Gonzaga has the top seed now, but will the Bulldogs hang on to the No. 1 spot entering the NCAA tournament?
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. Finishing off an unbeaten WCC season with 20-point and 14-point victories over Pacific and Saint Mary’s didn’t help No. 1 Gonzaga win over any of the 21 voters who still have them ranked below Virginia, the consensus No. 2 in this week’s poll. The Cavaliers showed up No. 1 on only 15 ballots last week, and the six-vote spike is probably the result of Duke’s ACC loss to Virginia Tech. Gonzaga was No. 1 on 45 ballots last week, but received only 42 first-place votes this time around. Nonetheless, the Zags moved two games closer to a probable No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
2. Here’s why GU’s path to the coveted top seed could still be tricky: A clump of teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference – easily the top conference in college hoops this season – sit below GU in this week’s poll. If any of those three go undefeated, it’s possible No. 2 Virginia, No. 3 North Carolina or No. 4 Duke would be able to supplant the Zags. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils have one more regular-season date with one other, so Duke or UNC will pick up one more top-tier win before the conference tournament starts. Meanwhile, Virginia would add a feather to its cap by knocking off either of those two in Charlotte. With a sweep this week and three ACC tourney wins, Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers would enter Selection Sunday with a 31-2 record, identical to Gonzaga, eight wins over ranked opponents – that’s seven more than GU – and a strong case for the top overall seed for the second straight year.
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3. The NCAA’s “quadrants” will once again be a crucial tool as the committee makes its seeding decisions on March 10. Barring it doesn’t lose in the semifinals of the WCC Tournament, Gonzaga will finish with better records than Virginia in quadrants 2-4, albeit barely. If the Cavaliers can finish with five wins in their final five games, they’ll have a strong edge in Quadrant 1 wins. If the Bulldogs stumble against Saint Mary’s in the WCC finale, they’d improve to 5-2 in Quadrant 1 games. Virginia, meanwhile, would have four more opportunities for Quadrant 1 wins, and the Cavs could finish 13-2 in that department. So down the stretch, Gonzaga fans need to cheer for any team in the Cavaliers’ path. Fortunately, many of them have experience when it comes to rooting against former Washington State coach Tony Bennett.
Perusing the Pac-12
Washington: One week after its long-awaited return to the poll, the Pac-12 decided it didn’t need a ranked team after all. In a bizarre sequence of events, Washington suffered the worst loss of its season, at last-place Cal, and at the same time clinched a share of the conference’s regular-season title – then won it outright three days later. Even if UW’s form has dipped in the second half of the Pac-12 schedule – a two-point win over WSU and a three-point loss to the Golden Bears both indications – the Huskies should still travel to Las Vegas as the overall betting favorite. Not that anyone should be putting money on this tournament in the first place.
All season, the Bulldogs have been able to rely heavily on the tandem of Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke – both for their steady offense and their potent defense. That didn’t change last week in Northern California, where Hachimura and Clarke combined for 48 points and 19 rebounds against Pacific, and 32 points and 15 rebounds against Saint Mary’s. Gaels coach Randy Bennett called Gonzaga’s frontcourt the best in America. If Hachimura and Clarke can prove that in the games that matter, the Bulldogs should be in for another long March run.