By The Associated Press
The Mountain West Conference is doing some serious climbing.
A league that has always had to fight for respect as it tries to join the ranks of the power conferences, the 11-year-old Mountain West had three teams in The Associated Press’ Top 25 on Monday, one more than the Atlantic Coast Conference and three more than the Pac-10.
Kansas (22-1) remained the runaway No. 1, receiving 55 first-place votes from the national media panel. Syracuse (23-1), which received eight first-place votes, moved up one spot to become the fourth No. 2 in as many weeks. The ranking is the highest for the Orange since a six-week stretch at No. 1 in 1989-90.
Kentucky (22-1), which was No. 1 on two ballots, moved up one place to No. 3, while Villanova and West Virginia, which met Monday night, were fourth and fifth.
New Mexico, BYU and UNLV, which are in a three-way tie for first place in the Mountain West, give the league three teams in the Top 25 for the first time.
“BYU, New Mexico and UNLV are reaping the benefits of unprecedented national television exposure and enhanced non-conference scheduling,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement. “All three teams have really extended their schedules and some very quality wins are now being reflected. It is a real tribute to the coaches to see Top 25 matchups each week in Conference play as well.”
No. 15 New Mexico (21-3) is ranked for the third straight week and seventh overall. BYU (22-3) dropped five places to 17th following its 88-74 loss to UNLV, the game that forged the three-way tie for first and moved the Rebels (19-4) back into the poll at No. 23.
BYU has been ranked for six straight weeks, while UNLV jumps back in after being out the last eight weeks. The Mountain West has sent more than one team to the NCAA tournament in nine of the last 10 years.
“It’s been a push of our league the last several years,” New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. “We already felt our league has been at that point for a while now. It’s good to start getting some national respect. I think we’ve got some really good players and some really good teams.”
The ACC has Duke and No. 20 Georgia Tech in this week’s poll, while the Pac-10 is without a team in the Top 25 for the fifth straight week since Washington dropped out.
Purdue moved up two places to No. 6 followed by Georgetown, Duke, Kansas State and Michigan State, which dropped five spots after losing to Wisconsin and Illinois last week.
The Big East has the most teams in the rankings with five and four of those — Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia and Georgetown — are in the top seven.
The Big 12 and Big Ten have four teams each in the poll, while the Southeastern Conference has three.
Wisconsin led the second ten followed by Tennessee, Ohio State, Texas, New Mexico, Gonzaga, BYU, Butler, Northern Iowa and Georgia Tech.
The last teams were Temple, Vanderbilt, UNLV, Baylor and Pittsburgh.
Ole Miss (17-6) dropped out from No. 25 after losing 85-75 to Kentucky before beating Alabama 74-67. The Rebels were ranked for the last nine weeks, reaching as high as No. 14.
The Villanova-West Virginia game is one two games between teams in the Top Ten with Purdue at Michigan State on Tuesday the other.
One game being played this week has often been a matchup of Top Ten teams, Duke at North Carolina. The eighth-ranked Blue Devils held up their end of the matchup, but the defending national champion Tar Heels (13-10) fell out of the rankings three weeks ago after starting the season at No. 6.
Including Wednesday’s game, Duke and North Carolina have met with both being ranked in the Top Ten 41 times, including 30 of the last 60. Since the AP poll began in the 1948-49 season, one of the teams has been ranked when they met 147 of a possible 163 times, including 128 consecutive games since Feb. 27, 1960. One of the teams has been in the Top Ten in 115 of those games.