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Sports >  NCAA basketball

How we voted: It’s Virginia over Villanova for the nation’s top ranking … at least for now

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 29, 2018

Virginia’s Kyle Guy (5) leads his team off the court following a 65-63 victory over Duke in an NCAA college basketball game against Duke in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018. (Ben McKeown / Associated Press)
Virginia’s Kyle Guy (5) leads his team off the court following a 65-63 victory over Duke in an NCAA college basketball game against Duke in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018. (Ben McKeown / 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) Three teams are worthy of the No. 1 ranking right now and two of them have already spent time on the top of my own poll. If the third, Purdue, claims it next week, I don’t think anybody would be surprised. But Virginia put together perhaps the best week of basketball this season, holding then 18th-ranked Clemson to 36 points and 13 in the second half. Then the Cavaliers stormed the nation’s toughest venue and beat the nation’s toughest tandem – Duke’s combo of Marvin Bagley III and Grayson Allen – to hand the Blue Devils their first loss in Cameron Indoor in more than a year.

2) But here’s what Villanova and Purdue bring to the argument. The Wildcats earned the consensus of top 25 votes and retain the top ranking in this week’s poll after routing Providence and squeaking past Marquette. The Big East isn’t terribly talented this season, but if ’Nova can win twice at home this week against Creighton and Seton Hall – and perhaps do so in convincing fashion – they’d likely survive another week on top of the poll. Purdue is also making it look easy in an average conference, having won its last 17 games since the Boilermakers suffered two losses by a combined seven points in the Battle 4 Atlantis. If Purdue takes its next four – vs. Maryland, at Indiana, vs. Ohio State and at Michigan State – it’d be hard to give No. 1 to anyone else.

3) West Virginia went tumbling down the rankings and so did North Carolina. The Mountaineers, who were ranked as high as No. 2 after week 10, have suffered four losses in their last five games after a 15-1 start to the season. The Tar Heels have been as high as No. 5, but fell 15 spots in a span of three weeks before rising all the way back to No. 10. Now they’re crashing again after losses to Virginia Tech and North Carolina State.

4) Purdue and Ohio State might have set up the Big Ten’s matchup of the season had both the Boilermakers and Buckeyes taken unbeaten conference records into a Feb. 7 clash at West Lafayette. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be and OSU dropped a home game to Penn State, 82-79. Still, mark those calendars. There’s a decent chance the Feb. 7 showdown decides the Big Ten’s regular season champ.

5) I’ll assume every Big 12 coach has put a call into Avery Johnson’s office this week after the Alabama coach held Trae Young to his lowest point total since the season opener. The nation’s leading scorer had 17 points on 6-of-17 shooting – just the second time he’s been held under 20 this season. The roller-coaster Sooners beat Kansas earlier in the week to hold onto a top-15 ranking.

Perusing the Pac-12

Arizona – The Wildcats had to scratch and claw for a one-point home win over Utah, but if it’s any consolation, they’re still 8-1 in the Pac-12 Conference and winning games without their third-best player, Rawle Alkins. Another positive is the recent play of Dusan Ristic, the Serbian big man who was named the league’s player of the week after scoring 38 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in a home sweep of the mountain schools.

Arizona State – This time last week I was sure that another loss would boot the Sun Devils out of the Top 25. Arizona State lost by three points at home to Utah and dropped to 4-5 in the Pac-12. Surely, the Sun Devils can’t sweep the Washington schools and surely, we won’t be talking about them next week.

Home cooking

There isn’t much to glean from Gonzaga’s last three games, aside from the eye-popping numbers from Killian Tillie who averaged 18.3 points and more than seven rebounds in wins over Santa Clara, Portland and USF. The Zags should continue to climb the charts before their next meeting with Saint Mary’s on Feb. 10. There’s a very slight possibility that both are top 10 teams when that happens.

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