The Wildcats finished 21-12 last season and was unranked in the final poll. No team previously jumped from being non-ranked at the end of a season to topping the poll at the start of the next season.
Kentucky received half of the 32 first-place votes. No. 2 Michigan State got three first-place votes. No. 3 Louisville, the reigning national champion, got 10 first-place votes, and No. 4 Duke topped three ballots.
However, Wildcats coach John Calipari brought in a recruiting class considered one of the best in history, featuring six high school All-Americans: Julius Randle, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and James Young.
Earlier this week, 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."
The poll voters are 32 Division I head coaches.
The college basketball season tips off in early November, with most teams playing their season opener the weekend of Nov. 8-10.