Jan. 5, 2009

Pittsburgh made it to the top of The Associated Press' college basketball poll for the first time and it wasn't even close.

The Panthers (14-0) took advantage of losses by season-long unanimous No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Connecticut to make the jump from third to first Monday, receiving all but two of the first-place votes from the national media panel.

Pitt had been ranked second nine times since 1987-88 but had never reached No. 1 until this week.

"I think it means a lot to our fans and our city and it means a lot to our university, much more so than to me and our players," Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said Monday. "But it is part of the reason why we play and work so hard so I am glad for them."

The Panthers have a lot of familiar names in the Top 25 with them as they are one of a record nine Big East teams in the poll.

The 16-team league had a record eight schools ranked for three weeks earlier in the season, but the return of Marquette and the first appearance of West Virginia made it nine Big East teams.

"I know I said a couple of times when people mentioned that we didn't play any ranked teams on our nonconference schedule that it's hard to schedule any when a third and now more than a third are in our conference," Dixon said, laughing. "I think it's a good thing. People talk about how hard it is but we knew it was that way when we were signing up for it. You want to play against the best and we'll have that opportunity a lot."

The Panthers opened Big East play this week with road wins over Rutgers and Georgetown. They won't play again until hosting St. John's on Sunday and Dixon doesn't think all that time with a No. 1 ranking will affect his players.

"We've talked about different things from the beginning of the year and how you can either use things as motivation or let them become a distraction and this is one of those situations that's come up," Dixon said. "We need to use this to make us better and it starts today at practice."

Duke (12-1) jumped from fifth to second to start a run of three straight teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

North Carolina (13-1), which lost 85-78 at home to Boston College on Sunday and received the other first-place votes, was third and Wake Forest (13-0) fourth.

The Tar Heels, who had been a unanimous No. 1 from the preseason poll through the first seven polls of the regular season, won all their games by double figures until running into the Eagles (13-2), who jumped into the poll at No. 17.

"We've got to get some things going again, going period," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Monday.

Connecticut, which lost to Georgetown at home last Monday, dropped three places to fifth, while Oklahoma, which lost to Arkansas last week, fell from fourth to sixth. Texas was seventh followed by Michigan State, Georgetown and UCLA.

Syracuse was 11th followed by Clemson, Notre Dame, Purdue, Tennessee, Xavier and Boston College. Marquette and Villanova tied for 18th and were followed by Arizona State, Butler and Minnesota. Baylor and Louisville were tied for 23rd and West Virginia was 25th.

Boston College, which has won 10 straight games since losses at Saint Louis and Purdue, is ranked for the first time since December 2007.

Marquette (13-2) returned after a two-week absence following Big East wins over Villanova and Cincinnati.

West Virginia (11-2) was ranked for two weeks last December. The Mountaineers, whose losses were to Kentucky and Davidson, have won five in a row.

The Big East teams in the Top 25 are Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Georgetown, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Marquette, Villanova, Louisville and West Virginia.

Gonzaga (8-4), which was ranked as high as No. 4 this season, fell out of the poll from 16th after losing its third straight. The Zags lost to Connecticut and Portland State then was beaten 66-65 by Utah last week.

Michigan (11-3) split its first two Big Ten games, losing to Wisconsin and beating Illinois, but dropped out from 23rd.

Ohio State (10-2), which lost to Minnesota after opening its Big Ten season with a win over Iowa, fell out from 24th.

There are five games between ranked teams this week and four of those are Big East games: Georgetown at Notre Dame on Monday; Connecticut at West Virginia on Tuesday; and Louisville at Villanova and West Virginia at Marquette on Saturday. North Carolina is at Wake Forest on Sunday.