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UConn, Duke 1-2 in preseason poll

Connecticut starts the 2003-04 college basketball season as the ESPN/USA Today preseason No. 1 team after receiving 25 of 31 first-place votes Thursday from a board of Division I head coaches.

The Huskies, who reached the Sweet 16 a year ago, were followed by Duke, Michigan State, Arizona and 2003 national runner-up Kansas in the top five.

Last year's national champion Syracuse checks in at No. 7, a spot behind Missouri. Florida, Kentucky and North Carolina round out the top 10.

UConn finished 23-10 a year ago and 11th in the final 2002-03 ESPN/USA Today rankings. The Huskies were last ranked No. 1 to open the 2000 season by the Associated Press, a year after winning the 1999 national championship.

This year's Huskies return four of five starters, led by preseason All-America candidates Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon. The Huskies open the season by hosting Yale on Nov. 17 in the first round of the Preseason NIT.

Duke, which received three first-place votes, also returns the core of last year's Sweet 16 team that finished 26-7 and No. 9 in the final ESPN/USA Today poll. Senior guard Chris Duhon, junior Daniel Ewing and a group of talented sophomores in J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph make the Blue Devils the favorite to win the ACC.

The BCS conferences dominate the preseason poll, occupying 20 of the 25 spots. Gonzaga, at No. 12, is the highest ranked team outside a BCS conference and the lone mid-major team in the preseason Top 25.

The Big 12 just missed putting three teams in the top 10 as last year's other Final Four representative Texas landed at No. 11. Oklahoma (No. 15) and Oklahoma State (No. 24) give the Big 12 five teams in the top 25.

North Carolina also garnered a first-place vote in returning to the top 25 after a 19-13 season a year ago. The Tar Heels give the ACC a total of four teams in the top 25. Wake Forest, which won the ACC regular season title a year ago, comes it at No. 21, while Maryland is No. 25.

The Big East also has four teams in the top 25 with Notre Dame (tie for 19th) and No. 22 Pittsburgh joining No. 1 UConn and defending champions.

No. 13 Illinois and No. 14 Wisconsin join the Spartans in the poll. Michigan State received the other first-place vote in landing at No. 3.

Marquette, which reached the Final Four for the first time in 25 years a season ago, comes in at No. 23 -- behind C-USA rivals Louisville (17th) and Cincinnati (tie for 19th).

Stanford (No. 17) is the only other Pac-10 team to crack the poll with Arizona, while the Atlantic Ten is represented by league favorite Saint Joseph's at No. 18.