See more of the story

The year was 1961. John F. Kennedy was President. The hottest thing on TV was "The Dick Van Dyke Show." The bestselling book was "To Kill a Mockingbird."

In the world of college football, the Gophers would make their second straight Rose Bowl.

And on the college basketball scene, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Duke were all not in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings at one point.

That was 59 years ago. The Wildcats, Tar Heels and Blue Devils are feeling the blue blood blues again, unranked in the AP poll this week for the first time since Dec. 18, 1961.

The game as we know it isn't crumbling around us, despite the struggles with COVID-19. And this occurrence while sad isn't surprising or necessarily long-lasting. These traditional powers could be fine down the road.

The struggles this year were bound to happen, though.

Kentucky's John Calipari, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina's Roy Williams are Hall of Famers — undoubtedly three of the best coaches to ever do it. Yet, they're all suffering from freshman fatigue.

Associated Press men's Top 25

No coach would turn down the high-profile recruiting classes these programs have landed. But these freshmen arrived with mostly unreliable veterans and less time to grow during the pandemic.

North Carolina ranks 326th, Kentucky 341st and Duke 344th in the country in experience this season, according to Kenpom.com. As a result, the Tar Heels (9-5), Blue Devils (5-4) and Wildcats (4-9) aren't just in danger of missing the NCAA tournament. They're fighting just to win on a nightly basis.

Duke is probably the best of the bunch, considering it was the last to drop out of the national rankings, the first time that's happened to the Blue Devils since 2016. But four of their top six scorers are freshmen, including three starters.

"There should be no panic buttons on young people who have a chance to play at this level of college basketball," Coach K said following Tuesday's 79-73 loss against Pittsburgh. "They got to get tougher. This is such a young team and it's as young of a team as we've had for a long time. We can't afford to be down; we have to respond."

Former Rochester John Marshall star Matthew Hurt leads the Blue Devils and ranks second in the ACC in scoring with just under 19 points per game. His breakout sophomore year is one of Duke's only bright spots in the first half of the season.

The Blue Devils opted out of playing nonleague games after a 15-point loss to Illinois at home in early December. They have the most losses in the first nine games since Krzyzewski's third season in 1982-83.

The last year Duke and North Carolina weren't ranked in the AP poll at the same time was 1982.

The Tar Heels are actually improved, coming off the first losing season of Williams' college coaching career at 14-19 last year. But inconsistency remains with four of UNC's top six players being freshmen, including former Hopkins star Kerwin Walton.

Kerwin Walton, a freshman from Hopkins, has struggled in his first season at North Carolina.
Kerwin Walton, a freshman from Hopkins, has struggled in his first season at North Carolina.

Associated Press

In Kentucky's case, Calipari tried to complement his talented freshmen class with transfers for more experience. But those coveted transfers haven't produced enough. Olivier Sarr (Wake Forest), Jacob Toppin (Rhode Island) and Davion Mintz (Creighton) struggled with the young Wildcats to be competitive, especially during a six-game losing streak.

And Coach Cal even got desperate enough to keep leading scorer and freshman standout B.J. Boston out of the starting lineup in Wednesday's loss against Georgia.

"It's unacceptable where we are right now," Calipari said to reporters this week. "I'm trying to figure out everything I can because I am not happy at all."

No. 9 Kansas is doing just fine with less high-end talent this year. We can rag on Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke. But traditional blue bloods in the Big Ten, Michigan State and Indiana, aren't doing so hot, either.

It's hard to feel sorry since they'll likely be back on top of the college game soon with a constant stream of talent each year. But their struggles happening in the same year can't be ignored.

Marcus Fuller covers college basketball for the Star Tribune.

marcus.fuller@startribune.com

Twitter: @Marcus_R_Fuller