Houston, UConn, Purdue remain top AP Top 25 while bluebloods North Carolina, Kentucky on the rise

UConn head coach Dan Hurley yells calls during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Providence, Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Mark Stockwell)

UConn head coach Dan Hurley yells calls during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Providence, Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Mark Stockwell)

Houston remained atop the AP Top 25 men’s college basketball poll for the third consecutive week Monday while a couple of the game’s traditional bluebloods made big jumps as they peak just in time for postseason play.

The Cougars received 52 of 62 first-place votes from a national media panel after a week in which they beat UCF and routed then-No. 14 Kansas to clinch the Big 12 regular-season title in their first year in the league. The three straight weeks Houston has spent at No. 1 matches the school’s longest run since the 1967-68 season.

“It’s gratifying. I’m happy for everybody,” said Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson, whose team will be the top seed in the Big 12 tourney and open play on Thursday. “There’s so many people that have an inferiority complex about, ‘We’re the University of Houston.’ This is a damn good school. We live in a damn good city, and we’re a damn good basketball program.”

Defending national champion UConn, the top seed in the Big East tourney, was second in the poll after picking up six first-place votes, and Purdue — the top seed in the Big Ten tourney — remained at No. 3 after getting four first-place votes.

The big movement came in the rest of the top 10, where North Carolina jumped three spots to No. 4 after beating then-No. 9 Duke and Kentucky vaulted six spots to No. 9 after its win over then-No. 4 Tennessee.

The Tar Heels revamped their roster after last season’s flop from preseason No. 1 to missing the NCAA Tournament, and the changes were evident against the Blue Devils. Stanford transfer Harrison Ingram dominated the teams’ first meeting and Notre Dame transfer Cormac Ryan went for 31 points in the Tar Heels’ 84-79 victory on Saturday.

The win secured UNC’s first outright Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title since 2017.

“I think all year, you look at certain games where different guys step up in different situations,” North Carolina big man Armando Bacot said. “We’ve got so many good guys that it’s a luxury.”

The Wildcats, the No. 2 seed behind the Vols in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, showcased their depth in a pair of wins last week. Reed Sheppard came off the bench to hit seven 3s and score 27 points in the 85-81 win at Tennessee.

“I’ve said it before, they’re the most explosive offensive team in the country,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.

Arizona, the top seed in the Pac-12 tourney, fell one spot to sixth this week and was followed by Iowa State and Creighton, which moved up two spots. Marquette dropped two spots and rounded out the top 10.

Duke fell to No. 11 and was followed by Auburn, Illinois, Baylor and South Carolina. Kansas continued its late-season slide, falling two spots after a week in which it blew out Kansas State but lost by 30 on the road to Houston.

The Jayhawks also lost big man Hunter Dickinson to a dislocated shoulder and fellow All-America candidate Kevin McCullar Jr. to more knee problems. It’s unclear whether either player will be available when Kansas, which plummeted to the No. 6 seed for the Big 12 tourney, plays its second-round game Wednesday.

Gonzaga continued its late-season climb to No. 17 in the poll and was followed by Utah State, Alabama and BYU. The final five consisted of Saint Mary’s, Washington State, Nevada, Dayton and Texas Tech.

RISING AND FALLING

Kentucky made the biggest move, climbing six positions, while Utah State climbed four spots after wins over San Jose State and New Mexico. Washington State took the biggest fall, dropping four spots after its loss to Washington.

IN AND OUT

Nevada is ranked for the first time since the final poll of the 2018-19 season, checking in at No. 23 after wins over Boise State and UNLV, while Texas Tech returned to the poll after wins over Oklahoma State and then-No. 11 Baylor. Nevada and Texas Tech entered the Top 25 at the expense of San Diego State and South Florida.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big 12 leads the way with six teams in the Top 25 and the SEC follows closely with five. The Big East has three in the poll and all of them — UConn, Creighton and Marquette — are in the top 10. The Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12, West Coast and Mountain West conferences have two ranked teams apiece.

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