Virginia has not been ranked No. 1 since Ralph Sampson patrolled the lane in Charlottesville.
The Cavaliers took a step toward their first top ranking in 35 years on Monday, earning 17 of 65 first-place votes from a media panel following wins over No. 18 Clemson and No. 4 Duke.
Villanova remained at No. 1 for the fourth straight week, receiving 47 first-place votes after a pair of victories last week.
College basketball 2017 college basketball rankings
Purdue had one first-place vote and remained at No. 3, Duke did not fall back despite its loss to Virginia and Michigan State moved up a spot to round out the top 5.
The Cavaliers (20-1, 9-0) annually have one of the nation’s top defenses under coach Tony Bennett and this season has been no different.
Virginia is first nationally in scoring defense at 52.1 points allowed per game and is third in field goal percentage against, holding opponents to 37 percent.
The Cavaliers held No. 18 Clemson to 36 points — 13 in the second half — in a 25-point victory and shut down one of the nation’s top offenses in a 65-63 win over Duke, their 12th straight victory.
The Cavaliers lead the ACC by 2 1/2 games and are off to their best conference start since the Sampson-led 1980-81 team won its first 12 games. Virginia has not been ranked No. 1 since 1981-82, a team also centered by Sampson.
“There’s talent and I don’t think our players sometimes get enough credit for their talent,” Bennett said. “But there is a synergy or a chemistry that when they’re right, it’s even better.”
Virginia hosts Louisville on Wednesday and plays at Syracuse on Saturday.
Purdue (21-2, 10-0 Big Ten) held onto its highest ranking since 2009-10 by