The Penn State men’s basketball team rose to No. 9 in the Associated Press’ top 25 poll on Monday, tying a record for the program’s highest ranking.
Before then, it had been since the end of the 1953-54 season, when Penn State made the Final Four and lost to Tom Gola’s La Salle team that won the title. There was a third-place game back then, and the Nittany Lions won it over USC. (Kentucky finished that season No. 1, after going 25-0 with a team that didn’t go to the postseason because it had ineligible players.)
Those were the only two seasons until now in which Penn State made the top 10. In fact, before this season, the Nittany Lions hadn’t been ranked at all since the final poll of the 2000-01 campaign.
The Lions have won eight straight games, most recently beating Northwestern on Saturday at home. Coach Patrick Chambers’ squad has a lot of Philadelphia flavor, including himself, star forward Lamar Stevens and stalwarts Mike Watkins, Izaiah Brockington, and freshman Seth Lundy.
“It’s great," Chambers told reporters in University Park on Monday, although he said it with a bit of sarcasm.
“If we’re in the top 10 in three weeks, I’ll give you a better answer. How’s that sound?" he added." We’ve still got six games to go here, one day at a time. I’m trying to stay away from all this stuff.”
Penn State will host Illinois on Tuesday, then visit Indiana on Sunday. The Nittany Lions beat the Hoosiers at home, 64-49, on Jan. 29, and haven’t played the Illini yet this season.
“I think we can continue this process of getting better, and it’s my challenge and my job to make sure that we stay in this moment and that we stay present on that task at hand," Chambers said. "We can’t look forward. ... There’s a lot of basketball left.”
Villanova (19-6), meanwhile, is ranked No. 12 after a week that included a home win over Marquette and a Big 5-clinching win at Temple.
It’s the second straight week that Penn State gets the honorary title of being the highest-ranked team in Pennsylvania. Last week was the first time it happened.
Rutgers (18-8) is unranked but continues to receive votes. The Scarlet Knights were ranked for two weeks in late January, their first appearance in the AP top 25 since 1979.
On the women’s side, there was also some history made with Philadelphia ties. Norristown’s Geno Auriemma’s Connecticut Huskies (21-3) fell to No. 6, out of the top five for the first time since Feb. 5, 2007. UConn’s streak of 253 consecutive weeks in the top five more than doubled the previous record of 96 straight weeks set by Louisiana Tech in the 1980s.
Philly native Dawn Staley’s South Carolina squad (24-1) remains the top-ranked women’s team.