The Tar Heels had been tied with UCLA, which has had eight preseason No. 1 rankings.
The Tar Heels received 35 first-place votes from the 65-member national media panel. Kentucky is ranked second with 10 first-place votes, followed by Maryland, which had 14 first-place votes, and Kansas, which was No. 1 on five ballots.
Defending national champion Duke is fifth, extending the Blue Devils' streak of consecutive polls to 156, the longest current run. The Blue Devils started their streak with the preseason poll of 2007-08.The record for consecutive poll appearances is 221 by UCLA, a run that went from 1966 until 1980.
Virginia (one first-place vote) is sixth, followed by Iowa State, Oklahoma, Gonzaga and Wichita State.
This is North Carolina's 112th week as a No. 1 team in the AP poll, fourth on the all-time list.North Carolina was last a preseason No. 1 in 2011-12.
There have been 12 teams to run the table as a No. 1-ranked team since the AP poll started in the 1948-49 season. The last to do it was Duke in 1991-92.
Fans won't have to wait long to see ranked teams face each other this season. On Nov. 17, just four days after the season gets underway, the State Farm Champions Classic will be held at Chicago's United Center with No. 4 Kansas meeting No. 13 Michigan State and No. 2 Kentucky facing No. 5 Duke.
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Defense key to Tar Heels' success this season
North Carolina sophomore Justin Jackson and junior Kennedy Meeks join College Basketball Live to describe their expectations for this upcoming season.