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Monday, February 13, 2006

KU ranked for first time this season

Bucknell in poll for the first time ever

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The giant killer is now among college basketball's big names.

Bucknell, the Patriot League school that has beaten some of the country's premier programs the last two seasons, joined The Associated Press' Top 25 for the first time Monday.

So too did Bucknell's biggest slayed giant, Kansas, which had been unranked all season.

The 17-6 Jayhawks, who the Bison shocked in last year's NCAA tournament, moved into the 22 slot of both the Associated Press Top 25 Poll and ESPN/USA Today Poll.

"I don't think any coach wants to get off to the start we did," Kansas' Bill Self said Monday, hours before the Jayhawks played at Oklahoma State. "We weren't mature enough to go to Maui. We didn't know enough about ourselves and then lost a couple more when we came back home.

"Looking back now if those young kids had had a lot of success early they wouldn't have been tough enough to sustain what they have. The one blessing is what we went through helped this team get where it is now."

Where Bucknell (20-3) is now, is No. 24 in both polls a spot behind defending national champ North Carolina.

"This is so neat for the school and everything like that. I won't play it down because it's wonderful for people to have that kind of respect for our program," Bucknell coach Pat Flannery said. "At the same time, we have the kind of kids who can take it in stride to be ranked among that company."

The Bison beat Pittsburgh and Saint Joseph's last season before shocking Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the first win for a Patriot League team. They didn't miss a beat this season, winning at Syracuse.

"I think going to Pitt and winning and Saint Joe's got the ball rolling and as we went along we got confidence," Flannery said.

The Bison have won 11 straight since losing two straight on the road to Santa Clara and then-No. 1 Duke. Their other loss this season was to No. 4 Villanova.

"Our place is filled every night and buses come with us on the road," Flannery said. "This has created such excitement and as long as we take it in stride, we have some size and some handlers, the components to be able to compete with people."

The Bison play at Lafayette on Wednesday and at Northern Iowa, another school which entered the poll for the first time this season, on Saturday in a Bracket Buster game.

"It is a big game in a sense of being a TV game that's big for our conferences, but first we have a league game that's huge," Flannery said. "Then we'll be on a national scale and it will give people a chance to see us again and for us to put our best foot forward."

Kansas, which has won seven straight and 14 of 16, lost three seniors from the team that was ranked No. 1 last season before losing to Bucknell as a No. 3 seed. The Jayhawks, led by freshmen Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers, lost four of their first seven games in a tough early schedule.

Kansas had been in the preseason poll every year since 1991, and was out of the top 10 only three times in that span. The Jayhawks had the second-longest streak for consecutive poll appearances to Duke, a run of 93 polls dating to the preseason poll of 2000-01.

Self wasn't sure how this team would react to returning to the Top 25.

"I don't know because everything with this team is new," he said. "So far they used our nonranking as a motivation. It hasn't affected them any way but positively."

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