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Sports >  NCAA basketball

How we voted: West Virginia’s loss is Virginia’s gain as Cavaliers jump to No. 2

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 15, 2018

Virginia's Devon Hall (0) drives past North Carolina State's Torin Dorn (2) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, in Charlottesville, Va. (Zack Wajsgras / Associated Press)
Virginia's Devon Hall (0) drives past North Carolina State's Torin Dorn (2) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, in Charlottesville, Va. (Zack Wajsgras / Associated Press)

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.

Five thoughts

1) West Virginia concedes the nation’s No. 2 ranking to Virginia, which climbs to its highest spot of the season and could stay there if the Cavaliers continue to play lockdown defense. Tony Bennett’s team leads the country in scoring defense (52.9 ppg allowed) and since a seven-point loss to the Mountaineers, only one opponent has scored more than 60 on UVA. None of the Cavs’ 17 opponents have eclipsed 70 yet…

2) The big, bad Big-12 continues to demonstrate why it’s A) The best conference in America this season and B) The most entertaining. Oklahoma and TCU delivered one of the games of the year on Saturday – an overtime thriller in Norman that saw Trae Young hang 43 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists on the 16th-ranked Horned Frogs. Young, by the way, is the country’s leader in points (30.1) and assists (9.9).

3) Kentucky at No. 12 might be considered an “extreme pick” – John Calipari’s team is No. 18 in the AP poll – but you have to admire the Wildcats’ ability to grind out close games. Their four SEC wins have come by a combined 16 points and the three UK losses were to Kansas, UCLA and Tennessee. The Wildcats may not be a national title contender this year, but Calipari’s teams are always much better at the end of the season and the SEC isn’t particularly tough this year.

4) In the Big Ten, it’s been the kind of year where an Ohio State team that opened the year with a 5-3 record – and two of those losses against unranked opposition – can rebound to win 10 of its next 11 games and suddenly look like a conference title contender. Until someone knocks off Purdue, the Boilermarkers will remain the Big Ten favorite, but it’s hard to look away from a Buckeyes team that’s 6-0 in league play and winning conference games by an average of 17.5 points.

5) Tennessee has been an SEC roller coaster through five games. The Volunteers make another entrance into the AP Top 25 after wins over Kentucky, Vandy and Texas A&M. That came after consecutive losses to Arkansas and Auburn. Missouri, South Carolina, Vandy, Iowa State and LSU are next for the Volunteers, so expect them to retain their spot until at least the next meeting with UK.

Perusing the Pac-12

Arizona: Winning the regular-season Pac-12 title shouldn’t be too challenging for the Wildcats during a down year for the conference. The games themselves won’t be cakewalks, though. Arizona hasn’t routed anyone in the league yet and the last two games against Oregon State and Oregon – both of them in Tucson – weren’t settled until the final five minutes. But at least Allonzo Trier is playing well again. The senior scored 46 points and had 10 assists in the home swing.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils were cooking during nonconference play and scoring at a clip of 91.7 points-per-game. But an Arizona State team that scored at least 90 in nine of 13 noncon games hasn’t done it once in five Pac-12 contests. A home loss to Oregon probably won’t look so bad down the road, but the Sun Devils needed all 40 minutes to beat an Oregon State playing its second road game in three days.

Home cooking

Gonzaga vs. the WCC through five games? The current tally is 534-347, but the difficulty level is starting to amp up for the country’s 13th-ranked team. GU squeezed out a 10-point win over San Francisco at War Memorial Gym and the Bulldogs return home for this week’s clash of titans matchup against Saint Mary’s. How easy will it be for Gonzaga to win a sixth consecutive WCC regular-season championship? We’ll probably know by 8 p.m. Thursday. And a quick note on the Gaels … they reappear in my rankings, at No. 24, for the first time since the Wooden Legacy. Saint Mary’s lost twice in the Fullerton, California, tournament, but the Gaels have been lights-out ever since and most teams would yearn for the one-two combo of Jock Landale and Emmett Naar.

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