By Mel Greenberg
After Tennessee's loss at Kentucky Thursday night, what might have been unthinkable in November is nearing reality.
The Vols may not drop out of the Top 25 before the end of the season, but the possibility exists until they play the schedule out. If they fail to make the final poll it will be the first time ever in the 33-year history of The Associated Press rankings.
With a loss to Duke at home already on the books this week, Tennessee could be heading for some low points that can be found way back to the 1984-85 and 1985-86 seasons.
Since then, until several weeks ago, Tennessee had slipped out of the Top 10 only twice, both times to No. 11.
Whne the Vols dropped to 15th a few weeks ago they were at their lowest point since hitting a similar ranking in the final poll of the 1985-86 season. But with two losses this week, depending on what the teams do in back of them, they could slip past 18th, which they hit on Feb. 24, 1985.
That was the same season they were previously unranked, which lasted a period of nine weeks when the rankings stopped at No. 20. Tennessee spent the entire season out of the Top 10 from November through March, which followed a previous summer in which Vols coach Pat Summitt led the United States to a gold medal as head of the women's team at the Los Angeles games.
The Vols, at the moment, have now spent six straight weeks out of the Top 10 with more to follow. In 1985-86, Tennessee was ninth in the preseason poll, dropped out of the Top 10 for nine weeks, returned at 10th and then dropped out again for the final five weeks of the season.
Tennessee's eight losses are approaching the 10 in 1996-97, a rebuilding year in which they recovered to win the NCAA the season before the Fab Five freshmen headed by Tamika Catchings joined Chamique Holdsclaw to storm through 1997-98 with an unbeaten record.
To Guru noted tongue-in-cheek to a caller late Thursday night. "It's a good thing Summitt won her 1000th game this season. They have their worst ranking in more than two decades, along with a bad SEC performance and number of losses. Coaches in the men's game have been known to be fired for less."
Some AP Poll Trivia
The Tennessee numbers caused the Guru to check over the latest indexes in the Associated Press poll database.
Assuming the Vols don't return to the Top 10, Connecticut, which re-took over Tennessee for most No. 1 rankings, will move ahead by the final poll for most Top 10 appearances overall in this decade, 172-171. The Huskies are currently third in all-time Top 10 appearances (277) behind Tennessee (504) and Louisiana Tech (373).
Maryland this week moved into an eighth-place tie for Top 10 appearances at 180, followed by North Carolina (177) and Duke (167).
Connecticut has 325 total appearances and next week will move into an eighth place tie with North Carolina State. If Rutgers fails to return to the rankings, the Huskies will move past the Scarlet Knights into seventh in the final poll at 329.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma, with the same numbers, is in eighth place, overall, in poll appearances one behind North Carolina State's Kay Yow, who recently passed away late last month after her lengthy, courageous battle against breast cancer. He is 10 appearances behind former Penn State coach Rene Portland, whom he'll pass next season.
On the active coaching list, where Yow is being maintained until the end of the season, Auriemma will tie her for fifth next week, trailing Stanford's Tara VanDerveer by 40 appearances. Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer, with three different programs, is third in active appearances at 387.
In terms of rankings with the same program, Auriemma will tie Yow next week for fifth behind leader Summitt's 557, missing only 14 of the 171 polls to date; Georgia's Andy Landers (431), former Texas coach Jody Conradt (395), and VanDerveer at Stanford (338). She also coached at Ohio State.
Stanford, incidentally, recently moved ahead of Georgia in fifth place for total Top 5 appearances at 146.
Duke's Joanne P. McCallie, with two schools to her credit, including Michigan State, just moved ahead of Chris Gobrecht, now at Yale, into 20th on the active list with 105 appearances. Gobrecht earned her appearance numbers at Washington. DePaul's Doug Bruno and Iowa State's Bill Fennelly are tied for 22nd at 102, just ahead of Maryland's Brenda Frese (97), whose numbers are with the Terps and previously at Minnesota.
In a game with both Atlantic Coast and NCAA implications, Duke heads to Maryland Sunday for a 5 p.m. showdown with both teams tied for second in the conference a game behind Florida State.
However, it will be a for-the-moment experience for both the winner and loser because of what's left. But don't be surprised if Florida State comes out fourth best among the ACC powers, including North Carolina, when the NCAA committee seeds and brackets the 64-team field.
The Seminoles had the easiest conference schedule in the unbalanced format among the four, but if they do damage in the ACC tournament, that could change the picture.
As Conferences Turn
After Thursday night's action, the following teams are still unbeaten in league play: Boston U in the America East (12-0); Bowing Green in the Mid-American (11-0), Xavier in the Atlantic Ten (11-0), Oklahoma in the Big 12 (11-0); Sacred Heart in the Northeast (15-0); Connecticut in the Big East (12-0); Liberty in the Big South (10-0); Dartmouth in the Ivy (7-0); Wisconsin-Green Bay in the Horizon (14-0); and Middle Tennessee (15-0)
On the other hand, teams still looking for a win in conference play include Niagara in the Metro Atlantic (0-15), Santa Clara in the West Coast (0-11), Youngstown State in the Horizon (0-13); Air Force in the Mountain West (0-12); Louisiana-Lafayette in the Sun Belt (0-15); and Tennesee-Martin in the Ohio Valley (0-14).