Gonzaga is the No. 1-ranked team in college basketball for the fifth time in program history.
Make no mistake: It never gets old.
The Zags replaced Kansas in the top spot in Monday’s AP poll. The Jayhawks became the third different squad this season to have a one-week stay atop the rankings. Duke and Louisville both were No. 1 for two weeks.
“Personally, yes, it’s always cool to be the No. 1 team in the country,” said sophomore forward Filip Petrusev, when asked after Saturday’s blowout over Eastern Washington if being ranked No. 1 matters.
The Zags reached No. 1 in 2013 for the first time in program history and returned to the top spot in 2017 after a 22-0 start. Gonzaga had two separate stints at No. 1 last season.
Now it’s Gonzaga’s chance to try to bring some stability at the top of the poll in a season marked by parity through the first seven weeks.
Gonzaga (13-1) is almost guaranteed at least two weeks at No. 1 because it doesn’t play prior to the release of next Monday’s poll. The Zags entertain Detroit Mercy next Monday.
The Zags have already faced their toughest nonconference challenges. The WCC isn’t highly regarded nationally, but the conference has been solid during the nonconference season.
Saint Mary’s was picked second in the preseason poll behind Gonzaga, but both showdowns against the Gaels are in February. BYU, picked third, visits Gonzaga on Jan. 18 with the return game in Provo on Feb. 22.
“I think it’s also going to give us a little bit of the good pressure because every team so far lost as the No. 1 team right away,” Petrusev said. “It gives us a little pressure to stay dialed in, keep working and keep getting better and just try to stay No. 1 as long as we can.”
Landing the No. 1 ranking comes with more publicity, more scrutiny and provides opponents with more motivation.
“This year in college basketball there’s been a bunch of different teams that have had the honor,” junior wing Corey Kispert said. “Anybody can beat anybody. Everybody in the country knows that.
“Teams are going to come after you every night, but especially when you’re ranked that high.”
Being No. 1 “is just a number to me,” said senior point guard Ryan Woolridge, a graduate transfer from North Texas. “I just came here for the exposure, the big games, the coaching staff, the family atmosphere. That’s really what I was focused on when I made my decision to come here.”
Head coach Mark Few downplayed the significance of polls released this early in the season, calling it “an effort in futility.”
“They just need to hit the next challenge that’s coming down the road,” Few said. “They’ve done it thus far very, very well.”
The Zags received 54 of 65 first-place votes from the media panel. They have an 88-point lead over No. 2 Ohio State. Louisville, Duke, Kansas, Oregon, Baylor, Memphis and Villanova round out the top 10.
Gonzaga defeated Oregon in the Battle 4 Atlantis before falling to current No. 11 Michigan in the title game. The Zags also have road victories over No. 21 Washington and No. 24 Arizona.
Saint Mary’s received 29 points and BYU four.
The Zags have been ranked in the top 20 in 66 consecutive AP polls, the third longest active streak in the country.
Gonzaga also took over the top spot in the USA Today rankings with 23 of 32 first-place votes. No. 2 Ohio State received seven first-place votes and trails the Zags by 31 points.
Duke, Louisville, Kansas, Baylor, Oregon, Auburn, Villanova and Memphis fill out the top 10. Saint Mary’s received 12 points.
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