How we voted: With one fewer top-10 win, Gonzaga – not Kansas – gets our nod for nation’s top ranking
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. Top (Bull)dogs – Sixty-five voters fill out AP Top 25 ballots every week. I’ve completed 23 of them now and can’t remember there ever being such an even split of No. 1 votes betwen the top two teams in the country as there was today. Here’s how close it was between Gonzaga and Kansas: had one voter decided to go with the Jayhawks over the Bulldogs – say the one who’s writing this column – it would’ve been Kansas waking up as the country’s top-ranked college basketball team. But 32 of us chose the Washingtonians and 31 chose the Kansans. Duke and Virginia each got one No. 1 vote. So Gonzaga gets the No. 1 nod this week, its first since January of 2017. Those who adovcated for the Jayhawks would point out they have two top-10 wins, over Michigan State and Tennessee, while the Zags have just one. The rest of us, I’m guessing, are counting GU’s single top-10 win as two or three, considering the opponent was a Duke team with three players that could be top-five NBA Draft picks next summer.
2. Mighty Michigan – It’d premature to start projecting conference champions, but Michigan and Michigan State appear to be the way-too-early frontrunners in the Big Ten and both are now safely inside the top-10 of this week’s poll. The Spartans were dinged for their five-point season-opening loss to Kansas, but they haven’t stumbled since, picking up quality wins over last week’s No. 17 team, UCLA, and this week’s No. 17, Texas. We’ll know more about the Wolverines after their next test, vs. North Carolina in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, but winning at Villanova is impressive however it’s done and Michigan routed the Wildcats by 27.
3. What’s a Paladin? – We nearly got four mid-majors into the poll this week, but 36 voters still aren’t completely sold on Furman – yes, Furman – and the Paladins will have to wait at least another week to get their shot. Furman’s 76-68 upset of Villanova wasn’t a fluke and the Paladins head into the fourth week of the college hoops season holding a perfect 7-0 record. They have another solid win, over last year’s Cinderella, Loyola-Chicago, and a couple of burgeoning stars in Jordan Lyons (20 points per game) and Matt Rafferty (18 ppg., 8 rebounds per game) who could lead the Paladins (just can’t get enough of that nickname) to their first NCAA Tournament in almost 40 years.
Perusing the Pac-12
No. 18 Oregon – Oregon’s only slip-up in the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden was a 77-69 loss to Iowa and it doesn’t look quite as bad now that the Hawkeyes – unranked at the time – have vaulted to No. 14 in the country. Bol Bol and Payton Pritchard are the names that come to mind when you think of this Oregon team, but another one to know would be that of Ehab Amin, a senior guard from Egypt who scored 25 points against the Hawkeyes and followed with 13 against Eastern Washington.
Unranked UCLA – Only six voters, including this one, gave Steve Alford’s Bruins the benefit of the doubt after an 87-67 loss to Michigan State, followed by a 94-78 loss to North Carolina. UCLA could move back into the Top 25 by this time next week, but even if wins over Hawaii and LMU don’t get the Bruins there, a win over Notre Dame the following week probably would.
Gonzaga’s lead on Duke had grown to at least 15 points – give or take a few points, maybe – when I left my apartment for Washington State football interviews last Wednesday. I was not surprised to return home about 30 minutes later and see the Zags’ advantage had shrunk to four points. I also wasn’t surprised to see Gonzaga close out the nation’s top team despite Duke’s late surge in the final game of the Maui Jim Invitational. The Bulldogs will win most of their games this year because of a gap in talent between them and their foes, but GU’s experience will also kick in when it needs to. That was the case against a young Duke team and it could help the Zags down the road – especially during an upcoming four-game stretch against Creighton, Washington, Tennessee and North Carolina.