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Power elite: Harvard makes debut in AP men's poll

By Jimmy Golen
AP Sports Writer / December 6, 2011
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Harvard guard Oliver McNally had just finished lifting weights when the text messages started pouring in.

"My phone blew up right before practice," he said Monday after the Crimson cracked The Associated Press' Top 25 for the first time in school history. "I figured we had made it."

Harvard (8-0) entered the rankings at No. 25 -- the first Ivy League school to be ranked since Princeton made the top 10 late in the 1997-98 season, and just the third from the conference in the rankings since 1970. It's another milestone for a program that shared the Ivy League title last year -- its first-ever conference championship.

"People have made history in every aspect at Harvard -- except the basketball team," McNally said. "That's what we wanted to do here."

Unbeaten with a win over then-ranked Florida State in the semifinals of the "Battle 4 Atlantis" Thanksgiving tournament in the Bahamas, Harvard is one of four teams to join the rankings this week. But the others -- Georgetown, Creighton and Illinois -- have all been regulars.

"It's a significant achievement to have that happen," coach Tommy Amaker said. "I'm proud of them for the hard work they put in and also very flattered that we're being recognized at this point in the season."

Amaker said that since last year's Ivy tie with Princeton -- the two shared the conference championship, but Princeton won a one-game tie-breaker for the league's NCAA tournament berth -- he has felt more support from the community. This year, distinguished professors and alumni are increasingly seen in the stands.

"So many people that are associated with our university as a whole are engaged," Amaker said. "The greatness across this campus is enormous. We're a part of Harvard. We were hopeful that we could put a product as a basketball program on the court that could be associated with some of the great entities on the campus."

Kentucky (8-0) beat North Carolina on Saturday and holds the No. 1 spot for a second straight week. The Wildcats received 47 first-place votes Monday from the 65-member national media panel, with No. 2 Ohio State (8-0) receiving the other 18 first-place votes.

Syracuse, which beat Florida last week, moved up a spot to third, followed by North Carolina, Louisville and Baylor. Duke, which lost to Ohio State, dropped from third to seventh and was followed by Xavier, Connecticut and Missouri.

Marquette was 11th followed by Florida, Kansas, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, Alabama, Mississippi State, Georgetown, Creighton and Michigan; Creighton's last appearance in the poll was the first two weeks of 2006-07. The last five ranked teams were Memphis, Texas A&M, Gonzaga, Illinois and Harvard.

UNLV, Saint Louis, Vanderbilt and California all dropped out of the rankings.

Harvard could be joining them soon: The Crimson play at No. 9 Connecticut on Thursday. The defending national champions beat Harvard 81-52 last season.

"The grand prize is we get to go down and play in Storrs," Amaker said with a smile. "They're one of the best programs in all of basketball. They could beat us by probably 150 points last year, but we're very excited to play them."

No matter.

"This is an exciting week for Harvard basketball," guard Brandyn Curry said. "It's a great accomplishment for our team."

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