- Associated Press - Friday, October 28, 2011

North Carolina broke a tie with its fiercest rival and moved into one with one of college basketball’s most storied programs.

The Tar Heels, who return all five starters from the team that reached the regional finals last season, were the runaway No. 1 in The Associated Press’ men’s preseason Top 25 on Friday. It is the eighth time they have received that honor since the preseason poll started in 1961-62.

That breaks a tie with Duke, North Carolina’s Tobacco Road rival, and moves them into a tie with UCLA, the program that dominated the sport unlike any other under coach John Wooden.

“It shows that North Carolina basketball has had a tremendous level of success over a long, long period of time,” coach Roy Williams said. “We are very proud of that and this is another indication of the program’s great history.”

North Carolina received all but three of the No. 1 votes cast by the 65-member national media poll, finishing well ahead of Kentucky, the team that eliminated the Tar Heels last season one step from the Final Four.

With the frontcourt of Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller all passing up the chance to enter the NBA draft and point guard Kendall Marshall having a chance to run the team for the whole season instead of just the last 20 games, the Tar Heels have the personnel to start the season comfortably atop the poll.

“I’m happy that people feel this positive about our team, but the great thing about college basketball is you have to get it done on the court,” Williams said. “This gives us a goal and it’s up to us to work hard and be the best team we can be to reach that goal.”

North Carolina has been the preseason No. 1 in three of the last five seasons. In 2008-09, the Tar Heels were a unanimous preseason No. 1 with five starters back, and that season ended with a national championship.

The Tar Heels’ other preseason No. 1s were in 2007-08 (Final Four), 1993-94 (second round), 1986-87 (regional final), 1983-84 (regional semifinals), 1981-82 (national championship) and 1977-78 (first round).

“We have the opportunity to win it all, and we have the opportunity to completely fail,” Barnes has said. “It’s just a matter of we continue to stay humble and continue to take the right steps and get our way back on top like we did last year.”

Ohio State, which got one first-place vote, was third and defending national champion Connecticut, which received the other two No. 1 votes, was fourth.

Kentucky has starters Terrence Jones and Darius Miller back to lead yet another outstanding recruiting class by coach John Calipari. Ohio State has All-America Jared Sullinger and senior guard William Buford back, while Connecticut has to find a way to replace All-America Kemba Walker, the all-everything guard who carried the Huskies through their 11-game winning streak to the national championship. Don’t feel too bad for Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun as freshman Andre Drummond will give the Huskies a presence under the basket.

Syracuse, Duke, Vanderbilt, Florida, Louisville and Pittsburgh rounded out the top 10.

Memphis was 11th followed by Baylor, Kansas, Xavier, Wisconsin, Arizona, UCLA, Michigan, Alabama and Texas A&M. The last five teams were Cincinnati, Marquette, Gonzaga, California and Missouri.

Fourteen of the teams in the preseason poll were ranked in last season’s final poll. Ohio State was No. 1 entering the NCAA tournament and the Buckeyes lost to Kentucky in the regional semifinals.

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