Connecticut is thrilled to be the runaway No. 1 pick in The Associated Press' preseason college basketball poll. The Huskies can only hope it leads to better things than the last time they started the season on top.
Connecticut received 67 first-place votes and 1,793 points from the 72-member national media panel, which likely found it hard to overlook the returning inside-outside combination of Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon.
"The No. 1 ranking matters because it does put some highlights on your program and helps some of the kids get recognized," coach Jim Calhoun said Monday. "I don't find it being pressurized. It's how you handle it because we all aspire to be No. 1 at the end."
Connecticut never even came close to being there at the end of the 1999-2000 season, the last time it was the preseason No. 1. The Huskies lost the opener to Iowa and finished 20th in the final poll - the only time since 1980 a No. 1 preseason team did not end up in the Top 10.
"I can do without that," Calhoun said.
He preferred, instead, to talk about the season before, when Connecticut was No. 2 in the preseason voting to Duke.
"That year it was us and Duke and one of us was No. 1 the whole season. Then we met in the championship game - and I'll take that again," he said, referring to Connecticut's 77-74 victory and its only national championship.
This time, Duke is No. 2, with three first-place votes and 1,667 points.
Connecticut went 23-10 last season and reached the third round of the NCAA tournament.
"I would make us one of the top five with Emeka, with Ben and with a deep and fairly experienced team," Calhoun said. "I can't argue if some people think we're No. 1 of that top five."
This is the fourth time the Huskies have been a preseason No. 1. They were also on top in 1994-95 and 1998-99.
Duke has four starters back from a team that went 26-7 last season and, like Connecticut, reached the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Michigan State received one No. 1 vote and was No. 3 with 1,607 points. It was followed in the Top 10 by Arizona, Missouri, Kansas, defending national champion Syracuse, Florida, North Carolina and Gonzaga.
Kansas had the only other first-place vote.
Kentucky was 11th and was followed by Texas, Illinois, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Louisville, Saint Joseph's, Cincinnati, Stanford and Wake Forest.
The final five teams in the preseason poll were Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Marquette, North Carolina State and Oklahoma State.
The last two preseason No. 1s - Duke and Arizona - both went on to finish No. 1 in the final poll as well.
The last preseason No. 1 to win the national championship was Kentucky in 1995-96.
The preseason Top 25 comes from nine conferences with five having at least three teams.
The Big 12 led the way with five teams - Missouri, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State - while the Big East and Atlantic Coast each had four and the Big Ten and Conference USA each had three.
Six of the schools were not ranked in the final poll last season, including North Carolina State, the only team in the preseason poll not to be ranked at all last season.
The highest ranked team in the final poll not to be in the preseason Top 25 was Xavier. The Musketeers were 10th in the final poll last season but lost national player of the year David West to graduation.
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