Central Florida cracks Top 25 for first time

CBSSports.com wire reports
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Duke is again No. 1 in the Associated Press men's basketball poll, although for the first time in three weeks it's not unanimous. Central Florida joins the Top 25 for the first time in school history.

The Blue Devils were off last week and received all but one of the first-place votes Monday from the 65-member national media panel.

No. 2 Ohio State has the other first-place vote and is followed by Kansas, Connecticut and Syracuse. Completing the top 10 are Pittsburgh, San Diego State, Villanova, Missouri and Georgetown.

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Florida rejoins the poll at No. 20 after being out two weeks. Tennessee drops from No. 7 to No. 19 after losing twice -- to Oakland, Mich., and Charlotte. UNLV and Louisville fell from the poll.

UCF is 10-0 and ranked No. 24. The team was informed just before an afternoon practice Monday, and emotions swirled all over the place.

"It's starting to show that people are recognizing UCF not just for football, but also basketball," starting point guard A.J. Rompza said. "It's great to actually have that honor to say we're ranked."

The timing couldn't be better, either.

Big East presidents unanimously agreed to expand the number of football-playing schools from eight to 10 in early November. A few weeks later, TCU accepted an invitation to join the conference in all sports in 2012.

UCF, Houston and Villanova -- a member in other sports besides football -- are among potential targets to be the next program. And if it doesn't happen for the Knights this time, it certainly won't be for a lack of success from their top two sports.

UCF's football team also earned its first ranking in the AP poll this season and won the Conference USA title. Now new basketball coach Donnie Jones has the Knights off to their best start since moving up to Division I in 1984.

"We haven't really put a lot of focus on the Big East. It's a lot of perception," Jones said. "But if you do what you should do, and you win, and your programs have success, opportunities will come your way."

The university also has done its part.

The school has ballooned into the second-largest university in the country with more than 56,000 students, built new athletic facilities and upgraded old ones in recent years. The Knights still have had trouble stepping out of the shadows of the state's traditional powers, and a mediocre basketball program had been considered one of the major stumbling blocks for any potential move to a BCS automatic-qualifying conference.

Maybe not anymore.

This season, the Knights already have beaten No. 20 Florida, Miami and South Florida and are favored in their last major nonconference game Wednesday at Massachusetts. Not bad for a team that was 15-17 last season, had uncertainty lingering after longtime coach Kirk Speraw was fired and has had injuries to several key players.

Jones, a former Florida assistant and protege of Gators coach Billy Donovan, was convinced that UCF had all the makings to be a winning program. So he stepped down as Marshall's coach to come back to the Sunshine State.

Even his mentor has been impressed with UCF's rapid rise under Jones.

"I'm really happy for him," Donovan said. "And also I think the thing that's probably gotten lost is he's battled a lot of injuries. He's had a lot of guys hurt and everything else. I think he's in position to have a terrific year right now and I couldn't be any more proud of him."

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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