Stanford Back on Top in AP Poll

Monday, February 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — St. Joseph's fans thought their team should have cracked The Associated Press poll a long time ago. After all, the Hawks are off to their best start since 1985-86, winning seven straight and 15 of their last 16.

Coach Phil Martelli wasn't worried.

``We knew we were playing good basketball, and if we continued to win the recognition and all the trappings of winning would come,'' said Martelli, whose Hawks entered the Top 25 on Monday at No. 23.

Returning to No. 1 was Stanford after two-week stay at No. 2. The Cardinal (23-1), who beat California 88-56 in their only game last week, held the top ranking for four weeks until dropping one spot following their loss to UCLA.

St. Joseph's (21-4) made its first appearance in the Top 25 since the final poll of the 1996-97 season. The Hawks' only loss in the last 16 games was at Xavier, and they avenged that defeat with a 79-76 victory a few weeks later.

Martelli's team leads the Atlantic 10 in scoring (79.1 ppg), field goal percentage (.487) and assists (18 apg). The Hawks have an electric scorer in Marvin O'Connor (20.4 ppg) and a talented freshman in point guard Jameer Nelson, whose leads the league in assists.

``I would say the maturity level has really grown since last year,'' O'Connor said. ``We have guys who are pretty much more focused on team goals rather than individual goals.''

Stanford made its jump following North Carolina's 75-65 loss to Clemson on Sunday. That not only dropped the Tar Heels to No. 2, but ended the nation's longest Division I winning streak at 18 games.

Stanford received 67 first-place votes and 1,723 points from the national media panel. The Tar Heels (21-3) were No. 1 on one ballot and drew 1,581 points.

Illinois (21-5), which received the only other first-place vote, moved up one place to a season-high No. 3 following wins over Wisconsin and Indiana. Duke, which lost to Virginia then bounced back with an impressive 81-59 victory over St. John's, dropped from third to fourth, while Michigan State held fifth.

Iowa State climbed one place to a season-high sixth, while Florida jumped from 11th to seventh. Arizona, Virginia and Boston College rounded out the Top Ten.

Kansas, which lost to Baylor and Iowa State last week, fell five places to a season-low 11th. The Jayhawks were followed by Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, UCLA, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Maryland.

The last five ranked teams were Georgetown, Tennessee, St. Joseph's, Wake Forest and Providence.

St. Joseph's has shown excellent balance, with four players averaging double-digits.

``We have a nice balance of perimeter and post play, which we haven't had in the past,'' Martelli said.

The Hawks are 11-1 in the Atlantic 10, leading the conference by 1 1/2 games over Xavier. They play three of their last four games away. The home game is against Massachusetts, which has a losing record overall but is 9-3 in the conference.

``We have to practice today better than we played yesterday, and if we do that all the way through, March can be a pleasant month,'' Martelli said.

Providence (18-7) also entered the Top 25 for the first time this season. The Friars had won seven of eight before losing 81-73 at Boston College on Saturday in a matchup of the Big East's surprise teams. Providence was last ranked on Jan. 24, 1989, at No. 20.

Fresno State (20-5) dropped out from 20th after losing to TCU and UTEP last week. The Bulldogs were ranked for four weeks, getting as high as No. 19.

The other team to fall from the poll was No. 25 Iowa. The Hawkeyes (17-8) lost to Michigan and Michigan State last week and are 1-4 since Luke Recker broke a kneecap Jan. 27.

Kentucky and UCLA made the biggest jumps. Kentucky, which beat Tennessee and Vanderbilt, moved from No. 22 to No. 13. UCLA, which beat Arizona and Arizona State, went from No. 24 to No. 15.

The biggest drops were by Syracuse and Tennessee — seven places. Syracuse lost to Miami and West Virginia and fell from No. 10 to No. 17. Tennessee's losing streak reached four with losses to Kentucky and Florida and dropped from No. 15 to No. 22.