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Houston men's back at No. 1 as Northwestern makes AP Top 25 debut

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Houston returned to No. 1 in the AP men’s college basketballpoll on Monday for the third time this season, while Northwesternand Texas A&M barged into the rankings after each had a pair ofimpressive wins last week.

The Cougars, riding a seven-game winning streak, jumped overAlabama and back into the top spot, where they spent two weeks inNovember and December and had another two-week stint last month.They picked up 48 first-place votes from the 62-member nationalmedia panel to lay claim to No. 1 with just two weeks left in theregular season.

“This is my fourth year coaching these guys. We’ve developed areally good program here,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson,referring to his veteran leaders that went to a Final Four twoyears ago and the Elite Eight last season. “But the emphasis is ‘wehave.’ One person doesn’t do it. I’m proud of our program. I’mproud of everyone in it.”

The Crimson Tide dropped only one spot after losing to Tennesseeand routing Georgia in their lone week at No. 1. They held ontoseven first-place votes, while Kansas also earned seven to climbtwo spots to No. 3 in this week’s poll.

UCLA remained at No. 4 while Purdue slid two spots to round outof the top five.

“We’re not as good a basketball team, from a tacticalstandpoint, as last year’s basketball team yet,” said Jayhawkscoach Bill Self, whose team is trying to become the firstback-to-back national champions since Florida in 2006 and ’07.“From a competitive standpoint, this team is an equivalent, or onpar, with that team.”

That was evident Saturday, when the Jayhawks rallied from 17down to beat No. 9 Baylor 87-71 in Allen Fieldhouse.

Virginia was at No. 6 after beating Louisville and Notre Damelast week. Arizona was seventh while Texas fell two spots to eighthafter losing to Texas Tech and needing overtime to beat Oklahoma.The Bears held their spot while Marquette moved into the top 10 forthe first time since Feb. 25, 2019.

The Volunteers dropped to No. 11 after following up their winover Alabama with a loss to Kentucky. Gonzaga, Miami and KansasState were next, with Saint Mary’s giving the West Coast Conferencetwo teams in the top 15.

The Gaels (24-5, 13-1) and Bulldogs (23-5, 12-2) each playmidweek games before their showdown on Saturday.

Xavier held steady at No. 16 this week while Indiana, UConn,Creighton and Providence rounded out the top 20.

Northwestern entered the poll for the first time in more thantwo years at No. 21 after following its upset of Purdue two weeksago with wins over the Hoosiers and Iowa. San Diego State, IowaState and TCU were next, with Texas A&M making it back into thepoll after spending one week at No. 24 in November.

“We haven’t gotten ahead of ourselves,” Wildcats coach ChrisCollins said. “We’ve had big aspirations of who we could be, andnot many people believed it. I’m sure a lot of people laughed atthem. But we had them and they were real. And these guys havefollowed up on it. But we’re still in the moment. For me, it’s nota time for reflection.

“We want more,” Collins continued. “We can reflect at the end ofthe year, when it’s all done in a month’s time. And we can lookback at the ups and downs. But we’re trying our hardest right nowto stay in the moment.”

IN AND OUT

The Wildcats, winners of five straight, and the Aggies enteredthe poll at the expense of North Carolina State and FloridaAtlantic. The Wolfpack lost to Syracuse on Tuesday and the Owlslost to Middle Tennessee on Thursday.

RISING AND FALLING

There was very little movement in this week’s poll. Providencemade the biggest climb at just four spots to No. 20 after wins overCreighton and Villanova. Iowa State likewise made the biggest fallat four sports to No. 23 after following a win over TCU with a lossto Kansas State on Saturday.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big 12 continues to lead the way with six teams in the APTop 25 and Oklahoma State receiving a vote. The Big East has fiveteams in the poll — and all in the top 20 — while the SEC and BigTen have three teams apiece.

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