This marks the first time in the history of the USA TODAY Sports Coaches' Poll, which began in the 1991-92 season, that a team enters a season No. 1 after finishing the previous season unranked.
After an uneven 2011-12 season, Kentucky coach John Calipari heightened expectations for the Wildcats by securing one of the most impressive recruiting classes in the sport's modern era. Calipari's successful formula has been to rely heavily on freshmen, and this season should be no different with forward Julius Randle and point guard Andrew Harrison garnering some of the biggest headlines.
When asked Tuesday at Kentucky's media day if his team should be ranked No. 1, Calipari said, "We'll be the most inexperienced team in the country, but we are really talented. We have got great size and speed and skill. Will we be a great defensive team and rebounding team, and will we share the ball? If we do that, we have a chance to be one of the best teams in the country."
Kentucky has been the coaches poll preseason No. 1 one other time, in 1995-96, a season that ended with a national championship.
Led by last season's Big Ten freshman of the year Gary Harris and big man Adreian Payne, Michigan State will enter the season ranked second. The Spartans, who received three first-place votes, return four starters from the team that lost to Duke in the Sweet 16.
Defending national champion Louisville received 10 first-place votes and was ranked third.
The Cardinals, whose repeat hopes hinge in part on the play of All-America candidate Russ Smith, will compete in the American Athletic Conference this season before entering the Atlantic Coast Conference next year.
Entering the season ranked fourth is Duke, which last season lost to Louisville in the Elite Eight. Despite losing its top three scorers, the Blue Devils, who received the remaining three first-place votes, possess arguably their most athletic team in more than a decade and will feature Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood and heralded freshman Jabari Parker on a team that will play a more up-tempo style.
Arizona, ranked fifth, and Kansas, sixth, are two other highly ranked teams headlined by freshmen: the Wildcats' Aaron Gordon and the Jayhawks' Andrew Wiggins, who has been called the best high school prospect since LeBron James.
The Big Ten, widely considered the nation's strongest league last season, saw three teams -- Michigan State, Michigan (ninth) and Ohio State (10th) -- ranked in the top 10. The ACC, which added perennial contenders Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame this season, has five teams in the top 25, including North Carolina (11th), Notre Dame (22nd) and Virginia (25th).
The other team in the top 10 is Florida, which has made three consecutive appearances in the Elite Eight.
Other notables include:
* Wichita State, which made a surprising run to the Final Four last season, enters the season 16th.
* The only ranked team from the new Big East is Marquette at No. 17.
* Connecticut, which will compete in the AAC this season, is ranked 19th after being ineligible for postseason play last season because of NCAA academic shortcomings.
Kentucky's rise in the preseason poll represents the biggest jump in the history of the poll. Only twice before has a team outside the top 10 of the previous season's final poll started the season No. 1: Indiana (13th) last season and UConn (11th) to open the 2003-04 season. That UConn team went on to win the national title.
Calipari has hinted at even loftier expectations this season: an undefeated record.
"I've said, before I retire, I would love to coach a team that goes 40-0," Calipari said. "Will that happen? I don't know. Every game we play, we play to win."