The Wildcats (20-3) jumped from third following then-No. 1 Oklahoma's loss to Kansas State and then-No. 2 North Carolina's losses to Louisville and Notre Dame.
Villanova received 32 first-place votes Monday from the 65-member national media panel. Maryland, which received 13 No. 1 votes, moved up two spots to second.
The Wildcats had been ranked No. 2 seven times -- the last time coming in the final poll of last season -- but had never made that one step up.
Villanova becomes the sixth school to hold the No. 1 spot this season, just one off the record.
Oklahoma, which had been No. 1 for the past three weeks, dropped to third and received seven first-place votes. Iowa, which got 11 first-place votes, is fourth and is followed in the top 10 by Xavier, Kansas, Virginia, Michigan State, North Carolina and West Virginia.
Kansas and Virginia each received one first-place vote.
No. 23 Southern Cal and No. 24 Texas are the week's two newcomers, replacing Indiana and South Carolina.
Villanova withstands late Providence rally
Four Wildcats score in double digits to lift Villanova to a 72-60 win over Providence.