The Spokesman-Review’s Theo Lawson is one of 65 national media members voting in the Associated Press Top 25 basketball poll this season. Every week throughout the 2018-19 campaign, he’ll break down how he voted, offering three thoughts on the latest edition of the poll, an update on the Pac-12’s ranked teams and a look at local Top 25 representative Gonzaga.
1. The top 10 teams were nearly perfect, combining to go 16-1, as were the bottom five, which won eight games, with just one loss. It was a hard week for the teams ranked 11-20, however. Those 10 teams went just 5-10, and five of them – North Carolina, Kansas State, Texas, Oregon and Purdue – finished the week winless. The Longhorns, Ducks and Boilermakers dropped out of the rankings entirely. Three newbies – Arizona State, Furman and Nebraska – climbed into the Top 25 for the first time this season.
2. Few teams have had a better four-day stretch than the one Michigan had last week. First, the Wolverines lined up a dominant 84-67 win over the No. 11 Tar Heels behind 24 points from Ignas Brazdeikis. Michigan’s second act was another double-digit win over a fellow Top 25 team. With 21 points from Jordan Poole, the Wolverines smoked Big Ten neighbor Purdue to improve to 8-0 on the season. Michigan snuck into the top five, and it’s hard to see the Wolverines losing a game soon. They don’t see another Top 25 team until a Jan. 19 Big Ten game with Wisconsin.
3. Three mid-majors kept their place in the rankings this week – No. 1 Gonzaga (yes, they count), No. 5 Nevada and No. 17 Buffalo – while another one snuck in. That was Furman, which was on the cusp of a Top 25 spot last week and crept into the rankings for the first time in school history. The Paladins, two weeks removed from an upset of defending national champion Villanova, improved to 8-0 by beating Western Carolina 90-88 in double overtime. Combined, the four mid-majors have a record of 31-0.
Perusing the Pac-12
No. 20 Arizona State: Well, here they are again. For the second straight season, Bobby Hurley and the Sun Devils have opened by ripping off seven straight wins. Arizona State’s win streak reached 12 games last year; given the upcoming schedule for this team, it’s unlikely that the Sun Devils will do it again. They face No. 5 Nevada, Georgia, Vanderbilt and No. 2 Kansas in consecutive games, but even if Hurley’s crew can take two of those, it’ll probably carry a 10-2 record – and a national ranking – into Pac-12 play.
UCLA: There was just one voter who placed the 6-2 Bruins in this week’s AP Top 25. You’re looking at him. The Bruins stumbled big time in both of the games that could’ve vaulted them into the top 10, losing by 20 points to Michigan State and 16 to North Carolina. But none of UCLA’s six wins have been particularly close, either, and the Bruins were impressive Sunday in a 82-58 win over previously unbeaten Loyola Marymount. I’ll stand by my choice… for now.
Oregon: The Ducks lost to a pair of Texas schools last week, which might have been OK if it had been the Red Raiders and the Longhorns. But don’t blame Dana Altman if he lost a little more sleep than usual after dropping a home game vs. Texas Southern and a road game against Houston. Bol Bol (21.6 points per game) and Payton Pritchard (13.6 ppg) have been excellent for the Ducks, but after those two, nobody else is averaging more than 8.6.
In the past, Gonzaga has been vulnerable when senior point guard Josh Perkins isn’t at his best. And despite the Bulldogs’ skill and depth in the frontcourt, they still lack bodies in the backcourt, which often makes Perkins their only reliable floor general – thus increasing his value to this GU team. But when he’s on, so are the Zags. The WCC Player of the Week scored 13 points and had 13 asissts in GU’s 103-92 win at a Creighton team that has had plenty of Top 25 consideration this season. That followed a 10-point, six-assist effort against in a 102-60 rout of North Dakota State. If the Zags can get the same consistency and steadiness from the veteran over the next two weeks, GU will have a chance to pick up three more quality wins, against Washington, Tennessee and North Carolina.
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