Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.
By Mel Greenberg
Tennessee’s rankings demise, which becomes official in the Associated Press women’s poll Monday afternoon, is not only of historical proportions for the Lady Vols program but also for the poll in general.
The fall from grace to unranked after beginning the preseason poll at 4th ties the Georgia 91-92 squad for second worst ever but actually the duo are tops without special conditions attached to the plunge. It’s also the worst since the poll switched to a writers panel in 1994-95.
The 1985-86 Louisiana-Monroe (then called Northeast Louisiana) group went from 3rd to nowhere but they also became the first Division I women’s basketball squad to go on NCAA probation after advancing to the Final Four the previous season and the panel then composed of coaches immediately began over an ensuing period of two weeks to stop voting for them.
That same season defending champion Old Dominion began at No. 5, dove quickly to through 13, 17, 15 and out the door, never making it to the finish or back to the NCAA tourney next time around.
In 1990-91 Louisiana Tech suffered a similar fall from greatness suffered by Tennessee this time when the Lady Techsters went from 5th and began slipping from a long-held Top 10 ranking streak of 202 to eventually out of the rankings altogether.
The team that helped put the finishing touch on La Tech’s ejection was a new arrival on the national scene – Notre Dame, which performed the deed in a holiday tournament at coach Muffet McGraw’s alma mater Saint Joseph’s and earned the Irish’s first ranking in the process.
Similarly, the coach that dealt Tennessee its fatal blow Sunday was familiar to the Lady Vols – LSU’s Nikki Fargas (nee Caldwell), who was considered a top candidate to take command of Tennessee if the school did not promote Holly Warlick after the legendary Pat Summitt gave up her long-held reins due to the onset of alzheimer’s disease.
Here is a listing of the ten Top 5 teams in the preseason poll who suffered ousters before the final vote of the season showing the first ranking in November and any special notes.
1980-81 South Carolina 5 – At midseason coach Pam Parsons departed due to personnel issues within the Gamecocks’ roster.
1985-86 Louisiana-Monroe 3 – Was placed on probation, barred from the NCAA tourney and the coaches panel stopped voting for the team.
1985-86 Old Dominion 5 – First and only time for a defending champion.
1990-91 Louisiana Tech 5 – The Lady Techsters saw Top 5 and Top 10 streaks of xxx and xxx end on the way out the door similarly to Tennessee’s 565 poll appearance streak that just ended.
1991-92 Georgia 4 – The ‘Dawgs went 4-8-24 –unranked—two brief returns at 25 and 24 and out for good.
1993-94 Auburn 5 – The Tigers took a plunge from 8 to 15 and were gone week 14, came back briefly week 15 and then out for good.
1999-2000 UCLA 5 – By December 27 courtesy of a shove from UConn in Storrs, the Bruins were out of the Top 10 and then as Tennessee this year kept sliding until gone by Feb. 28.
2008-09 Rutgers 5 – The ScarLet Knights were perhaps over ranked but climbed to third the second week and quickly skidded through a typical arduous non-conference schedule produced by C. Vivian Stringer’s staff, being dispatched after Jan. 19.
2009-10 North Carolina 5 – The Tar Heels started out fine but then on Feb. 8 went from 9th to 18th and out the door the following week, never to return.
2015-16 Tennessee 4 – At the outset the Lady Vols were thought talented enough to at last make it back to the Women’s Final Four for the first time since 2008. You know the rest except what happens the next few weeks but this will be only the 15th miss for the program and first under Warlick.
The Great Run Ends
From tweets I did last week here are some items off the record 565-week run.
During the run Tennessee had:
103 No. 1 Rankings
407 Top 5 Appearances
506 Top 10 Appearances
59 Sub-Top 10 Appearances
Missed just 15 polls, including the first-ever in 1976, s 10-week gap in 1984-85 and a 4-week gap earier.
In the streak the Lady Vols made all 31 preseason polls and has yet to miss their first final poll in the 40-year history pending a quick turnaround and success the next thee weeks.
UConn has now outpaced Tennessee 200-49 since the Huskies' first-ever ranking in January, 1995.