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. There hadn’t been any true chaos in the top 10 this season – a clump of elite teams all losing at once – but week 12 was the remedy for that. Duke’s loss at Syracuse on Monday may have been the first sign. After the top-ranked Blue Devils dropped, a handful of others followed suit. No. 2 Michigan fell to Wisconsin, No. 3 Virginia lost to Duke, No. 7 Kansas couldn’t survive against West Virginia, No. 8 Texas Tech stubbed its toe against Iowa State and Baylor, and No. 9 Virginia Tech lost big to Virginia. In a week where the top-10 teams went just 11-7, Tennessee, Gonzaga, Michigan State and Nevada were the only ones who’d make it through unscathed.
2. It’s a good month to be John Calipari. After Kentucky opened January with a stinging two-point loss to Alabama, the Wildcats reeled off four straight SEC wins. They didn’t boost their stock too much with the first three, against Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Georgia, but the Wildcats were impressive in the fourth, edging out Bruce Pearl and Auburn 82-80 on the road. Now tow more Top 25 games are on tap for Kentucky: vs. No. 22 Mississippi State and vs. No. 7 Kansas. If they win both and close out the month of January by beating Vandy, the Wildcats could earn themselves a top-five position for the first time since the preseason.
3. Iowa State was featured here last week, but for all the wrong reasons. The Cyclones earned their Top 25 badge earlier in the month after a 14-2 start, then lost it the next week after two bad results against Baylor and Kansas State. But ISU recovered last week after snagging wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, catapulting them back to No. 24 in the country. The inconsistent Cyclones may not be penalized for then losing by four points to No. 7 Kansas, but it’ll be hard to retain their spot in the poll if they follow with a Saturday loss to Ole Miss.
Perusing the Pac-12
Washington – The Huskies still can’t crack the AP poll, but they moved up four positions, from No. 37 to No. 33, among teams receiving Top 25 votes after sweeping the Bay Area schools to stay undefeated in Pac-12 play at 5-0. The Huskies beat both Stanford and Cal by double digits and continue to play the best defense in the league, giving up just 116 points in the two contests. Without a ranked team in the conference, it’ll be difficult to pick up what voters might consider a “quality” win, but road victories over Oregon and Oregon State would push UW to 16-4. If the Huskies can keep it up, they’ll be hard to ignore at a certain point.
Two weeks ago, Gonzaga beat San Francisco by 13 points in a game most thought could be the most challenging of the Bulldogs’ WCC season. They followed that with an 18-point over Loyola-Marymount and a 23-point win over Portland. But the Zags didn’t climb far, moving up just one place in the poll from No. 5 to No. 4 despite three top-five teams dropping games. GU obviously needs to run the WCC table and go unbeaten in the conference tournament if it hopes to clinch a top NCAA Tournament seed, but the Zags may also require a few more losses from each of the top-five teams around them. Until then, it’s hard to imagine Mark Few’s team jumping Tennessee, Duke or Virginia.
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