Gators near-unanimous No. 1 in preseason poll

Updated: October 31, 2006, 1:04 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Defending national champion Florida was a near-unanimous pick for No. 1 in the preseason ESPN/USA Today coaches poll released on Friday.

Poll Positions
The top five teams in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
For the complete ESPN/USA Today preseason poll, click here.

The Gators, who return all five starters from the squad that cruised past UCLA to win the title in Indianapolis, claimed 30 of the 31 available first-place votes and 772 points. They are 44 points ahead of the No. 2 team, North Carolina, which lost in the second round of last season's NCAA Tournament but adds a highly touted freshman class to star sophomore forward Tyler Hansbrough and a handful of returning upperclassmen.

Another team with high expectations after a premature NCAA Tournament exit, Kansas, is at No. 3, followed by Ohio State, which, even with stud freshman center Greg Oden possibly out until January, corralled the other first-place vote. Pittsburgh and UCLA are tied for fifth.

LSU, a third member of last season's Final Four, is ranked 7th. The fourth Final Four squad, mid-major George Mason, is unranked after being picked second in the preseason Colonial Athletic Association poll behind Hofstra.

There are 10 teams in the preseason poll that ended last season unranked, led by Big Ten challenger Wisconsin at No. 9 and Pac-10 threat Arizona at No. 10. Creighton (No. 23) and Nevada (No. 25) are the only two mid-majors to crack the initial Top 25, although three of the first four in others receiving votes are West Coast Conference kingpin Gonzaga and Wichita State and Southern Illinois from the Missouri Valley.