Wake Forest drops to No. 6
Illinois took an unusual route to the top of The Associated Press' men's college basketball poll.
The Illini, riding their impressive win over then-top-ranked Wake Forest, vaulted from fifth to No. 1 on Monday, moving past three unbeaten teams.
It is the third time in school history Illinois reached No. 1 and this appearance at the top came following the 91-73 victory over Wake Forest, a game in which the Illini (6-0) led by as many as 32 points in the second half.
"It's definitely important because I think it gives you recognition, which fans love, and you hope it helps recruiting," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said Monday. "It establishes you as one of the better programs in the country. When you watch the top of the polls, the teams that get to the Elite Eight and Final Four are usually the teams that are there. It puts us in an exclusive group and hopefully we can maintain it."
The Illini didn't have to wait long to play as a No. 1 team, hosting Chicago State on Monday night.
Illinois, which also won at Arkansas last week, received 25 first-place votes and 1,717 points from the national media panel. Kansas (4-0) held second with 23 first-place votes and 1,700 points after wins over Nevada and Pacific.
Georgia Tech (5-0) and Syracuse (7-0), the other teams Illinois vaulted, switched places from last week. The Yellow Jackets, who beat Michigan and Georgia by an average of almost 35 points last week, moved to No. 3 with 12 first-place votes and 1,632 points, while Syracuse, which beat St. Bonaventure and Colgate last week, was No. 1 on nine ballots and had 1,607 points.
Illinois' two previous trips to No. 1 lasted just one week each, but they both came in seasons when the Illini reached the Final Four.
The first No. 1 appearance was on Jan. 22, 1952, and the second was on Jan. 24, 1989.
"That's really wild," Weber said when told of the other No. 1 rankings, both during Final Four seasons. "We felt since the beginning that we had a chance to be a Final Four team and we're in that elite, special group. Each year there are four to 10 schools that maybe could get there and we felt that since the start so there's no added pressure.
"We've tried to play different schools early to prepare us for later on. We're looking at the big picture and think we have the capability to get there but there are so many factors from now to April that could change plans. But barring injuries or something crazy, we think we can be one of those teams."
Wake Forest, which was No. 1 for the first time in school history, dropped to sixth and was followed by Connecticut, North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky.
Pittsburgh moved from 13th to No. 11 and was followed by North Carolina State, Louisville, Texas, Arizona, Washington, Iowa, Alabama, Virginia and Michigan State.
The last five ranked teams were George Washington, Mississippi State, Maryland, Wisconsin and Gonzaga.
George Washington, which beat Michigan State and Maryland on consecutive days to win the BB&T Classic, was ranked for the first time since a three-week run in 1997-98. The Colonials (5-1) have not lost since opening the season at Wake Forest in the Preseason NIT.
Gonzaga (5-1), which beat Washington in its annual intrastate matchup last week, moved back into the rankings after a one-week absence. Zags fell out of the poll last week after losing badly to then-No. 5 Illinois.
Florida and Notre Dame both fell from the Top 25 after their first losses of the season.
The Gators (4-1) lost 72-65 to Miami and fell from 19th, while Notre Dame (3-1) dropped from No. 20 after losing 61-60 to Michigan.
The Atlantic Coast Conference again had seven teams ranked, matching the record for most schools from one league for a second straight week.
The week's only game featuring two ranked teams will be Tuesday night when Oklahoma State and Syracuse meet at Madison Square Garden in the Jimmy V Classic.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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