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. The country’s No. 1 team will spend a fourth straight week atop the rankings, though Virginia did get a good scare from a not particularly terrifying Louisville team. The Cavaliers won the game of the year when De’Andre Hunter stunned the Cardinals with a 3-point buzzer-beater. The clutch gene? Might be just as valuable to UVa in March as that world-class defense.
2. Michigan vaults eight places from No. 15 to No. 7 – one of the biggest jumps by a team this season – after gutting out four wins in as many days to claim the Big Ten Tournament. That includes a pair of wins against Top 10 teams: 75-64 over No. 2 Michigan State and 75-66 over No. 8 Purdue. It’s hard to tell if the Wolverines are national title material, but that’s not a bad way to start the most important month of the season.
3. Rhode Island also moved eight spots after last week’s action – the wrong way. I left the Rams off my ballot after a harrowing 30-point home loss to Saint Joe’s and a two-point road loss to Davidson. It marked the first time this season Rhode Island suffered consecutive defeats, and suddenly the Atlantic 10 Tournament becomes essential for the Rams, who probably have to sneak out with at least one win to assure an NCAA Tournament bid.
4. Cincinnati had the best week by a team not named Michigan, securing a regular-season American Athletic Conference title with wins over Tulane and No. 11 Wichita State. The Bearcats head to the AAC Tournament with wins in their past four games – impressive considering that came after consecutive losses to Houston and the Shockers.
5. Hopping into my poll for the first time this season is St. Bonaventure, an underrated team out of the Atlantic 10 that also happens to be one of the hottest out there. The Bonnies lost four of five games in early January, but won their next 12, including wins over the A-10’s No. 1, Rhode Island, and No. 3 Davidson in the last two weeks.
Perusing the Pac-12
Arizona: Say what you might about the current state of the program in Tucson, but the most distracted team in the country hasn’t wavered much when it’s had to go out and play 40 minutes of basketball. The Wildcats have won five of their past six, clinching a Pac-12 regular season title Saturday against Cal, and DeAndre Ayton has averaged 22 points and 15.2 rebounds over that stretch. Who knows what happens to UA next season without all that firepower, but the Wildcats still look every bit the national title contender we thought they were back in November.
Speaking of teams you won’t want to bump into later this month, Gonzaga enters the WCC title game on a 13-game win streak. It’s still unlikely they’ll be rewarded with a high NCAA Tournament seed, so the Zags might have to work a little harder than they did last year, but if an 88-60 WCC semifinal win over USF is any indication, they’re finding their best form at the most important time.
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