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Kansas leads Kentucky in AP preseason college hoops poll

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Wildcats have unique blend of talent (1:59)

Head coach John Calipari gives his thoughts on the team's performance in Kentucky's Blue-White Game. (1:59)

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Kansas coach Bill Self sees big holes when he looks at his roster after losing three starters, including All-American Devonte' Graham.

The voters in the AP Top 25 poll see something different: a roster restocked so well that Jayhawks will start the college basketball season as the nation's top team.

Kansas checked in at No. 1 in the preseason poll released Monday, earning the top spot to start a season for the third time in program history, all under Self. The Jayhawks topped the ballot for 37 of 65 voters, nearly double that of No. 2 Kentucky.

"Obviously we lost a lot off last year's team with Devonte', Svi [Mykhailiuk] and Malik [Newman], so I'm a little surprised that the writers put us there this preseason,'' Self told the AP. "It's definitely a spot we welcome and certainly know the goal is to be playing to that ranking by when it counts the most.

"With the young players, we know it's going to take some time before we're anywhere close to where we're going to be, but I do like this team, and I think we have a chance to be very good."

The Jayhawks return veteran starters in junior 7-footer Udoka Azubuike and senior Lagerald Vick from a team that reached its first Final Four since 2012. They're also adding transfer help from Memphis twins Dedric and K.J. Lawson as well as California's Charlie Moore -- all double-digit scorers on their previous teams.

The previous two times the Jayhawks started at No. 1 didn't end well. The 2004-05 squad lost to Bucknell in the first round of the NCAA tournament. And the 2009-10 team that held the top spot for 15 of 19 weeks overall and won 33 games lost to Northern Iowa in the second round.

The ranking comes as the program finds itself entangled in the federal corruption case tied to payments used to steer recruits to certain schools. Testimony during the recent first trials included references to Self and sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa, although Self isn't charged with wrongdoing, and it's unclear if De Sousa's status will be affected.

Voters established a clear top tier: Kansas, Kentucky, No. 3 Gonzaga and No. 4 Duke. Those four teams appeared in some combination at the top of nearly half the ballots (32 of 65).

John Calipari's latest group of touted recruits helped the Wildcats earn 19 first-place votes to open as a top-5 team for the eighth straight season.

Gonzaga's ranking is the program's highest in a preseason AP poll, although the Zags have reached No. 1 during the regular season before. As for Duke, the Blue Devils had started No. 1 in each of the past two preseason AP polls.

The points gap between the Jayhawks and the Blue Devils (129 points) at fourth was slimmer than between Duke and fellow ACC program Virginia (166 points) at No. 5.

Speaking of Tony Bennett's Cavaliers, one of the biggest things to watch will be how well the Virginia responds to the most historic of tournament losses. The Cavaliers ended the regular season as the unanimous AP No. 1-ranked team and the No. 1 overall NCAA tournament seed, yet somehow became the first 1-seed to lose to a No. 16, against UMBC.

Virginia has its highest preseason AP ranking since Ralph Sampson's final team opened at No. 1 in 1982-83. Kyle Guy (14.1 points), Ty Jerome (10.6 points) and the Cavaliers' best NBA prospect, sophomore De'Andre Hunter, all return.

Nevada is starting the year with the program's highest AP poll ranking at No. 7 after last year's NCAA Sweet 16 run, with the Martin twins, Caleb and Cody, back along with Jordan Caroline.

Reigning national champion Villanova checks in at No. 9 despite losing Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Final Four most outstanding player Donte DiVincenzo.

The Wildcats still have Eric Paschall and Phil Booth back while adding Albany graduate transfer Joe Cremo. There's also a bit of respect built into this ranking, both for the stature of program Jay Wright has developed -- two national championships in three seasons -- and for the Wildcats' dominating romp through the postseason.

The ACC had the most teams ranked of any conference: Duke, Virginia, No. 8 North Carolina, No. 15 Virginia Tech (its highest spot since the 1995-96 season), No. 16 Syracuse, No. 17 Florida State and No. 22 Clemson.

The SEC was next up with five teams: Kentucky, No. 6 Tennessee, No. 11 Auburn (the program's highest ranking since 2000), No. 18 Mississippi State and No. 23 LSU.

The Big 12 had four (Kansas, No. 12 Kansas State, No. 13 West Virginia and No. 20 TCU), while the Big Ten and Pac-12 each had three, led by No. 10 Michigan State and No. 14 Oregon, respectively.

Lurking just outside the poll, Loyola (Chicago), last year's Final Four surprise, just missed breaking in at three points behind No. 25 Washington. Marquette was next with high-scoring junior Markus Howard back, and Archie Miller's second year at Indiana has the Hoosiers looming as well.