom said Virginia might have the edge on offense. "If that's true, it's simply because Virginia's players are older," he said. "They're more experienced and seasoned in the system."
A moment later, he added, "Offense is harder to instill than defense. Defense is more effort-related. Offense is more pattern- and system-related."
If Kentucky and Virginia meet in the NCAA Tournament, Odom suggested that the contrasts should make fans basketball-elated.
"Great story," he said.
Kentucky needing an overtime and then a double-overtime to win its first two SEC games was surprising. "It was a real big surprise," Dakari Johnson said.
But history says it should not have been such a surprise.
Former unbeaten teams had to strain from time to time. For instance:
■ The last undefeated team, Indiana in 1975-76, had a 32-0 record. But 10 games were decided by nine or fewer points, including two overtime games: a 77-68 victory over Kentucky and a 72-67 victory over Michigan.
The Indiana team in 1974-75, which was arguably better, went 31-1. The Hoosiers won once in overtime (74-70 at Kansas) and two other games were decided by six or fewer points.
■ Kentucky's only unbeaten team (25-0 in 1953-54) mostly romped, but not in games against against Xavier (77-71) and LSU (63-56).
■ Last season, Florida made history by becoming the first team to have an 18-0 SEC regular-season record. The Gators won six league games by seven or fewer points, including an 84-82 overtime victory at Arkansas.
Even John Wooden's UCLA dynasty had close games while posting 30-0 records in four separate seasons.
■ In 1963-64, the Bruins won eight games by seven or fewer points.
■ In 1966-67, three games were decided by nine or fewer points. That included a 40-35 overtime victory against Southern California. (This was pre-shot clock.)
■ In 1971-72, the Bruins won two games by six or fewer points. And talk about domination, UCLA scored 105 or more points in each of its first seven games. And, again, this was before the three-point shot and 35-second shot clock.
■ In 1972-73, four games were decided by nine or fewer points.
Enemy is us
To commemorate the first Earth Day (April 22, 1970), cartoonist Walt Kelly came up with an enduring idea. He had one of his characters in the newspaper comic strip Pogo standing in a littered landscape. Underneath was the message: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
That came to mind Tuesday night as ESPN analyst Dick Vitale insisted that Kentucky will roll through the regular season undefeated.
While acknowledging the scares against Ole Miss and Texas A&M, Vitale said, "The scares are done. I think (Coach John Calipari) is going to reach them. Too much talent. It's all up to them.
"If they play to their potential, there's one team that can beat them in college basketball: Kentucky. They'll beat themselves."
Shot clock violation
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, a man willing to share strong opinions, supports the idea of a shorter shot clock. Something shorter than the present 35 seconds.
"Right now, college basketball is the slowest game in the world," he said. "And that's not an opinion. That's established fact."
Bilas noted that the women's game in college has a 30-second shot clock. FIBA, like the NBA, has a 24-second clock.
"What do we know about the game and what a good shot is and how to get a good shot that the rest of the world doesn't know or has given up on?" he said.
Bilas said that college basketball is "poorly administered," way too resistant to change and saddled with "the worst rule book" in sports.
"It's a no-brainer," he said of a switch to a shorter shot clock. "There's no legit reason to have a 35-second shot clock. None."
Big Blue notion
During a recent SEC coaches' teleconference, a reporter asked Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings if Kentucky's chance at a 40-0 record would create exciting road-game atmospheres in the league.
"Gyms are more electric when they walk in anyway," Stallings said. "That part wouldn't change, anyway. Media coverage changes when they walk in a gym.
"So it wouldn't take an undefeated season (to create a charged atmosphere). It's already like that."
The end of the Kentucky-Indiana series caused some angst. So, too, the end of the Texas-Texas A&M football game when the Aggies moved to the SEC.
"Lot of hand-wringing over what that was going to do to Texas football," said Art Markman, a pyschology professor at the University of Texas. "Luckily, Texas still has a rivalry with Oklahoma, so we haven't completely lost the energy."
Markman, who studies rivalries, stressed the importance of the psychic energy created by games like Kentucky-Louisville. Such games provide a powerful incentive.
"A season is a long time to play," he said.
The mind drifted to how UK Coach John Calipari speaks about wanting to keep his players "engaged."
It's difficult to make the case that the Kentucky-Indiana game was missed. Games against Kansas, North Carolina, UCLA and Louisville removed the possibility of tedium.
Former Mississippi State Coach Bob Boyd died on Wednesday. He was 84.
Prior to coaching at Mississippi State, Boyd led Southern California to four postseason appearances in the 1960s and '70s. He had a 216-131 record in 13 seasons (1967-79).
His team's victories over John Wooden's UCLA teams in 1969 and 1970 were the Bruins' first defeats in Pauley Pavilion. He was a two-time conference coach of the year and coached future NBA players Paul Westphal and Gus Williams.
Boyd, who played basketball at USC from 1950-52, coached at Mississippi State from 1981-82 through 1985-86. His best player was Jeff Malone.
Boyd enlivened SEC basketball with his sense of humor. He referred to Starkville as "Stark-patch." He once playfully admonished sports information director Bo Carter for being concerned with accommodating reporters.
To Dirk Minniefield. He turned 54 on Saturday. ... To James Lee. He turned 59 on Saturday. ... To Jay Shidler. He turned 57 on Thursday. ... To Oliver Simmons. He turns 39 on Sunday (today). ... To Richard Madison. He turned 50 on Saturday. ... To former Alabama player and coach Mark Gottfried. Now the coach at N.C. State, he turns 51 on Tuesday.