UNC unanimous front runner
Posted: Monday, November 3, 2008 6:01 pm
By: By JIM O’CONNELL, AP Basketball Writer
As if there weren’t enough expectations for North Carolina this season, they just got bigger.
Not only are the Tar Heels No. 1 in The Associated Press’ preseason Top 25, they are the first unanimous No. 1 since the preseason poll began in 1981-82.
North Carolina has the top six scorers — including national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough — back from a team that had a school-record 36 wins and reached the Final Four.
The Tar Heels, No. 1 in the final poll last season, are the preseason No. 1 for the second straight year, joining UNLV in 1989-90 and 1990-91 as the only schools to do that. It also marks North Carolina’s record sixth time atop the preseason rankings, breaking a tie with Duke.
“We have a really good group of kids who are working very hard to get ready for a challenging season,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “They’ve worked so hard because they know they have to prove it on the court. No one gives you any awards for preseason rankings. Our guys know these lofty rankings are a result of what they have done in the past and what people think could probably happen this year. But we have to earn everything out there on the floor.”
The Tar Heels faced their first test Thursday when Hansbrough was found to have a stress reaction in his right shin. He will be held out of practice indefinitely, and no timetable was set for his return.
The preseason poll turned out to be quite a prognosticator last season when the top four teams in the early rankings — North Carolina, UCLA, Memphis and Kansas — all reached the Final Four, with Kansas winning it all in San Antonio.
Connecticut, which returns four starters, was No. 2 this preseason, followed by Louisville, UCLA and Pittsburgh.
“It is obviously a nice honor, one that I am not sure we are quite deserving of at this point but certainly something we hope to develop into as the season moves on,” Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said Friday. “We have three of the top players in our league and in the nation, very accomplished and experienced players in A.J. (Price), Hasheem (Thabeet) and Jeff (Adrien), and I think that is a big reason that people see us as one of the top teams in the country at this point.”
Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh give the Big East three teams in the top five, and there are a record-tying seven from the conference overall in the Top 25.
The 16-team Big East, which also has No. 9 Notre Dame, No. 16 Marquette, No. 22 Georgetown and No. 23 Villanova in the Top 25, has seven teams ranked for the second time. The Big Ten has done it five times and the Atlantic Coast Conference four.
“The Big East this season will be as tough a conference as any has ever been,” Calhoun said. “There are so many teams capable of winning the league, making the NCAA tournament and winning a lot of games. It will be great for folks to watch, although it might not be as much fun to coach. One thing for sure is that when we get to March, we will all be tested and ready to compete at a high level.”
Michigan State, Texas, Duke, Notre Dame and Gonzaga rounded out the top ten.
Purdue was 11th followed by Oklahoma, Memphis, Tennessee, Arizona State, Marquette, Miami, Southern California, Florida and Davidson.
The last five teams were Wake Forest, Georgetown, Villanova, Kansas and Wisconsin.
Kentucky is not ranked in the preseason poll for the first time since 1990-91, and the longest current streak now belongs to Duke, which has been in every one since 1996-97.
North Carolina, Tennessee and Memphis, unanimous for three weeks, were the only teams ranked No. 1 last season.