WACO, Texas (AP) — Baylor won the national championship last season without ever reaching No. 1 in the AP Top 25.
The Bears are there now.
Baylor took advantage of Purdue’s last-second loss to Rutgers last week to become the fourth different team at No. 1 in the past four weeks. The Bears earned every vote from a 61-member national media panel Monday to reach the top spot in the poll for the first time since a four-week run ended on Feb. 17, 2020.
“Every coach tells you that the goal is at the end of the year to be No. 1,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said, “but I will tell you that it always means something. It means something to your fans. It means something to your coaches, your players and everybody. It’s a great sign of respect for other people that have come before you, the work they put in.”
The Bears (9-0) were followed by former No. 1s Duke and Purdue along with UCLA and Gonzaga, which began the season atop the poll and spent the first two weeks there before losses to the Blue Devils and Alabama in a span of three games.
Baylor has won a nation-leading 15 consecutive games, none by fewer than eight points, including its memorable 86-70 win over Gonzaga in April for the national title. The Bears also had wins over Stanford, Arizona State and Michigan State to start this season before suffocating then-No. 6 Villanova in a 57-36 victory on Sunday.
“That team was great last year,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “I think this team is really good and could be as good.”
Never mind the fact that Baylor lost their standout backcourt of Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler and MaCio Teague along with do-everything forward Mark Vital. Arizona transfer James Akinjo and freshman guard Kendall Brown have picked up some of the scoring, and returning forwards Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Flo Thamba have dominated inside.
“When you lose dudes like that, people think you’re going to go into a rebuilding phase,” Akinjo said. “But our coaches did a great job of putting this team together, not just with the talent but in ways that we would mesh.”
The Crimson Tide led the second five in the AP poll Monday, climbing three spots after beating then-No. 14 Houston on Saturday. They were followed by Kansas, unbeaten Arizona, Villanova and undefeated Southern California.
“I can’t be too upset if we haven’t lost, but there’s always things to clean up and get better at,” Trojans coach Andy Enfield said. “Our goal is to be an elite defensive team, but we’re not there yet. I’m happy with the team. We’re excited to be 10-0.”
Iowa State, another of the seven remaining Division I unbeatens, climbed six spots to No. 11 after the Cyclones romped past Iowa and avoided a letdown against Jacksonville State. They were followed by Michigan State, Auburn, Houston and Ohio State with Seton Hall, Texas, Tennessee, LSU and UConn in the top 20.
Kentucky, Xavier, Colorado State, Arkansas and Texas Tech rounded out the poll.
RISING AND FALLING
Michigan State and Seton Hall made the biggest moves this week, the Spartans climbing seven spots to No. 12 after wins over Minnesota and Penn State and Seton Hall jumping to No. 16 after beating Texas on Thursday night.
The Longhorns dropped 10 spots to No. 17. Kentucky fell 11 to No. 21 after the Wildcats lost to Notre Dame on Saturday.
HELLO AND GOODBYE
Xavier entered the poll at No. 22 with Colorado State right behind after the Rams ran their record to 10-0 for the second time in program history. The Red Raiders moved into the poll at No. 25 after their overtime win over Tennessee.
“(Mississippi State) has visions of going to the NCAA Tournament and contending in the SEC. We have those kinds of visions, too,” Colorado State coach Nico Medved said after a win over the Bulldogs. We scheduled these games and knew we had to win some of them. So far, guys have been able to step up to the challenge.”
Wisconsin was No. 22 last week but lost to Ohio State and was first outside the Top 25 receiving votes this week. Also dropping out were BYU, which lost to Creighton on Saturday, and Florida, which was 20th before bookending a win over North Florida with losses to Maryland and then-winless Texas Southern.
SEC: 6 (Nos. 6, 13, 18, 19, 21, 24)
Big 12: 5 (Nos. 1, 7, 11, 17, 25)
Big East: 4 (Nos. 9, 16, 21, 22)
Big Ten: 3 (Nos. 3, 12, 15)
Pac-12: 3 (Nos. 4, 8, 10)
ACC: 1 (No. 2)
West Coast: 1 (No. 5)
American Athletic: 1 (No. 14)
Mountain West: 1 (No. 23)