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 Top 10 barely broke even last week, combining to go 10-9, with only three of those nine losses to fellow Top 25 teams. Virginia went 1-0, beating Miami with its stifling defense to hold onto the top spot, and Michigan State, in the wake of investigations, is playing some of its best basketball of the year. The Spartans gave up just 117 points to Minnesota and Northwestern, needing only a sweep of Illinois and Wisconsin – teams with a combined Big Ten record of 8-22 – to secure the regular-season crown.
2) The week’s biggest losers are Cincinnati and Ohio State. The Bearcats had a healthy lead in the American Athletic Conference before losing to both Houston and Wichita State, who now sit just one game below Cincinnati. And bad news for the Bearcats: even if they take care of UConn, Tulsa and Tulane, they still have to play the Shockers in Wichita for the regular-season finale. Ohio State would’ve been the first Big Ten team to reach the 15-win plateau in conference play this season, but the Buckeyes fell to Penn State and Michigan, presumably conceding the No. 1 seed to Michigan State.
3) In a season where most Top 25 teams have found it difficult to piece together three or four consecutive wins, Rhode Island did it 21 times before finally dropping one to St. Bonaventure Friday night. It could be a banner year for the Atlantic 10 Conference if both the Rams and Bonnies can manage to win out before a potential rubber match in the league tournament. Bracketology projections have both teams dancing.
4) The Trae Young show at Oklahoma might not last much longer if the Sooners can’t find the winning formula in the next few weeks. The final four games of the Big 12 regular season have become essential for OU’s NCAA tournament hopes and the Sooners head into those having lost eight of their last 10. It’s now or never.
5) As chaotic as it was in the Top 10, it was equally so from Nos. 20-25. That clump went 5-6 last week and the next five receiving vote-getters went just 3-7, which allowed Houston and Loyola of Chicago to make their season debuts in the rankings.
Perusing the Pac-12
Arizona – Deandre Ayton didn’t diminish his draft stock, only Arizona State’s Top 25 status, when he poured in 25 points and gobbled up 16 rebounds in a quality win over the Sun Devils at Tempe. Ayton swatted three shots and dished out four assists for the Wildcats, who showed the machine they can be even in a game where starting point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright fouled out and emerging big man Dusan Ristic played through constant foul trouble.
UCLA – When it comes to the assembly of talent and experience on this UCLA squad, the Bruins are as good as anyone in their conference – and probably should be better than their 10-5 mark in the Pac-12. UCLA makes an NCAA tournament that starts tomorrow, but the Bruins probably can’t afford to be swept up in the mountains and they’d really boost their chances by beating the Trojans in the Galen Center to close the regular season.
As other members of the Top 10 continue to self-implode, Gonzaga is still thumping its way through the Loyola Marymounts and Pepperdines of the world and thus the Bulldogs slip into our top five for the first time this season. They’ve won as many games as anyone in the country outside of Michigan State, but the Zags likely need to win out with style points – and get help elsewhere – to get anything better than a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.
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