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) Villanova and Purdue haven’t done anything to weaken their cases, but the defensive machine in Charlottesville, Virginia, still appears to be the hardest team to beat. And the Cavaliers are doing it in arguably the best conference outside of the Big 12. Virginia won twice last week, against Louisville and Syracuse, allowing just 108 points in those games.
2) Virginia, Nova and Purdue have established themselves as the clear-cut top three, but it might not be long before Auburn inserts itself into that conversation. The Tigers cracked the top 10 for the first time this year and the schedule moving forward isn’t too challenging with the exception of a Top 25 clash with Kentucky and the Iron Bowl Part II against Alabama. Both of those are on Auburn’s home floor.
3) Plenty of great Top 25 matchups this week. These are the ones you should pay attention to, in order of significance (all times Pacific): No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 4 Michigan State (Saturday, 1 p.m.), No. 12 Gonzaga vs. No. 11 Saint Mary’s (Saturday, 7 p.m.), No. 14 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Purdue (Wednesday, 5:30 p.m.), No. 9 Duke vs. No. 21 North Carolina (Thursday, 5 p.m.) No. 19 West Virginia vs. No. 17 Oklahoma (Monday, 6 p.m.), No. 15 Tennessee vs. No. 24 Kentucky (Tuesday, 4 p.m.).
4) Beating Duke could go a long way for the reeling Tar Heels. Coming into a Jan. 22 meeting with Virginia Tech, North Carolina was the nation’s 10th-ranked team. An 11-point loss to the Hokies marked the first of three consecutive defeats for Roy Williams and UNC, which could move back into the top 15 with a sweep of Duke and N.C. State, but fall right out of the poll by losing both.
5) Michigan has too much ground to make up to contend for a regular-season Big Ten title, but the Wolverines could be a conference tournament dark horse. They lost to Purdue by just four on the road, then followed with consecutive wins over Northwestern and Minnesota. Michigan should be in the teens of the Top 25 before the next meeting with Ohio State, and a win over the Buckeyes could push the Wolverines into the top 10.
Perusing the Pac-12
Arizona – A sweep in the Evergreen State would’ve pushed the Wildcats two games clear atop the Pac-12, and it looked promising after a 100-72 rout of Washington State. Then they ran into a gritty Washington team, and Dominic Green’s game-clinching 3-pointer buried the Cats and pulled them out of the top 10. But wins over UCLA and second-place USC would go a long way for Arizona this week.
Washington – The Huskies were hardly on the Top 25 spectrum last week, but it’s hardly a mystery why they made an appearance on 17 ballots Monday morning. The UW pulled off one true upset last week, but snared two quality wins, first knocking off Arizona State – and knocking the Sun Devils out of the Top 25 – then upending Arizona in theatrical fashion on Saturday. A sweep of the Oregon schools would almost certainly secure a spot in next week’s poll for Mike Hopkins’ club.
The Zags scored just 137 points in home wins against San Diego and BYU, but conceded just 119. They’ll need to bring that defense with them to California this week. Pacific has posted a 4-1 record on its home court in WCC play – the only loss coming to Saint Mary’s – and the Gaels have extended their post-Wooden Legacy win streak to 18 games. Take away a rare six-point effort against Portland and SMC big man Jock Landale is averaging 30.3 points in his last six games.
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