Kentucky starts off the season ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press for the first time since 1996.
The Wildcats, who ended last season in the NIT, received 27 of 65 first-place votes in the poll, which was released Thursday.
No. 2 Michigan State received 22 first-place votes, No. 3 Louisville 14, and No. 4 Duke got the remaining two. Kansas rounded out the top five.
Kentucky was unranked in 15 of the final 16 weeks of last season and lost in the first round of the NIT to Robert Morris.
The last time a team began the season No. 1 after not finishing the previous season in the top 25 was Indiana in 1979. The Hoosiers reached the NCAA Tournament's regional semifinals in 1980.
It is just the third time Kentucky has started the season ranked No. 1 by AP.
The ACC has the most teams in the top 25 with five. They include No. 4 Duke, No. 8 Syracuse, No. 13 North Carolina, No. 21 Notre Dame and No. 24 Virginia. Syracuse and Notre Dame are among the conference's new members following the breakup of the Big East.
The Big Ten includes four ranked teams, and the Big 12, Pac-12 and American Athletic Conference each have three.
More than 130 games kick off the season on Nov. 8. The first tournament is the four-team Champions Classic in Chicago on Nov. 12 and the 16-team NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden in New York starts Nov. 18.