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Sports >  NCAA basketball

How we voted: It’s a mid-major party as Saint Mary’s, Nevada, Rhode Island break into Top 25

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 22, 2018

St. Mary’s center Jock Landale celebrates after scoring against Gonzaga late in the game, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018, in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
St. Mary’s center Jock Landale celebrates after scoring against Gonzaga late in the game, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018, in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

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) The mid-majors are rising. Saint Mary’s joins WCC partner Gonzaga this week after knocking off the Bulldogs last Thursday in Spokane, while Nevada and Rhode Island both make their Top 25 debuts. The other one, Wichita State, fell twice after a 15-2 start that saw the Shockers lost only to Notre Dame and Oklahoma. The Gaels are the hottest of that bunch, having won their last 14 games since their perplexing weekend at the Wooden Legacy.

2) Three of the Top 10’s mainstays lost major ground in the poll this week after each losing two games to unranked opponents. Aforementioned Wichita State lost to SMU then Houston, Oklahoma dropped a pair to Kansas State and Oklahoma State, while Texas Tech was tripped up Texas and Iowa State. The Sooners got 68 points from freshman phenom Trae Young during the week, so it’s safe to wonder how far he can carry OU with the usage the Sooners expect of him.

3) Ohio State went from being a bottom dweller in a bad conference to Purdue’s top Big Ten threat in just a matter of weeks. The Buckeyes don’t have a truly bad loss (Gonzaga, Butler, Clemson, North Carolina) and five of their six league wins have come by more than 10 points.

4) Nearly one-third of voters have Louisville a Top 25 nod this week and I’d expect a majority of the other two-third to include the Cardinals in next week’s poll. Interim head coach David Padgett has led Louisville to wins in 11 of its last 13 games, only losing to ranked Clemson and Kentucky teams. The Cardinals have Miami and Wake Forest this week. So, the Hurricanes are essentially the only ones standing between Louisville and a Top 25 return.

5) The next team in? Possibly another mid-major: New Mexico State. The longtime Western Athletic Conference powerhouse escaped nonleague play with just three losses – to Saint Mary’s, San Diego and USC – and the Aggies are stomping their way through conference games without much resistance. NMSU is 5-0 in conference play and winning those games by a margin of 20.2 points.

Perusing the Pac-12

Arizona – After leaving the Bay Area with two more wins than they came with, the Wildcats continue to be a model of consistency in this year’s Pac-12 – and maybe the only one. Few teams leave the mountains with a sweep, so Arizona’s only loss, to Colorado in Boulder, isn’t as bad as it looks. Sean Miller and company should be back in the Top 10 next week.

Arizona State – The Sun Devils are barely hanging on and I’ll give it another week before they’re gone for good. Fifty-two voters kept them anywhere from No. 13-24, while myself and 12 others left the Devils out. My logic? In a conference with only two ranked teams, ASU currently sits in a three-way tie for eighth.

Home cooking

Gonzaga suffered a three-point loss to Saint Mary’s and gave up the WCC lead to the Gaels in the process. In the grand scheme of thing, that’s not too significant. SMC is good – and the Gaels were really good last Thursday at the Kennel – but probably not run-the-WCC-table good. Even if Randy Bennett’s team does steal the regular-season championship, all that matters is that the Zags have a plan in place for Jock Landale by March 6 when the conference rivals likely meet for a third and final time.

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