UNC tops pre-season poll ahead of Zags, Houston

North Carolina surprised everyone last season when a talented team led by first-year coach Hubert Davis tapped the No. 8 NCAA Championship seed in a race for the national title.

Tar Heels won’t sneak up on anyone this year.

With four Rookies returning from the team that lost to Kansas in New Orleans, the Tar Heels are the runaway pick as the No. 1 pre-season in the AP Top 25 released Monday. They had 47 of 62 first-place votes from a national media panel to handily beat Gonzaga, the pre-season team for the past two years.

The Bulldogs had 12 votes in first place, while third in Houston ranked first and fourth in Kentucky.

“When they opened their lockers for the first practice last year, there was a picture of the New Orleans Superdome there. I wanted them to see where we’re headed in April,” Davis recalled last week. “Hard work and preparation, the practice that had to be put in place to put ourselves in a position to do it. It’s the same approach this year compared to last year. The only difference this year is the outside noise.

“Last year, outside noise didn’t think we had a chance. This year outside noise thought we did,” Davis said.

It’s the 10th time North Carolina has topped the pre-season, breaking the tie with Duke for the most in AP poll history. But only twice during those years did Tar Heel reach the national championship game, and only a 1981-82 team with James Worthy and Michael Jordan eventually cut the net.

“Just like Coach Davis always preaches, there’s a lot of outside noise, and we don’t really worry about any of that,” said Caleb Love, one of North Carolina’s four starters alongside RJ Davis, Liki Black and Armando Paco.

“We’re just focused on our team, and we’re getting better every day,” Love said.

The Bulldog will once again rely on Drew Timme to hand Coach Mark Few his elusive national title. Houston has its highest preseason rating since 1983, when Cougars’ third Phi Slama Jama team reached its second straight game. Kentucky has had its best pre-season standings since 2019, when the season ended amid the pandemic.

There was a tie for fifth place between the Jayhawks, who hoisted their latest national title banner inside Allen Fieldhouse this month, and Big 12 rival Baylor, who hoisted the championship banner the previous season.

Duke, with John Scheer replacing Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, ranked seventh and eighth at UCLA. Creighton had her best pre-season rating at ninth, followed by Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas, Indiana, TCU and Auburn.

“You don’t pay much attention to her when your ninth pick is made,” Blues coach Greg McDermott said. “You go to work every day and try to get better every day. It’s important that we approach it the same way this year.”

The 13th-ranked Hoosiers have been ranked No. 1 since January 2019 and highest in pre-season since 2016.

Villanova, with Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright’s Kyle Neptune, ranked No. 16, the lowest pre-season rating for wildcats since 2008. It was followed by Arizona, Virginia, San Diego and Alabama.

The last five are Oregon, Michigan, Illinois, Dayton and Texas Tech.

“When I was in school as a player, I never bought into the world rankings, what the media would say about our ball club,” Hoosiers coach Mike Woodson said. “You still have to go out and play the game.” “Hell, we were first in my freshman year and didn’t make it. So at the end of the day I think it’s good for our guys who haven’t experienced that. Again, you have to go outside and play. I mean, you have to prove it on the basketball floor. That’s when it’s That’s important.”

conference clock

The Big 12 and SEC lead the way with five ranked teams. The Big Ten, Pac 12, and ACC each have three pieces, while the Big East have two. The West Coast, Atlantic 10, Mountain West and American Sports Conferences each have one team in the survey.

looking outside

Texas A&M was the first team out of the poll, followed by UConn, which appeared on 24 of 62 ballots. Miami, Purdue and St. Louis were also eyeing a place in the Top 25 when the first regular season poll was released on November 14.

Tag your calendar

The season for most teams begins on November 7, but as usual, the heavyweights’ first meet will be the classic champions November 15 in Indianapolis: No. No. 7 Duke’s nightcap.

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