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Zags ranked No. 1 in AP preseason poll

| October 19, 2021 1:10 AM

From wire and news services

Gonzaga carried a No. 1 ranking all last season before falling a win short of becoming college basketball’s first unbeaten national champion in 45 years.

Mark Few’s Bulldogs start this season in the same position, hoping to complete that final step this time around.

The Zags were the runaway top choice in The Associated Press Top 25 men’s college basketball preseason poll released Monday. They earned 55 of 63 first-place votes to easily outdistance No. 2 UCLA, which earned the other eight. Kansas, Villanova and Texas rounded out the top five, while reigning national champion Baylor checked in at No. 8.

The Zags have accomplished just about every milestone possible in 23 years under Few other than cutting down the nets on the final Monday night of the season. They came close to completing the first unbeaten run since 1976 last year with a wire-to-wire No. 1 team, only to fall to the Bears in a one-sided final in Indianapolis.

Now they'll try again.

“It is quite an honor to be selected preseason No. 1 for the second consecutive year," Few said in a school news release. "Our returning players realize the challenge of playing up to that level all year and look forward to it.”

Gonzaga lost AP All-Americans Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs to the NBA, but second-team selection Drew Timme (19.0 points, 7.0 rebounds) and starting guard Andrew Nembhard return. The Zags also bring in a top recruiting class featuring the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit in 7-footer Chet Holmgren and a five-star guard in Hunter Sallis.

Going back to the 2019-20 season, the Zags have now been ranked in the top three for 32 straight polls, with 22 of those at No. 1.

It’s the 18th straight poll the Zags sit at No. 1. That streak matches the sixth longest in AP poll history with Duke in 1992. UCLA topped the ranking for 46 consecutive polls from 1971 to 1974. In total, the Bulldogs have spent 34 weeks at No. 1 in the AP poll in program history, which ranks 10th all-time. GU has now been ranked No. 1 in six of the last 10 seasons. Gonzaga boasts a 55-6 record all-time as the No. 1 ranked team in the AP poll.

Last season, the Zags became the 14th program all-time to stay at No. 1 from the preseason poll to the final poll.

In 2019-20, GU spent four consecutive weeks at No. 1 in the AP poll, before finishing No. 2 with one first-place vote.

In 2018-19, Gonzaga was the top-ranked AP team for five weeks, after winning the Maui Invitational for two weeks and three straight weeks late in the regular season. The Bulldogs were No. 1 in in the last three rankings of the 2012-13 season, prior to the NCAA Tournament.

GU climbed to No. 1 after a 22-0 start to the 2016-17 season. The Zags were No. 1 for four straight weeks, before finishing the regular season 29-1, and advancing to the national championship game.

This marks the 21st straight season Gonzaga has been ranked in the AP poll. It's the 12th consecutive year the Zags have appeared in the preseason poll, starting in the top-20 for the ninth straight season. It's the eighth time GU has been ranked in the Top-10 in the preseason AP ranking. The Zags’ 96 straight AP poll appearances top the nation, with Villanova second at 41.

Gonzaga had 1,562 points in this year's preseason poll, with the 55 first-place votes. Last year, the Zags had 1,541 points in the preseason poll, with 28 first-place votes.

UCLA and Gonzaga are scheduled to square off in Las Vegas on Nov. 23, in a rematch of last year's thrilling national semifinal, won by the Zags in OT on a buzzer-beater by Suggs.

Kansas, which Gonzaga beat last November, received 1,427 points at No. 3. Villanova and Texas rounded out the top five. GU faces Texas in Spokane on Nov. 13.

The Zags play Duke in Las Vegas on Nov. 26. The Blue Devils were No. 9 in the preseason rankings. GU and Alabama meet in Seattle on Dec. 4. The Crimson Tide start the season at No. 14. Texas Tech, which is just outside of the Top 25 receiving 17 votes, faces the Bulldogs in Phoenix on Dec. 18. West Coast Conference foe BYU received three votes in the poll.

Gonzaga hosts Eastern Oregon in an exhibition on Oct. 31, hosts Lewis-Clark State in an exhibition Nov. 5, and opens the regular season at home against Dixie State on Nov. 9.

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