BY AARON BEARD
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Villanova coach Jay Wright has seen his team deal with all the things that go along with being the nation’s top-ranked school, from the extra attention to handling an upset loss.
It’s why Wright figures his Wildcats — who are sitting atop the AP Top 25 for the third straight season — are prepared for what awaits.
“I think we’ve got the experience now to understand it’s a great honor,” Wright told The Associated Press, “but a lot of responsibility comes with it.”
After a tumultuous week in which unanimous No. 1 Duke and No. 2 Kansas lost, the Wildcats (10-0) earned 41 of 65 first-place votes to hop over Michigan State and reach the top. Next up is Philadelphia neighbor Temple on Wednesday.
Villanova reached No. 1 for the first time in February 2016 and stayed there for three polls before going on to win the national championship. The Wildcats held the No. 1 spot three different times last season, including in the final poll entering the NCAA Tournament.
This year’s team started the year at No. 6 with preseason AP All-American Jalen Brunson. The Wildcats won the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas last month and beat No. 12 Gonzaga in New York last week, with Mikal Bridges (18.1 points) making a big leap to give Villanova a strong 1-2 punch.
This year’s Wildcats rank third nationally in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency (119.9 points per 100 possessions) and seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency (90.6). They are the only team in the top 10 of both categories.
“We’ve handled all those challenges so far,” Wright said. “Now this is a new challenge. How do you handle this? How do you handle that teams come at you at a completely different level. Fans come at you at a completely different level. We’ve done that a couple of times. And now we’ve got to do it with this group.”
Villanova and Michigan State were the favorites to take over at the top after the Blue Devils’ weekend loss at Boston College.
The Spartans (9-1) earned 19 first-place votes to climb from third to second, while the other five first-place votes went to Arizona State — which leapt 11 spots to No. 5 after Sunday’s win at Kansas .
Tom Izzo’s club returns to action Saturday against Oakland in Detroit.
SUN DEVILS RISING
Arizona State will carry its highest ranking since reaching third during the 1980-81 season when it hosts Vanderbilt on Sunday.
With many teams in exam breaks, the AP Top 25 schedule is fairly light for the week ahead. The top game comes Sunday, when No. 7 North Carolina visits No. 20 Tennessee.
Both teams climbed four spots in this week’s poll. The Volunteers played the Tar Heels tough last year in Chapel Hill, with UNC having to rally from 15 down and block a late shot to secure a 73-71 win .
HOOSIER STATE FIGHTS
The Crossroads Classic is set for Saturday. The Indianapolis doubleheader includes No. 17 Purdue meeting Butler and No. 18 Notre Dame facing Indiana.
Arizona has gone from No. 2 in the country to unranked and now back in the poll again. All in a month.
The Wildcats fell out after a lackluster performance in the Bahamas, but four straight wins brought them back into this week’s poll at No. 23. Arizona plays at New Mexico on Saturday.
Creighton is the top team among the “Others Receiving Votes” and hosts Maryland-Eastern Shore in its only game this week. But the next team in the list — Oklahoma — has the best chance to help its case of getting into next week’s poll. The Sooners visit No. 3 Wichita State on Saturday.
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this report.
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