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) January Madness: during the seven days between Top 25 releases, there were 18 losses by the ranked teams. Four of the top five each lost once – including No. 1 Michigan State and No. 2 Duke – and three Top 25 teams suffered two losses. Congratulations to Villanova, West Virginia, Virginia, Wichita State, Purdue, Texas Tech, Cincinnati, Gonzaga, Seton Hall and Clemson. You were the survivors.
2) By virtue of the MSU and Duke losses, the cursed No. 1 ranking is once again bestowed on ’Nova. How long can the Wildcats hold on? If they’re able to escape a home test against No. 10 Xavier, they could be in the clear. After that, Villanova has St. John’s, Georgetown, Connecticut, Providence and Marquette. It’ll be nearly a month before the Cats see another ranked foe.
3) West Virginia and Virginia were two others who capitalized on the chaos. Admittedly, I probably didn’t give either as much credit as they deserved early on. But since a season-opening loss to Texas A&M, which had been ranked as high as No. 5, the Mountaineers are a perfect 14-0 with victories over Virginia and Oklahoma. And the Cavaliers were unbeaten until they were tripped up by their rivals from Morgantown. They haven’t lost since.
4) I imagine my approval rating with Purdue fans improved this week – even if just by a few points. The Boilermakers have been lights-out since dropping two in a row in the Bahamas. On the mainland, they’re undefeated and it’s been eight games since their last single-digit win. Twenty voters have Purdue in the top five and it’s quite possible the Boilermakers are the best the Big Ten has to offer.
5) Auburn stuffed its nonconference schedule with cupcakes and suffered a loss to Temple, hence the Tigers are just now making their Top 25 debut. But double-digit wins over Arkansas and Tennessee were good enough to not only earn the Tigers one of the coveted 25 spots – Auburn vaulted all the way to No. 22.
Perusing the Pac-12
Arizona State: The Sun Devils’ 1-2 start in Pac-12 play isn’t nearly as bad as it looks on the surface. ASU opened with a loss against Arizona at the McKale Center, which has to be the conference’s toughest building to play in on rivalry night, and then settled for a split on the ‘mountains trip,’ maybe the most exhausting two-game Pac-12 road swing out there. The Devils return to Tempe to face the Oregon schools and if they don’t win both, it’s fair to start questioning that 12-0 start.
Arizona: At his best, Allonzo Trier is one of the nation’s elite guards. Paired with DeAndre Ayton, the Wildcats have a combo that’s as good as any out there. But Trier’s been underwhelming in Pac-12 play to this point, shooting just 34 percent from the field, and only attempted 13 shots in UA’s games at Utah and Colorado. Perhaps that was the result of going 5-for-15 in the conference opener vs. ASU. Nonetheless, the Wildcats need a more aggressive, more accurate Trier to reach the heights many set for them in the preseason.
Even as all the others tumble down the rankings, Gonzaga can only do so much for itself by beating the likes of Loyola Marymount (No. 254 in RPI) and Pepperdine (No. 317). In four conference games thus far: Zags 356, WCC 225. And it’ll be two more sub-100 RPI teams for GU – Portland and San Francisco – before the Bulldogs get their first crack at their only potential WCC challenger, Saint Mary’s.