Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Bucknell earning respect

Bison, Jayhawks enter poll; UConn stays No. 1, Duke No. 2


The giant killer now is 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.

Bucknell (20-3) moved into the poll at No. 24, two spots below another newcomer used to being among the ranked. Kansas University (18-6), one of the big-time programs the Bison beat last season, entered for the first time this season at No. 22.

Connecticut (22-2) was a runaway No. 1 for the fourth straight week, but that run should be over as No. 4 Villanova beat the Huskies, 69-64, on Monday night.

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

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.

"I don't think any coach wants to get off to the start we did," Bill Self said Monday, hours before KU beat 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."

Kansas had been in the preseason poll every year since 1991, and was out of the top 10 only three times in that span. 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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