March 1, 2010

Syracuse took quite a route to its first No. 1 ranking in 20 years.

The Orange weren't in the preseason Top 25 and, just days after it was released with them in "Others Receiving Votes," they were beaten by Division II LeMoyne in an exhibition game.

But they were back in the poll - at No. 10, in fact - just two weeks into the season after impressive wins over California and North Carolina in the 2K Sports Classic.

The Orange haven't been out of the top 10 since and on Monday moved from fourth into the No. 1 spot, taking advantage of a weekend that saw the top three teams lose.

"It's a great honor, a great testament for these players, these kids, to be number one," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "We all know it doesn't matter that much in the big picture, it's where you are at the end of the year. These kids have worked hard, been unselfish. They deserve it. They really do."

This is the third time the Hall of Fame coach has had the Orange at No. 1. There was the preseason poll in 1987-88 and a six-week stint in 1989-90.

"It's been a long time and we're happy to be there," said Boeheim, who has 826 wins in his 34th season at his alma mater.

Syracuse (27-2), which received 59 first-place votes from the national media panel, moved to the top off its 95-77 victory over then-No. 7 Villanova in front of an on-campus record crowd at the Carrier Dome.

As always, it's Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense, which it didn't use in the loss to LeMoyne, that is drawing all the attention in the rise up the polls.

"The biggest thing is that we've been the biggest we've been inside in a long time and we just cover better. These guys have worked a little harder at it," Boeheim said. "We're also still leading the nation in field goal percentage (52.2) so we've also been a very good offensive team. They really move the ball and pass the ball extremely well. We've been good on both ends of the court. It's not one thing really."

Syracuse is the sixth team to go from unranked in the opening poll to No. 1. Kansas was the last, reaching No. 1 on Jan. 9, 1990.

"We made an unbelievable move this year and we have really played pretty consistently all year. Based on the whole year we deserve it," Boeheim said. "We may not be the best team in the country but I'm not sure who else is."

Kansas, which had been No. 1 for the last four weeks and 13 polls overall this season, had the other six first-place votes and dropped to second. The Jayhawks (27-2) lost at Oklahoma State on Saturday, the same day Kentucky (27-2) lost at Tennessee.

The Wildcats, who were No. 1 for one week in January, fell one spot to third.

Texas, the fourth team to hold the No. 1 position this season, fell out of the rankings from 21st. The Longhorns became No. 1 for the first time in school history in January, but have dropped seven of 12 after their 17-0 start.

They are the fourth team to hold the No. 1 ranking and drop out of the poll in the same season - Indiana was the last to do it in 1979-80.

Duke and Kansas State each moved up one place each to fourth and fifth, while Ohio State jumped three spots to sixth. Purdue dropped from No. 3 to seventh following Sunday's 53-44 loss to Michigan State, the Boilermakers' first game since losing second-leading scorer and rebounder Robbie Hummel to a knee injury.

New Mexico was eighth, followed by Villanova and West Virginia.

Michigan State led the second 10, followed by Butler, Vanderbilt, BYU, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, Georgetown and Temple. The last five ranked teams were Baylor, Maryland, Texas A&M, UTEP and Xavier.

Maryland (21-7), which is second to Duke in the ACC, was ranked for the first two weeks of the regular season. UTEP (22-5), which has won 12 straight, is ranked for the first time since February 1992. Xavier (21-7), co-leaders of the Atlantic 10, moved in for the first time this season, knocking out Richmond (22-7) with a double overtime win over the Spiders on Sunday.

Northern Iowa (25-4) dropped out from 25th after losing to Evansville, the last-place team in the Missouri Valley Conference.