By Michael McCarthy
It is shaping up as college basketball’s year of the Wildcats.
Kentucky’s are No. 1 in the latest Associated Press poll, Arizona’s are No. 3 and our own Villanova’s are No. 7.
Kentucky is still the unanimous No. 1 in The Associated Press poll after getting all 65 first-place votes. They also are the only 11-win team in Division I. No other team from a major conference has played more games.
Duke, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin round out an unchanged top five, followed by Virginia and Villanova. Gonzaga and Texas swapped spots from last week, and Kansas is 10th.
Two days after 6-foot-8 junior forward Alex Poythress tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during practice, the Wildcats won 84-70 on Saturday over North Carolina, which dropped three spots to 24th in the new poll.
“They were excited about playing the game, but I just think they’re — thank goodness we have time between games now to get ourselves right,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said Saturday. “We played a lot of games in a short period of time. So we have a little [time], in two games in two weeks, which gives us some time.”
Kentucky has only two games in two weeks before its SEC opener Jan. 6 against Mississippi. The Wildcats play the next two Saturdays, against UCLA this week and then Dec. 27 at No. 4 Louisville.
The top seven spots in this week’s poll are unchanged, and the same teams occupy the top 14 slots.
Wichita State and Ohio State started the second 10 again, while No. 13 Iowa State and No. 14 Utah switched places from last week. Kentucky is the only team to be ranked the same in every poll this season.
The biggest move this week was Butler’s eight-spot drop to 23rd, back to where the Bulldogs debuted in the poll before an eight-spot jump last week, after a 12-point loss at Tennessee. No. 20 St. John’s and No. 21 Notre Dame made the biggest upward moves, each up four spots after poll debuts last week.
A week after Michigan and Michigan State were both unranked for the first time since the final 2010-11 rankings, the Spartans got back in the poll. Michigan State was the only new team this week, re-entering at No. 25. Since a one-point overtime loss to Notre Dame, the Spartans (7-3) have lopsided victories over Oakland and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
The SEC is on top with Kentucky at No. 1 but is nowhere else in the poll. With one, the SEC has as many ranked teams as the Mountain West, Missouri Valley and West Coast conferences. Arkansas and LSU are the only other SEC teams receiving votes.
Florida was seventh in the preseason poll, and was ranked two weeks before falling out, while Arkansas spent two weeks in the poll.
The ACC leads all leagues with six ranked teams, topped by Duke, Louisville and Virginia in the top six. The Big 12 has five teams in the poll.
Northern Iowa’s first poll appearance in five seasons lasted only a week. The Panthers (9-1) won 65-55 at Denver after getting ranked, but then lost 93-87 in double overtime at VCU on Saturday.