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. While Duke and Gonzaga, respectively, stole the nation’s No. 1 ranking, then subsequently let it out of their grasps, Kansas quietly won eight games in a row, recapturing the top spot. The Jayhawks have one of the country’s top résumés, with wins over No. 3 Tennessee, No. 9 Michigan State and No. 21 Marquette, and two other quality victories against Stanford and New Mexico State. KU might slip at some point in the next two weeks, with games against No. 17 Villanova and No. 20 Arizona State, but the Jayhawks’ strength of schedule should come in handy this March.
2. Kentucky took the week’s biggest hit, following an 84-83 loss to Seton Hall that dropped John Calipari’s Wildcats 10 places to No. 19. In itself, a one-point loss to the Pirates probably isn’t enough for this dramatic of a plummet. But the Wildcats haven’t played a Top 25 team since the season-opening loss to Duke, and they’ve played all nine of their games in Lexington or at a neutral site. In other words, they haven’t done much to convince voters they’re deserving of a top 15 spot; Saturday’s loss to Seton Hall was more evidence.
3. Our “Welcome to the Top 25!” shout-out this week goes to Houston, which snuck in at No. 24 after improving to 8-0. The Cougars don’t have a win over anybody in the current Top 25, but we’re impressed with their road victories over BYU and Oklahoma State, along with a home win over Dana Altman, Bol Bol and the Oregon Ducks.
Perusing the Pac-12
No. 25 Arizona State: Even after a six-point loss to Nevada, the Sun Devils remained a fixture in all but seven polls nationally and didn’t lose their standing in this week’s Top 25. That’s probably because most voters considered ASU’s first defeat its second-best result of the season, next to a five-point win over Mississippi State. Now it gets more challenging, with two road tests against the SEC (Georgia, Vanderbilt) and a home game against the nation’s top team in a span of 12 days.
UCLA: It would’ve been an easy decision to drop UCLA out of my rankings with a loss to Notre Dame, which would’ve left the Bruins without a single Top 25 vote headed into the seventh week of the season. But thanks to Kris Wilkes’ clutch shotmaking, and this voter’s confidence in Steve Alford’s squad despite road drubbings at the hands of Michigan State and North Carolina, the Bruins will have at least one vote for at least one more week.
It was mentioned during Sunday’s ESPN broadcast of No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 7 Tennessee that the Bulldogs may have as many as three players who could be in the running for West Coast Conference Player of the Year by the end of the regular season: Rui Hachimura. Brandon Clarke and Zach Norvell Jr. You might be hard-pressed to find a single player on any of the other nine teams in the conference better than any of that trio. Behind them, Josh Perkins is an All-WCC-caliber player and Corey Kispert could be, given the right role and situation. But the Volunteers, in a 76-73 win over the Zags, exposed one of GU’s only deficiencies: its finishing ability. That might be traced to another issue: depth. Each of the five players mentioned logged 30 or more minutes and the Zags wilted late, failing to score a bucket in the final 4:16. GU is stretched thin at the moment, and against a top-flight team like the Vols, it’ll show. Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall can’t get healthy soon enough.
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