Mark Story

Can UK blunt the charge of Bill Self and Kansas up the all-time wins list?

Bill Self says TV — not coaches — is reason for SEC/Big 12 Challenge games in January

Kansas coach Bill Self says he doesn't believe coaches are excited about interrupting conference play to take part in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. He spoke on Jan. 24, 2017.
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Kansas coach Bill Self says he doesn't believe coaches are excited about interrupting conference play to take part in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. He spoke on Jan. 24, 2017.

Since John Calipari became Kentucky men’s basketball coach before the 2009-10 season, UK has won a robust 81.2 percent of its games.

Yet, in spite of that bounty of Wildcats victories, Kentucky has actually lost ground since 2009-10 as the men’s college basketball all-time wins leader to Kansas, the No. 2 program on that list.

When Bill Self brings the No. 9 Jayhawks (16-3, 5-2 Big 12) to Rupp Arena to face No. 8 Kentucky (15-3, 5-1 SEC) at 6 p.m. Saturday, it will be a chance for UK to score head-to-head against the program that lingers in a threatening position to Kentucky’s status as college basketball’s winningest team.

When Self was hired by Kansas before the 2003-04 season after Roy Williams bolted Lawrence for North Carolina, men’s college basketball’s all-time wins leaders stood like this:

1. Kentucky 1,848; 2. North Carolina 1,808; 3. Kansas 1,801.

You will note that UK had a 40-game margin on UNC and 47-game lead on KU.

Since then, Self has compiled 463-99 mark as leader of the Rock, Chalk, Jayhawks. As a result, the men’s college hoops all-time wins race now stands like this:

1. Kentucky 2,278; 2. Kansas 2,264; 3. North Carolina 2,247.

cal and self
Kentucky’s John Calipari, left, and Kansas’ Bill Self preside over the two winningest programs in men’s NCAA Division I college basketball history. Bill Haber AP

For the mathematically challenged, the UK advantage is now plus-14 wins over Kansas and plus-31 over Carolina.

The coaching resume of Self, 56, at Kansas never ceases to fascinate.

On the one hand, no coach of an elite program has been on the wrong side of more NCAA Tournament upsets by mid-major teams than Self.

Bucknell, Bradley, Northern Iowa, VCU and Wichita State have all ended Kansas seasons during March Madness in the Self era.

Yet, if Self has presided over some head-scratching NCAA tourney losses, his 16 seasons as Kansas head man have never yielded a bad regular season.

Famously, the Jayhawks are in the midst of a stretch of 14 consecutive seasons of either winning outright or sharing the Big 12 regular-season championship.

In nine of Self’s 15 full years as KU coach, Kansas has gone over 30 wins.

By comparison, Kentucky has four 30-win seasons since 2003-04, North Carolina seven.

Under Self, Kansas has only had double-digit losses in a season one time, a 25-10 record in 2013-14.

Over the same time, UK has had seven double-digit-loss seasons and UNC six.

Particularly costly to Kentucky in the all-time wins battle was the four-year stretch from 2005-06 through 2008-09.

When Tubby Smith’s otherwise successful Kentucky coaching tenure went stale in its final two seasons, UK went 22-13 (2005-06) and 22-12 (2006-07). The ill-fated Billy Gillispie era then produced records of 18-13 (2007-08) and 22-14 (2008-09).

Over those four seasons, Kansas and Self won a combined 38 more games than Kentucky.

Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis, claiming rebound, and Kentucky claimed victory in the most consequential game the Wildcats have played against Kansas in the Bill Self coaching era, a 67-59 UK victory in the 2012 NCAA title game. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

Since Calipari signed on with UK, the Wildcats have enjoyed two 38-win seasons, a 35-victory campaign and a 32-win year. Given that, one might reasonably have expected the Cats to have gained on Kansas.

Instead, since 2009-10, Kentucky has won 290 games. Kansas has won 294.

So, assuming no off-court factors derail its program, is KU destined to pass UK?

The good news for those Cats backers who relish hearing Kentucky referred to as “the winningest program in the history of men’s college basketball,” is that UK’s 38-1 season in 2014-15 (a plus-11 year in relation to KU’s record of 27-9) helped Kentucky blunt the upward charge of Self and Kansas.

On Dec. 15, 2013, the last time I wrote about the UK-KU battle for the all-time wins lead, the Jayhawks were within 11 of the Cats. So Kentucky is plus-three since then.

Still, it would provide more peace of mind for UK fans if the Wildcats could expand their all-time wins lead to a number so sufficiently large that Kentucky could not be passed due to one down season.

Consider: In 2007-08, Kansas went 37-3 en route to the NCAA title, while Kentucky produced an 18-13 mark in Gillispie’s first season.

That meant the Jayhawks gained 19 games on the Cats in that one year alone.

Going forward, that’s the scenario Kentucky needs to insulate itself against.

As is, when the two winningest teams in men’s college basketball history face each other Saturday evening in Rupp Arena, the distance between No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Kansas in all-time victories remains too close for Big Blue comfort.

Winningest programs

Teams with the most wins in the history of men’s Division I college basketball (x-Thursday’s game not included):

1. Kentucky 2,278

2. Kansas 2,264

3. North Carolina 2,247

4. Duke 2,160

5. Temple 1,917-x

6. Syracuse 1,897-x

7. UCLA 1,880-x

8. Notre Dame 1,877

9. St. John’s 1,848

10. Indiana 1,829

11. BYU 1,822-x

12. Utah 1,811-x

13. Arizona 1,810-x

14. Cincinnati 1,804-x

15. Purdue 1,790

16. Western Kentucky 1,785

17. Illinois 1,783

18. Penn 1,782

19. Texas 1,780

20. Washington 1,779-x


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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.