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. Duke’s recent slide might be nothing to worry about, especially if freshman sensation Zion Williamson is available to return to the Blue Devils for the ACC Tournament. But their record in games played without the shot-blocking, dunk-flushing big man – three wins, three losses – is still disconcerting and displays not only how valuable he is to Coach K’s operation, but also how thin the Blue Devils are behind the foursome of Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones. In those three losses, Duke’s bench churned out just 39 combined points.
2. While Duke is the example of a blue blood on the wrong trajectory heading into March Madness, the Blue Devils’ top rival in the ACC is an example of the opposite. The Tar Heels have sizzled since a 91-69 loss to Virginia on Feb. 11 and ride a seven-game hot streak to the conference tournament in Charlotte. That run includes a pair of wins over the Blue Devils, and another one over then 16th-ranked Florida State. UNC’s body of work for the whole season may not be the best out there, but it’s hard to imagine there’s a coach, and a team, you’d want to see less right now than Roy Williams and his Tar Heels.
3. There’s still plenty of good Big Ten basketball left – an entire tournament of it, actually – but Michigan and Michigan State turned in one of the best games of the season on Saturday, and essentially flip-flopped in the AP poll because of it. The Spartans overwhelmed the Wolverines in the second half of Saturday’s rivalry battle, outscoring them by 18 points en route to 75-63 win in East Lansing. Tom Izzo’s Spartans may be the Big Ten equivalent to Williams’ Tar Heels, having won seven of their last eight games and three against ranked opponents.
Perusing the Pac-12
The regular season opened with three Pac-12 teams ranked in the Top 25: Oregon at No. 14, UCLA at No. 21 and Washington at No. 25. And at the end of it? Zilch. Three ranked teams would wind up being a season-high for the Pac-12, which went eight straight weeks without representation in the poll and 10 weeks total. The Huskies were the only team sniffing the Top 25 last week, but they’re no longer receiving votes after a loss to Oregon in the season finale.
Twenty-four of the 25 ranked teams played last week. Gonzaga was the only one null, so the Bulldogs were in no real harm of letting the top ranking slip out of their paws before the WCC Tournament. The three-week stay at No. 1 marks a season-high for GU and it’s one week shy of the month the Zags spent at the top peg near the end of the 2016-17 regular season. Forty-one voters still like the Zags at No. 1, while 23 others still prefer Tony Bennett and Virginia, who have a perfect season against teams not coached by Mike Krzyzewski. Postseason rankings will come out shortly after the national title game and if the Zags want to retain their No. 1 spot, they’d obvioulsy need to be the last team standing in Minneapolis.
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