The Spokesman-Review’s Theo Lawson is one of 65 national media members voting in the Associated Press Top 25 basketball poll this season. Every week throughout the 2018-19 campaign, he’ll break down he voted, offering three thoughts on the latest edition of the poll, an update on the Pac-12’s ranked teams and a look at local Top 25 representative Gonzaga.
1. Consider the SEC’s power shift complete. Kentucky’s week would’ve looked a touch better had the Wildcats managed to beat LSU, but a two-point loss to the Tigers wasn’t damaging enough to prevent the Wildcats from moving up to No. 4, and No. 5 in my poll, after upsetting No. 1 Tennessee 86-69 in a game that didn’t feel like much of an upset. Now UK has reeled off 14 of 16 and it’s easy to see this run continuing, especially if the Wildcats keep getting production from PJ Washington, who scored 20 points in just two of his first 17 games but has now done it in seven of his last eight.
2. After a rough-ish nonconference, Villanova worked its way back into the voters’ graces before taking a few more tumbles these past few weeks. The Wildcats shouldn’t be knocked for their one-point loss to No. 10 Marquette two weeks ago, but they deserved to drop four spots for a six-point loss to St. John’s on Sunday. Not only did that hurt the Wildcats in the Top 25 poll, but it diminished their chances of winning the Big East’s top seet. Nova is still on top of the standings, but now that Feb. 27 rematch against Marquette is shaping up to be a must-win for Jay Wright’s team.
3. Leonard Hamilton and Florida State have quietly been one of the best teams in the country over the last month. The Seminoles opened the season with a 12-1 record before losing four of five games in ACC play. Two of those came to Virginia and Duke, but the other two were inexcusable – to Pittsburgh and Boston College. But FSU has rediscovered its form while playing a fairly easy stretch of ACC games, winning seven in a row, and the Seminoles have climbed from unranked to No. 16 in just five weeks.
Perusing the Pac-12
Washington – If the Huskies hope to crack the Top 25 again this season – or at least before the conference tournament – they’ll need to pick up a home sweep against Utah and Colorado, then probably beat both Cal and Stanford on the road. UW would’ve been on a 14-game tear, and easily would’ve been in the poll’s midst by now, had it beat Arizona State in Tempe. That didn’t ruin the Huskies’ chances of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, and enhanced ASU’s chances, but the Sun Devils haven’t been able to capitalize and a loss to Colorado probably means the Pac-12 heads into March Madness with just one bid, unless someone can upset UW in Vegas.
Gonzaga still hasn’t been taken to to the buzzer by a WCC team this season, so by the Bulldogs’ standards, the last two wins might as well have been nailbiters. GU beat LMU by 13 and USD by 12 to climb one rung in the Top 25 and one rung in my own.
The difference? Most voters had the Zags ranked one spot lower than Duke, while I had GU above the Blue Devils. The Bulldogs, of course, aren’t playing the same caliber of opponent right now, but I’d still like their chances of beating Duke for a second time were the two to meet on a neutral court this week. GU shouldn’t drop a WCC game the rest of the season and I think Duke will wear another loss at some point, given that the Blue Devils still get North Carolina twice and Virginia Tech once.
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