The Mountain West Conference is doing some serious climbing.
A league that always has had to fight for respect as it tries to join the ranks of the power conferences, the 11-year-old Mountain West had three teams in The Associated Press’ Top 25 on Monday, one more than the Atlantic Coast Conference and three more than the Pac-10.
Kansas (22-1) remained the runaway No. 1, receiving 55 first-place votes from the national media panel. Syracuse (23-1), which received eight first-place votes, moved up one spot to become the fourth No. 2 in as many weeks. The ranking is the highest for the Orange since a six-week stretch at No. 1 in 1989-90.
Kentucky (22-1), which was No. 1 on two ballots, moved up one place to No. 3. Villanova checked in at No. 4, before beating No. 5 West Virginia 82-75 on Monday night.
New Mexico, Brigham Young and UNLV, which are in a three-way tie for first place in the Mountain West, give the league three teams in the Top 25 for the first time.
“BYU, New Mexico and UNLV are reaping the benefits of unprecedented national television exposure and enhanced nonconference scheduling,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement. “All three teams have really extended their schedules, and some very quality wins are now being reflected. It is a real tribute to the coaches to see Top 25 matchups each week in conference play as well.”
No. 15 New Mexico (21-3) is ranked for the third straight week and seventh overall. BYU (22-3) dropped five places to 17th following its 88-74 loss to UNLV, the game that forged the three-way tie for first and moved the Rebels (19-4) back into the poll at No. 23.
BYU has been ranked for six straight weeks, while UNLV jumps back in after being out the past eight weeks.
The Mountain West has sent more than one team to the NCAA Tournament in nine of the past 10 years.
“It’s been a push of our league the last several years,” New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. “We already felt our league has been at that point for a while now. It’s good to start getting some national respect. I think we’ve got some really good players and some really good teams.”
The ACC has No. 8 Duke and No. 20 Georgia Tech in this week’s poll, while the Pac-10 is without a team in the Top 25 for the fifth straight week.
Purdue moved up two places to No. 6 followed by Georgetown, Duke, Kansas State and Michigan State, which dropped five spots after losing to Wisconsin and Illinois last week.
The Big East has the most ranked teams with five, and four of those — Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia and Georgetown — are in the top seven.
The Big 12 and Big Ten have four teams each in the poll, while the Southeastern Conference has three.
Wisconsin led the second 10 followed by Tennessee, Ohio State, Texas, New Mexico, Gonzaga, BYU, Butler, Northern Iowa and Georgia Tech.
The last teams were Temple, Vanderbilt, UNLV, Baylor and Pittsburgh.
Mississippi (17-6) dropped out from No. 25 after losing 85-75 to Kentucky before beating Alabama, 74-67.