Cincy Becomes New AP No. 1

The only team to beat No. 1 Duke in the regular season last year finds itself opening this season with a role reversal.

Cincinnati moved up to No. 1 in the The Associated Press college basketball poll Monday, taking advantage of upsets in an early tournament. Connecticut's season-opening loss dropped it to eighth and opened the way for the Bearcats to move up from No. 2.

It's the Bearcats' first time at No. 1 since a three-week run started with the 1996-97 preseason poll.

"It just adds pressure for us to perform every night," senior forward Ryan Fletcher said. "You know that whoever we're playing has a great opportunity like we did last year to knock off the No. 1 team in the nation."

The Bearcats stunned Duke 77-75 with a last-second basket in the Great Alaska Shootout last November, the high point of a season that ended with another second-round loss in the NCAA tournament.

"There was a chance for us to go in there and prove to everybody that we were a better team than what people thought we were," Fletcher said of the Duke game. "It made us the hunter rather than the hunted. I think we played better as the underdog."

They're underdogs no more. The question is whether their freshman-heavy backcourt is up to defending a top ranking. Cincinnati opens its season Saturday against Youngstown State.

"I don't know how good we are and I don't know how anybody else does, either," coach Bob Huggins said. "I think we're in the mix somewhere, but we may not be in that mix until later in the year. I don't know what's going to happen when the freshmen have to tee it up."

The Bearcats received 25 first-place votes and 1,605 points from the national media panel. Michigan State had one less first-place vote and 1,573 points. Auburn got eight first-place votes and finished 22 points behind Michigan State.

Ohio State had seven first-place votes and was followed by North Carolina, Temple, Florida, Connecticut, Stanford and Arizona.

Stanford, which won the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic with victories over Duke and Iowa, moved up four spots to No. 9.

Duke, off to an 0-2 start for the first time since 1958-59, dropped from No. 10 to No. 18, ending the longest current run of consecutive polls in the Top Ten at 43.

Connecticut, which lost to Iowa in its opener, has the longest current streak at 28 polls, starting in the middle of the 1997-98 season.

Iowa's upset to start its first season under coach Steve Alford moved it into the Top 25 at No. 21. The Hawkeyes were ranked for 14 weeks, getting as high as No. 12, last season under coach Tom Davis.

The last time Cincinnati made it to No. 1, the campus was abuzz and the players were flattered. The Bearcats hadn't been atop the poll for 34 years.

Those heady days didn't last long. Cincinnati lost to crosstown rival Xavier on its home court in the second game of the season an never made it back to No. 1.

"I hope we're a little better prepared to handle it this time around," Huggins said. "I think we'll do a better job maybe of handling the things that come with it than we did the last time."

Fletcher was part of the last No. 1 team, which finished 26-8, failed to win the Conference USA tournament and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"It's just like in '96 when we were No. 1. It all comes down to producing in March," Fletcher said. "If you don't win in March, people really aren't going to care that you were preseason No. 1 or No. 1 sometime during the season."

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