Make some room, Phi Slama Jama. Another Houston team has reached the top of men’s college basketball.
Nearly four decades after Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon propelled the Cougars to No. 1, the newest group, led by Marcus Sasser and star newcomer Jarace Walker, took the top spot in the AP Top 25 on Monday. They received 45 out of 63 votes in first place from the national media panel, easily beating second place in Texas and third place in Virginia.
“It’s not like we went online and applied for it and waited for an answer. We’ve been working toward that,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, whose team returned from a Final Four and Elite Eight trip the past two seasons. “But remember, it’s a rental. It’s not yours. They only rent it because one day someone else will be number 1.”
North Carolina was No. 1 all season, but the Tar Heels lost to Iowa State and in a four-overtime thriller to Alabama at the Phil Knight Invitational to cede the top spot to Houston, who beat Kent State in their only game last week .
The last time the Cougars rose to No. 1 was the last poll of the 1982-83 season when “The Glide” and “The Dream” were favorites, along with trainer Guy Lewis, to win it all. They rolled through the NCAA tournament before losing to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in a legendary championship game in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“I’ve never been number one,” said Sampson, who is now in his 34th season as a college basketball coach. “We were graded all 12 years in Oklahoma. I’m sure we were classified in Indiana. Then we got ranked five or six years in a row. We are used to having a high level of success.”
Texas received eight first-place votes and Virginia two. Arizona climbed from 14th to fourth after emerging from a stacked field to win the Maui Invitational. Purdue jumped from 24th to fifth place and earned eight votes for first place after defeating West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke in the Phil Knight Legacy tournament.
“Our lads are competitive. They’re fun to coach. They get along. They’re out there and playing with determination and you have to have that,” said Boilermakers manager Matt Painter, whose team was briefly No. 1 at the time was last season.
“At the beginning of the season very few teams play together with the goal,” he said. “I thought our boys were playing with one goal.”
Baylor finished sixth, Creighton seventh and U Conn climbed from 20th to eighth after beating Oregon, Alabama and Iowa State to win the Phil Knight Invitational. Kansas fell from third to ninth place after losing to Tennessee in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game, while Indiana completed the top 10.
There was a tie for 11th place between SEC rivals Alabama and Arkansas with the Volunteers, another conference opponent, just behind them. Gonzaga dropped from sixth to 14th, outside the top 10 for the first time since February 5, 2018, and Auburn finished 15th.
Illinois was next followed by Duke and North Carolina in a tough week for Tobacco Road. The Blue Devils fell from eighth place after their 75-56 loss to the Boilermakers.
Kentucky and the state of Michigan joined UCLA, Maryland, the state of Iowa, the state of San Diego and the state of Ohio to round out the poll.
RISING AND FALLING
Purdue made a rare 19-point jump as the poll was massively scrambled. UConn climbed 12 places, Arizona up 10, Tennessee up nine and Alabama up seven. On the downside, the Tar Heels fell 17 places, Duke nine, Gonzaga eight and San Diego State seven.
IN AND OUT
Despite all the movement, Iowa State was the only freshman this week to check in at No. 23 after beating Villanova and North Carolina before falling to UConn. The Cyclones replaced Iowa, who were eliminated after a week-long stint following their loss to TCU in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Six difference conferences are represented in the first seven teams of the survey. The Big Ten leads the way with six in the top 25, while the SEC has five and the Big 12 has four, though three of them are in the top 10.
AP College Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25