The Spokesman-Review’s Theo Lawson explains how he voted in the Associated Press Top 25 with five general thoughts on this week’s poll, a few notes on the Pac-12 and an update on local Top 25 representative Gonzaga.
1) It was another week of Top 25 mayhem, with seven losses in the top 10 and four of those coming in the top five. Between Nos. 11 and 25, there were 11 more losses. No. 3 Purdue, No. 17 Oklahoma and No. 24 Kentucky were all part of the two-loss club.
2) Michigan State, Xavier and Cincinnati all made valid cases for the top ranking, but we went with Virginia once again despite the Cavaliers losing 61-60 in overtime to unranked Virginia Tech. Most preliminary NCAA tournament bracket projections like UVA as the top overall seed and Tony Bennett’s group is still defending better than anyone out there. In their split, the Cavs conceded only 116 points and they’ve only given up 224 in their last four games.
3) The race in the Big Ten was not much of one until Purdue crumpled twice last week, losing to both Ohio State and Michigan State. Winning both would’ve practically sealed a regular-season title for the Boilermakers. Instead, the Buckeyes moved to the front of the Big Ten pack and these next two weeks become crucial in determining who’ll grab the league’s top seed.
4) Roy Williams’ Tar Heels were the bounce-back kids last week, beating Duke and North Carolina State to extend their win streak to three games. That followed a three-game skid that saw North Carolina lost to Virginia Tech, NC State and Clemson in an eight-day span. The Heels are on the rise again and junior forward Luke Maye, with 74 points in his last three games, is one of the hottest players in the country.
5) Trae Young may wind up as the national player of the year, but his Oklahoma Sooners no longer look like the national title contender and Big 12 favorites they were about a month ago. Opponents are either solving Young or ensuring he’s the only Sooner who scores. OU heads into the final stretch of the regular season having lost three in a row and six of its last eight games.
Perusing the Pac-12
Arizona – Sean Miller has been a critic of his team’s defense these past few weeks and perhaps the message finally got through to the Wildcats, who conceded 82 points to UCLA then gave up just 67 to a USC team with a few more weapons. If Arizona can go 4-1 in its next five games, the Wildcats would wrap up the Pac-12 Tournament’s top seed. That’s still a pretty big “if” though.
Arizona State – For at least three games, the Sun Devils looked like their November/December selves, winning twice against the LA schools that currently sit second and third in the Pac-12 standings. ASU would need a lot to happen in three weeks to win a regular-season championship, but the Sun Devils still look like one of five or six teams that could claim a trophy in Las Vegas.
Evidently, this Gonzaga team is one that can hang with Saint Mary’s and defend Gaels big man Jock Landale. Landale had just four points in a 13-point loss to the Zags on Saturday in Moraga. Gonzaga moved up to No. 9 and No. 7 in our poll, so finishing the regular season with four wins could potentially vault the Bulldogs into the top five before the WCC Tournament and presumed rubber match with SMC.