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College basketball schools 3-0 in football: Better seasons on the roster is rare for hoops blue blood

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It’s been a fun September for college football, not least because unsuspecting programs otherwise known for their basketball prowess have opened their seasons undefeated on the playing field. Duke, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse and UCLA — schools with a combined 40 national titles in men’s basketball — are a combined 18-0 for the first three weeks of the football season.

Just right?

Check this. In more than 100 years of college football, those six traditional basketball powerhouses had never — until now — all started the same season 3-0.

There’s a chance some of these football teams will have better seasons than their basketball counterparts this academic year. And if you’re wondering when that last happened for each of these schools, you’ve come to the right place.

Last season these hoop forces were better at football

Kentucky: 2021-2022

Yes, we don’t even have to go back a year to discover the first time a basketball powerhouse was outdone by his football brethren. It’s a close-up, but Wildcats Football went 10-3 (.769 win rate) last season, beating only Kentucky’s John Calipari basketball team because—you guessed it—Kentucky (26-8, .765) lost to no. 15 seeded Saint Peter’s in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

If Kentucky had won just one more game – even if it lost in the second round to in-state little brother Murray State – the UK would have ended up with a 0.771 win rate at worst. But it didn’t. So Kentucky is first on the list.

The next most recent example of Kentucky football beating British hoops: you guessed it. 2020. Even with Mark Stoops’ team going 5-6 (.455), the doomed 2020-21 UK basketball season ensured that football got better. Kentucky notoriously went 9-16 (.360), giving the program its worst single-season win rate since 1926-27 and only the second time in the NCAA Tournament era (since 1939) that the UK finished below .500.

Dating back to the inaugural season of Kentucky Football in 1916, the football program has only achieved a 14 times higher win rate than the men’s basketball program. As you’ll see, that’s comfortably the lowest total of all on our list.

Indiana: 2020-21

For official purposes, 2020-21 was the most recent academic year in which IU football won a higher percentage of its matches than IU men’s basketball. But neither team played full seasons; the football team played eight times (6-2, .750), men’s hoops played 27 games (pandemic or not, it was undoubtedly worse with a record of 12-15 and a win rate of .444).

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Before 2020-21, you’d have to go back to 2010-11, when IU football was a thrilling 5-7 (1-7 in the Big Ten, an overall win rate of 0.417), but that still beat Indiana’s 12-20 ( .375) campaign under Tom Crean. It was the last of Crean’s three sub-.500 teams as he worked to rebuild after Kelvin Sampson’s resignation in the late 2000s.

IU football and basketball has been played since 1900. The Hoosiers football team has won a higher percentage of its games in the same season than the men’s basketball team, including 21 times before 1950.

North Carolina: 2020-21

Okay, so maybe this isn’t so rare after all. Three of the seven schools have seen a men’s football match in the past two years. Mack Brown returned to coaching after a six-year absence and promptly made North Carolina interesting on the football field. In its sophomore season, the Tar Heels went 8-4 (.667), finishing 18th in the country and making the Orange Bowl. While that was happening, hardly anyone knew, but UNC was entering its final season under Roy Williams. Carolina basketball went 18-11 (.621) on Ol’ Roy’s season, losing to March Madness for the first time in his career. North Carolina was unranked at the end of that regular season, finishing 34th on KenPom.com.

If UNC had kept Williams’ streak, the Tar Heels would have finished that academic year with a higher win rate, but still: UNC football also surpassed men’s basketball in winning percentage in 2019.

Proving that it will forever be a basketball school first and foremost, UNC tapped into its blueblood powers and made a memorable run to the 2021 national title game in Hubert Davis’ debut season to head the Tar Heels. Meanwhile, the North Carolina soccer team went 6-7 in 2021 after a bubbly ACC preseason pick.

They have been playing football and basketball at UNC since 1910. In 27 cases — 17 of them before 1950 — football was better than basketball in record time.

Syracuse: 2018-19

The only great season for Orange under current coach Dino Babers came four years ago when SU ​​finished 10-3 and finished 15th in the AP rankings, the first season with a ranked finish since 2001. Went 20-14 (. 588) and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament as a number 8 seed.

