EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State is No. 1 in The Associated Press' college basketball poll for the first time in 13 years.
The Spartans were The AP's top-ranked team for two weeks during the 2000-01 season — the year after coach Tom Izzo helped the program win its second national title — and twice in the 1978-79 season when the Earvin "Magic" Johnson-led team went on to claim the NCAA championship.
"I think it's a privilege," Izzo told The AP on Monday, several hours before Michigan State hosted Portland. "If we handle it well, we'll see how long we can hang on. And if we don't, we'll learn something from that. We don't get a banner or a ring for this, but it's good for our program. It's also good for the guys on this team to add to their collection of accomplishments."
The Spartans were easily No. 1 with 51 first-place votes from the 65-member national media panel. The Spartans earned the top spot by beating then-top-ranked Kentucky last week 78-74 in Chicago in the earliest matchup of the top two teams in the country.
"We've been in the top five a lot, but we haven't won a big game early quite like we did last week," Izzo said. "We've earned this, but I know Kansas or Louisville could be No. 1 right now. Duke and Kentucky are really good, too."
Kansas, which beat Duke in the other game in the big doubleheader last week, moved from No. 5 to No. 2 and received seven first-place votes. Louisville stayed third and got the other seven first-place votes. Kentucky dropped to fourth and was followed by Arizona, Duke, Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Syracuse and VCU.
Michigan State might have still been celebrating its victory over the young and talented Wildcats a few days later when it needed to close a game strong to pull away and avoid getting upset at home by Columbia.
"Being No. 1 now gives us a chance to see how we'll handle our goal of being No. 1 at the end of the season," Izzo said. "We have to learn how to deal with the pressure and status of being where we are right now. But I don't think by any means this will be like playing with a 40-pound weight on our shoulders."
So far, the Spartans have lived up to high expectations with four returning starters and six of their top seven scorers from last year's team that won 27 games, finished a game out of first place in the Big Ten and advanced to the NCAA tournament's round of 16.
After playing the Pilots of West Coast Conference on Monday night, Michigan State will play Virginia Tech on Friday night in Brooklyn, N.Y. and then Oklahoma or Seton Hall the following night. The Spartans' next marquee game will be Dec. 4 at home against No. 24 North Carolina.
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