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Monday, January 5, 2009
Panthers ranked No. 1 for first time

ESPN.com

Pittsburgh has the Steelers pursuing a Super Bowl XLIII berth, one of the brightest young stars in the NHL in Sidney Crosby, and, well, we'll just skip the Pirates.

Poll Positions

The top five teams in the ESPN/USA Today poll:

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• Complete ESPN/USA Today poll

Now, the city also claims the top-ranked men's college basketball team in the country as its own.

For the first time in 101 seasons of Pitt basketball, the Panthers are No. 1, making the jump from third in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' rankings on Monday after previously unbeaten North Carolina (to heavy underdog Boston College) and Connecticut (to Georgetown) lost in the past week.

Pitt received 30 of 31 first-place votes. The third-ranked, 13-1 Tar Heels still hold on to one first-place vote in the wake of a top-to-bottom shakeup among the poll's top 10.

Pitt improved to 14-0 after winning its first two Big East games, against Rutgers and Georgetown on the road. Its win over the Hoyas was a smackdown -- a 70-54 victory for Pitt after Georgetown had just taken out host UConn earlier in the week.

"I don't think it will change anything for us," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon told ESPN.com's Andy Katz on Sunday night, alluding to the Panthers likely reaching the top of the heap. "We've become rivals of schools over the years, rivals of schools that weren't rivals before."

Besides Pitt, the other undefeated Division I men's teams are Wake Forest (13-0), Clemson (14-0) and Illinois State (14-0). Wake, off to its best start since the 1996-97 season, plays host to North Carolina on Sunday.

The Panthers collected 774 total points in the voting, 60 more than No. 2 Duke (12-1), which made a three-spot leap from last week. Wake Forest was fourth, followed by UConn, Oklahoma (13-1), Texas (11-2) and UCLA (12-2) in a tie for seventh, Syracuse (14-1) and Georgetown (10-2).

Eleventh-ranked Clemson kicked off the second 10 after a five-spot jump, followed by Michigan State (11-2), Notre Dame (10-3), Purdue (11-3), Marquette (13-2), Arizona State (12-2), Villanova (12-2), Xavier (11-2), Minnesota (13-1) and Top 25 newcomer Butler (12-1) at No. 20.

No. 21 Louisville (9-3), West Virginia (11-2), Baylor (12-2), Boston College (13-2) and Tennessee (9-3) rounded out the Top 25. Gonzaga, Ohio State and Michigan dropped out of the poll.

With the Steelers playing host to San Diego in the NFL's AFC divisional playoffs on Sunday, they could take some of the pressure off Pitt this week. The Panthers' next game is Sunday against St. John's.

"[A No. 1 ranking] doesn't mean much to me, but it will mean something to other people," Dixon said Sunday night. "It won't mean much to our players. We've been consistently good, but at the same time we haven't won a national championship, so nothing changes."