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Before 2018, the last time Syracuse football won a higher percentage of its matches in the same season as the men’s hoops: 2001, otherwise known as the season before Carmelo Anthony came to campus. Syracuse’s best player that season: Preston Shumpert. In football, running back James Mungro had a team-high 15 touchdowns for a team that won the Insight Bowl and finished 14th in the country.

Syracuse is a basketball school, but it has a solid football history and is also known for its lacrosse success over the years. The school has assembled football and basketball teams since 1900. In 38 of those seasons, football was better, including all but three seasons from 1952-69.

UCLA: 2015-16

It has long been argued that UCLA is the greatest historical underachiever in football. The John Wooden dynasty certainly influenced that; UCLA’s blue blood status in hoops is solely due to what Wooden did over 15 years in the ’60s and ’70s.

Seven years ago, Jim Mora — now coaching in obscurity at UConn — looked set to win LA’s war with USC, which was in disarray (with more of that on the way). The Bruins played 10-3 seasons in a row, then managed to make it an 8-5 at bat in 2015, with Josh Rosen throwing nearly 3,700 yards. UCLA basketball was busy missing its first NCAA tournament that academic year under third-year coach Steve Alford. Those Bruins went 15-17 (.469) and had an unusually lethargic season at Westwood. And yet 2015 was the third time in four years that football could claim a more successful season than men’s hoops.

The truth is, no blueblood has been outperformed by its football counterparts than UCLA. Since 1928, when UCLA adopted football, the gridiron boys have won a 39 times higher percentage of their matches than men’s basketball. Thank goodness Mick Cronin turned the ship around.

Duke: 1994-95

In researching this, I found the following incredible. Okay, so Duke only had two bad seasons after Mike Krzyzewski got things going in the mid-80s. There was the COVID year, 2020-21, when Duke missed the NCAAs for the first time in a generation — and then there’s the infamous ’94-95 campaign that saw Coach K drop out due to health concerns. That year was the most recent example where Duke was better at football than at basketball. Incredibly, on the football side of things, Duke was under Fred Goldsmith in his first season of a five-year stint. It went 8-4 in 1994, but understand this: ’94 Duke season was the team’s only season to have more than five wins over a 22-year span – from 1990-2012.

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Historical incompetence. If 1994 hadn’t been an aberration, you’d have to go back to 1982, Krzyzewski’s third year on the track.

They started playing varsity football at Duke in 1922, nearly two decades after basketball. The Blue Devils football team has finished a season better than Duke Hoops 27 times, with all but five of the years prior to 1957.

Kansas: 1981-82

You had to remember that it was a long time ago for Kansas, but 41 years doesn’t even make room for even a freak event of a year. Could this be the greatest proof that, more than any other power conference program involving both sports, Kansas has the biggest difference between basketball and football? (Reminder: Kansas has made every NCAA tournament since 1990 and has only missed one since 1984.)

Forty-one years ago, Kansas played in the Big 8. Don Fambrough was in his third year of a four-year tenure at KU football and led the Jayhawks to an 8-4 point (0.667). Kansas lost 10-0 to Mississippi that year in the Hall of Fame Classic bowl. On the hardwood, KU went 13-14 (.481) in the winter of Ted Owens’ 19-year tenure as coach.

If you thought Kansas’ magical 2007 season — in which legend Mark Mangino led the Jayhawks to a 12-1 record and an Orange Bowl appearance — led to a better percentage … amazing, no. KU’s soccer team had a win rate of 0.923 that season. But that same academic year, Bill Self led Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur, Brandon Rush, and Co. to a memorable NCAA Tournament title game win against Memphis. That win improved Kansas to 37-3, giving them a 0.925 win rate — barely KU football.

They have been playing both sports in Lawrence, Kansas, since 1901. KU football overcomes assumptions here, winning 24 times in the past 120 years with a win rate. Sixteen of those 24 years came before 1950. There’s a reason Kansas basketball considered by far the best home advantagein sports.

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