By Jim O'Connell
North Carolina is back in its familiar preseason spot - No. 1. Kansas State is making a rare appearance in the Top 25 rankings.
For the sixth time since The Associated Press started a preseason college basketball poll in 1961, the Tar Heels were ranked No. 1 Friday. They beat out UCLA and Memphis in a three-way race for the top spot.
The Tar Heels ended last season with a 96-84 overtime loss to Georgetown in the regional final. They lost an 11-point lead in the second half and missed 22 of 23 shots during a 15-minute stretch.
Three starters, including junior center Tyler Hansbrough, are among eight contributors back from that team.
"In the game today a veteran team is sophomores and juniors instead of juniors and seniors like in the old days," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Friday. "We had a great run last year and the Georgetown game set us back in that we were a jump shot away from the Final Four."
"The players have used that as motivation in some ways but even more was the realization of how quickly it can be over," he added. "In some ways that made the team work harder. We are not talking about Georgetown by any means right now, but over the offseason, yes, because the suddenness of what happened stuns you."
North Carolina received 29 first-place votes and 1,728 points from the 72-member national media panel. UCLA, which has four starters back from its Final Four team, was No. 1 on 24 ballots and had 1,710 points. Memphis, which has all five starters back from its regional final team, got 18 first-place votes and 1,680 points.
Kansas was fourth and Georgetown, which drew the only other first-place vote, was fifth, followed by Louisville, Tennessee, Michigan State, Indiana and Washington State.
Marquette was 11th followed by Oregon, Duke, Gonzaga, Texas, Texas A&M, Arizona, Southern California, Arkansas and Kentucky.
The last five ranked teams were North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Stanford, Southern Illinois and Kansas State.
The Pac-10 led the way with six teams in the preseason poll (UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, USC, Arizona and Stanford). The Big 12 and Big East both had four teams, while the Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference had three each.
The last time Kansas State was ranked was No. 23 for one week in February 1993. This version of the Wildcats features a strong frontcourt in sophomore Bill Walker and highly recruited freshman Michael Beasley. It will be the first head coaching job for Frank Martin, who was promoted to replace Bob Huggins, who left after one season for West Virginia.
"For a program like us, with incredible tradition and success, being ranked again is always a great thing and it reflects the hard work of the players and that they are getting noticed by people out there," Martin said Friday. "Will it have an influence on how we play or how good we are? Probably not. But it is an honor to have a program not ranked for 14 years to all of sudden by there again."
Martin doesn't seemed concerned that the attention will hurt his inexperienced team.
Florida was the preseason No. 1 last year and the Gators went on to repeat as national champions. The players who started on the two title teams are gone as are most of the starters from the team Florida beat last season. Ohio State, which was ranked No. 1 in last season's final poll, was also wiped out by star players leaving early for the NBA. Ten teams in last season's final poll are not in the preseason Top 25.
North Carolina was No. 1 in the preseason poll in 1981-82, the only time they went on to win the national championship after starting on top. UCLA has been the preseason No. 1 eight times and North Carolina and Duke are tied for second with six.
UCLA and Memphis have the longest current streaks of consecutive poll appearances at 39, runs that started with the preseason Top 25 in 2005-06.