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 how 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. Nobody would’ve imagined Kentucky could swim its way back into the top 10 after an embarrassing 118-84 loss to Duke in the season opener, but nobody’s humming like John Calipari and the Wildcats right now. UK got a bump to No. 7 after reeling off its third straight win over a ranked opponent in what has to be the most impressive eight-day stretch of college basketball this season. The Wildcats beat No. 14 Auburn, then No. 22 Mississippi State and finally No. 9 Kansas, improving their season record to 16-3. That bumped the Wildcats’ winning streak to six games. It’s unlikely they’ll be tested in the next three games, against Vanderbilt, Florida and South Carolina, but another crucial stretch is on deck: UK visits No. 22 Mississippi State before hosting No. 19 LSU and No. 1 Tennessee.
2. Purdue recorded one of the week’s biggest wins, downing No. 6 Michigan State in West Lafayette, Indiana, after stealing a 12-point victory against Ohio State in Columbus. Sixty-three voters gave the Boilermakers a Top 25 nod this week, placing them anywhere from No. 8 to 25, and just one voter – this one – omitted them. My rationale? Purdue is still a six-loss team that lost multiple games to unranked foes, and at one point dropped four of five in late November/early December. Just two six-loss teams made it into this week’s Top 25. The other one, Wisconsin, didn’t get my vote either.
3. Bruce Pearl and Auburn were the week’s biggest losers, falling out of the rankings after holding the country’s No. 16 position. The Tigers opened the year at No. 11 and moved all the way up to No. 7, but have dropped four of their past six in SEC play, including three straight to Kentucky, South Carolina and Mississippi State. Auburn’s defense stumbled in each of the past three, giving up 82, 80 and 92 points, and the Tigers still haven’t figured out how to win consistently on the road. Auburn’s record in road arenas? Just 1-4.
Perusing the Pac-12
Washington: The Huskies appear to be a week away from returning to the AP Top 25 after what has been a 13-week hiatus. Mike Hopkins and UW went eight weeks without receiving votes, then received five in Week 11, three in Week 12 and 22 this week. The Huskies hadn’t done anything extraordinary in Pac-12 play – and by some accounts, they still haven’t, given the conference’s status this season – but pulling off a sweep of the Oregon schools has probably been their most impressive feat. Beating the L.A. schools in Seattle won’t be a gimme for UW, but the defensive-minded Huskies will be favored to win both games. If they do, they should climb back into the polls next week.
When voters ranked the Zags this week, No. 5 was the most popular spot. But while 27 pollsters had them there, 30 more ranked them between Nos. 2 and 4, so Gonzaga will spend a second consecutive week at the No. 4 position.
The Bulldogs blasted Santa Clara 98-39 last Thursday, but they’ll have a few more tests in WCC play – relatively speaking – in the next 18 days. GU visits BYU before hosting San Diego, San Francisco and Saint Mary’s, then visiting Loyola Marymount and USD.
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