How we voted: Duke the undisputed No. 1 after blazing past Kentucky in season opener
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. Duke or the field – which would you take to win the 2019 national championship? Mike Krzyzewski’s acquisition of RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones made the Blue Devils a contender well before a single ball was tipped this season, but simply gathering four five-star prospects on the same floor doesn’t automatically get you there – something Duke’s first victim should know well. It’s too early to crown the Blue Devils, but the cohesion that four of the nation’s top prospects showed in a 118-84 rout of Kentucky is downright scary.
2. The Dukies were so dominant in their opener it would’ve been hard to justify keeping Kansas atop the poll, but the Jayhawks did rise to the challenge in part one of the State Farm Champions Classic, edging a Michigan State team that’ll probably find a way to climb back inside the top-10 at some point. Anybody on hand in Indianapolis last Wednesday may have seen the team best equipped to win a national title – in addition to the one that could have the best chance of knocking off the Blue Devils in late March.
3. Besides Gonzaga, Nevada was the only other mid-major to open the season in the Top 25. The Wolf Pack debuted at No. 7 and rose one spot when Monday’s poll came out. Eric Musselman, Caleb Martin and Co. should blow through their next three games, but start paying attention to Nevada in a few weeks. A four-game stretch against Loyola-Chicago, USC, Arizona State and the fightin’ Mike Daums at South Dakota State will be plenty challenging for the Wolf Pack – and maybe their last real test before the Big Dance.
Perusing the Pac-12
No. 20 UCLA – If the opening two games are any indication, the Bruins will have plenty of scoring options on their 2018-19 roster. Kris Wilkes had 44 points for UCLA in wins over Purdue Fort Wayne and Long Beach State – both games that saw the Bruins exceed 90 points. The degree of difficulty will increase in 10 days. UCLA plays Michigan State on Nov. 22, Notre Dame on Dec. 8, Cincinnati on Dec. 19 and Ohio State on Dec. 22.
No. 21 Oregon – Fourteen. That’s how many shots the Ducks swatted away in wins over Big Sky foes Portland State and Eastern Washington. Oregon may not have a bona fide scorer on this team – or just hasn’t identified them yet – but the Ducks have more than enough length and rim protection. The Bol Bol era in Eugene won’t last long, so fans of UO and the Pac-12 should embrace it while they can.
Depth was often Gonzaga’s Achilles’ Heel last season and it was certainly the case when the Bulldogs bowed in the NCAA Tournament to a Florida State team that went eight deep on its bench. It doesn’t feel like that’ll be as much of an issue for the Zags this season – especially once Killian Tillie returns, which likely pushes Corey Kispert out of the starting five and gives GU another valuable bench piece, along with transfer Geno Crandall and freshman Filip Petrusev.