Look who’s No. 1: UConn men’s basketball takes over top spot in AP Top 25 for first time since 2009

The UConn men’s basketball team is No. 1 in the AP top 25 poll for the first time in 15 years.

The reigning national champions, 15-2 on the year and 5-1 in Big East Conference play, jumped to the top after all three teams ranked ahead of them suffered losses to unranked teams over the past week. Previous No. 1 Purdue, 15-2, lost at Nebraska in a 16-point game on Tuesday and Houston, 14-2, lost two straight to Iowa State and TCU. Kansas, which handed UConn one of its two losses, dropped its second game of the year, to UCF on Wednesday.

UConn is No. 10 in the NCAA’s NET rankings with a 2-2 record in Quad One games and is No. 7 by KenPom’s metrics. The Huskies also moved up to No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll.

“I’ve always looked at the No. 1 ranking – and some people don’t want the target, I think we embrace the target at UConn – this isn’t like whose analytics are the best, it’s not the same as like who should be the No. 1 in the NCAA Tournament,” Huskies coach Dan Hurley said. “It’s like, if you were No. 1 or No. 2 or No. 3 and you lost, it’s like having the heavyweight belt and you lost, you lose the belt. It’s like holding the belt during the regular season.”

Purdue dropped to No. 2 and Kansas held at No. 3. North Carolina jumped into the top five at No. 4 and Houston rounds out the top five. The Huskies earned 39 of the 63 first-place votes.

UConn, without star center Donovan Clingan, has adjusted and won five consecutive games in his absence. Two of those wins came on the road in tough environments at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse and Xavier’s Cintas Center.

The ranking, however, in mid-January, means very little for the defending champs who already draw every opponent’s best shot.

“I think it matters less when you’re coming off of a championship,” Hurley said. “I’ll probably hear it more from some of the squirrels – when I say squirrels, too, that’s just random, it’s random people that will ask you about these things. It’s not media, it’s not any of our players, it’s not anyone in particular. Squirrels are just people that obsess over these types of things, I think that’s a squirrel.”

Squirrels or not, the last time UConn held the top spot in the rankings was in March 2009, when Kemba Walker was a freshman. That team, coached by Jim Calhoun, had five future NBA players in A.J. Price, Jeff Adrien, Hasheem Thabeet, Jerome Dyson and Walker.

Ranked No. 2 in the preseason, that team never dropped out of the top five and finished the year with a 31-5 overall record, falling to Michigan State in the Final Four – still the program’s only loss in six Final Four appearances.

“It would be cool just to have the No. 1 next to our name, but at the same time it’s just a number,” redshirt sophomore Alex Karaban said after tying career-highs in points (26) and 3-pointers made (six) to lead the Huskies over Georgetown on Sunday. “We’re just gonna have a bigger target on our back too, but I think none of us are really focused on that. It’ll be cool to have and just cool to say but we’re not gonna be focused on it.”