The Arizona Wildcats' basketball program is on the verge of being ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time since the 2002-03 season. If Arizona beats UNLV on Saturday in Tucson, the second-ranked Wildcats should earn the No. 1 ranking after top-ranked Michigan State was upset by visiting North Carolina on Wednesday.
Eleven long seasons, including the turbulence after Lute Olson took a leave of absence in 2007-08 and retired before the 2008-09 season, separate the Arizona Wildcats from the distinction of being college basketball's top team.
Most of the Arizona Wildcats' student body was in elementary school when Jason Gardner, Channing Frye and Luke Walton were atop the college basketball world in 2002-03. None of them were around when Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr earned the program's first No. 1 ranking in 1987-88.
The Arizona Wildcats have been a relevant program in college basketball since Olson's second season in 1984-85. For almost 30 years, the Wildcats have been synonymous with winning basketball. Since Elliott and Kerr took Arizona to the next level in 1988 with a Final Four appearance, the Wildcats have been one of the top brands in college athletics (via Arizona Daily Star).
Despite three decades of dominance, the Arizona Wildcats have only had five teams that reached No. 1 in the AP polls. They can add No. 6 on Saturday.
Those five No. 1 teams define the Arizona Wildcats programs with players such as Elliott, Kerr, Mike Bibby, Miles Simon, Gardner, Walton, Richard Jefferson, Salim Stoudamire and Andre Iguodala.
Damon Stoudamire and the 1993-94 Arizona Wildcats team that reached the Final Four never reached No. 1 despite starting 12-1 that year. The 1996-97 team that won the national title lost nine games and finished No. 15 in the last regular-season AP Top 25 poll.
No question the Arizona Wildcats' five No. 1-ranked teams in the nation are an elite group. The group does not include some of the best to wear the Arizona uniform: Chris Mills, Brian Williams, Damon Stoudamire, Khalid Reeves, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Derrick Williams.
The following slideshow is a ranking within a ranking: Judging the five No. 1-ranked teams in Arizona Wildcats history stacked against each other.