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Sports >  NCAA basketball

How we voted: Sturdy defense propelling Virginia once again – possibly to nation’s top ranking next week

Jan. 14, 2019 Updated Mon., Jan. 14, 2019 at 8:44 p.m.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett stands at the bench during the first half of an NCAA basketball game against Boston College, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, in Boston. (Mary Schwalm / AP)
Virginia head coach Tony Bennett stands at the bench during the first half of an NCAA basketball game against Boston College, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, in Boston. (Mary Schwalm / AP)

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.

Three thoughts

1. Six voters consider Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers the top team in the country and another big wave might agree by the end of the week, if the fourth-ranked Cavs can pull off an upset of No. 1 Duke. What’s unquestionable, once again, is that UVA is playing far better defense than anyone else in the country. The Cavaliers lead the NCAA in scoring defense at 51.2 points per game and rank third in field-goal percentage defense, at 36.6. UVA hosts one top-10 team this week – No. 9 Virginia Tech – then travels to face another when the Cavaliers visit the Blue Devils on Saturday. If UVA gives up less than 120 points this week, Bennett and the Cavaliers probably stroll into week 12 as the new No. 1. Duke’s loss to Syracuse on Monday night may make it harder, however, for Virginia to jump to No. 1 with a win over the two-loss Blue Devils.

2. Following a rocky nonconference start, Ole Miss found its way into the rankings for the first time after doubling up on Top 25 wins last week. The Rebels cruised by No. 11 Auburn 82-67 on Wednesday, then squeaked out a four-point win in Starkville, beating No. 14 Mississippi State. The latter extended the Ole Miss win streak to 10 games, giving the Rebels their longest win streak since 2007-08, and it meant a massive boost in the poll, from unranked to No. 18 in the country.

3. The climb Ole Miss experienced this week is reminiscent of the one Iowa State experienced last week. Now the Rebels need to avoid a similar plunge. The Cyclones rose from unranked to No. 20 after a Big 12 sweep of Oklahoma State and Kansas, then proceeded to drop out of the AP Top 25 with consecutive losses to unranked league foes, Baylor and Kansas State. ISU can restore its status with upcoming games against No. 8 Texas Tech, No. 7 Kansas and No. 18 Ole Miss – or fall further out of the Top 25 picture.

Perusing the Pac-12

Washington – Only three voters figured the Huskies were worthy of their first Top 25 votes since the beginning of the season, but as one of those three, the rationale is simple. Two of Washington’s four losses came to top-10 teams (No. 5 Gonzaga, No. 9 Virginia Tech), a third came to No. 14 Auburn and the fourth was to a Minnesota team that collected Top 25 votes this week. So, the Huskies don’t have a bad loss yet and they’re unbeaten in their last five games. That includes a 3-0 conference start that saw UW come away with a rare sweep of the “mountain” schools.

Home cooking

The bulk of AP voters kept Gonzaga in the 5-6 range this week after the Bulldogs rumbled past Pacific in Spokane and used a late surge to hold off San Francisco on the road. The Zags have held the No. 5 position for two weeks now, but expect them to climb this Sunday. GU shouldn’t have trouble with either of its next two WCC foes and two of the country’s top four will square off later in the week. The loser of an ACC clash between top-ranked Duke and No. 4 Virginia will probably fall below the Zags, No. 2 Michigan has its hands full with Wisconsin and Minnesota, and No. 3 Tennessee should get a test from Alabama.

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