Bulldogs 12th in USA Today/ESPN Top 25 Preseason Poll
Oct 30, 2003
The last time a University of Connecticut men's basketball team earned the flattering burden of a preseason No. 1 ranking, the experience did not last long. The Huskies, then the defending national champions, opened the 1999-2000 season with a loss to Iowa. "That ended that," coach Jim Calhoun said.
Four years later, the Huskies hope the distinction will help lead to a championship on a Monday night in April in San Antonio. For the second time in five seasons, the Connecticut men's program stands at the top of the preseason polls. The women's program is likely to join the men as a preseason No. 1 next week when that poll is unveiled. The Connecticut women also joined the men as preseason No. 1 in 1999.
The Huskies received 25 of 31 first-place votes in this season's preseason men's rankings to finish ahead of Duke, Michigan State, Arizona and Kansas.
Gonzaga University, unranked at the end of last season, is No. 12, one of three unranked teams from 2002-03 to enter this year's preseason poll. No. 18 Saint Joseph's and No. 19 Cincinnati are the other two.
Gonzaga and Saint Joseph's open their seasons against one another Nov. 14 in the Coaches vs. Cancer event at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Calhoun has embraced the role of favorite, reminding his players of its rewards and responsibilities.
"It is being hammered into them on a daily basis," he said Thursday. "I've said, 'If you think this is something, if on April 5 you're No. 1 then, guess what? It's a pretty exciting time.' "
No. 2 Duke received three first-place votes. The others went to No. 3 Michigan State; No. 7 Syracuse, the defending national champion; and No. 10 North Carolina, which was unranked at the end of last season. Roy Williams then replaced coach Matt Doherty.
The top 14 teams from the final poll last season appear among the 25 schools in the preseason poll.
Connecticut has five returning starters from the 23-10 team that lost in the Sweet 16 to eventual national semifinalist Texas in the NCAA Tournament, plus a freshman class that includes highly recruited forward Charlie Villanueva.
"I don't think guys that try to achieve greatness run away from people saying you're great," Calhoun said.
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