Louisville's surging basketball team will go into tonight's Big East Conference showdown against Connecticut (12-3, 2-1) at the XL Center in Hartford as the top-ranked team in the land. The Associated Press poll has Louisville ranked No. 1 for the first time since 2009.
Hours before the 7 o'clock tipoff on ESPN, the AP Poll saw UofL (15-1, 3-0) move from No. 3 to No. 1 in the Associated Press rankings.
It is the earliest in the season that Louisville has ascended to the top spot and only the second time the Cards have occupied that lofty nest in their history. UofL moved to No. 1 in the last poll of the 2009 season and also earned the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Three teams -- No. 1 Duke, No. 2 Michigan and No. 4/3 Arizona -- entered last week undefeated and all lost on the road. Arizona fell at Oregon, Duke lost at N.C. State and then the last piece of the puzzle fell into place for UofL when Michigan was defeated at Ohio State Sunday afternoon.
UofL's only loss was to Duke, 76-71, in the Battle 4 Atlantis final in the Bahamas on Nov. 24 and since then the Cards have won 10 in a row.
Asked about the possibility of becoming No. 1 after their 64-38 rout of South Florida Saturday afternoon, the Cards predictably said they would rather be No. 1 at the end of the season, but disagreed somewhat on the impact of the ranking.
"Number one at this time of the year just gives you a bigger target on your back and more opportunities fror the (home crowd during an away game) to storm the court against you," guard Peyton Siva says. "It puts so much pressure on you."
But forward Chane Behanan says the Cards should thrive on that pressure.
"To me, one is just a number," Behanan said. "That's one thing we don't pay attention to is ranking. But if there's pressure, that's a good thing because it should make us work even harder to get better."
UConn, which is ineligible for postseason play due to academic shortcomings, is coming off a 65-58 win over No. 17/16 Notre Dame (14-2, 2-1) that snapped the Irish's 17-game homecourt winning streak. Guard Shabazz Napier led the Huskies with 19 points and 6-9 junior center Tyler Olander had a career-high 16, hitting 8-of-9 shots and grabbing seven rebounds against Jack Cooley, one of the league's best frontcourt players.
Afterwards, Napier said the unranked Huskies are looking forward to their matchup against UofL to prove a point.
"All year, we feel like we haven't been getting the accolades," he said. "Nobody is talking about us. This is our chance to change that."
UofL coach Rick Pitino says he is impressed by first-year UConn coach Kevin Ollie, who repaced Jim Calhoun, and UConn's backcourt of Napier and Ryan Boatright, who have combined for 33.6 points and 8.5 assists per game.
"They've got arguably one of the best backcourts in the nation, two great scorers," Pitino says. "They are a terrific team. I'm really happy for them because I love their coach. He is a class young man and I knew he would do a great job.
"The Big Ten, the ACC, the Big East, every single game is a war. Like everyone in the conference, we're going to lose some games. The most important thing is that you get better. We're getting a lot better at the defensive end, and that's what pleases me."