Last week we gave serious consideration to elevating Gonzaga to the No. 1 spot. It didn’t feel quite right, so we took a chance on Duke. The Blue Devils promptly suffered a bad loss at Virginia (not all that surprising considering the way things have gone this season). So, even with Ryan Kelly back for Duke, we will join in the celebration of the Zags and recognize the terrific season Gonzaga has had. But, once again, we remind you nothing really matters until April 8.
1. Gonzaga – Unlike all the teams that have held the No. 1 spot this season, the Bulldogs genuinely seem to be embracing their history-making ascent to the top. Coach Mark Few says it isn’t any more burden that being No. 2 or 3 and it would seem he is right. Gonzaga will find out in the WCC tournament this coming weekend.
2. Duke – The Blue Devils are the hardest team to rank on a weekly basis. After Indiana lost to Minnesota, we moved Duke to No. 1 in anticipation of Ryan Kelly’s return. Kelly is back and Duke remains undefeated with him on the floor. Will that still be the case after the Blue Devils play North Carolina?
3. Kansas – That three-game losing streak is a distant memory now. The Jayhawks are playing their best basketball of the season and have won seven straight. With Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore scoring and Jeff Withey defending, Kansas is a serious championship contender.
4. Georgetown – The Hoyas picked up a couple of first place votes in the Associated Press poll this week. Otto Porter and Co. have rattled off 11 straight wins since losing to South Florida on Jan. 19. The Hoyas finish off at Villanova and home to Syracuse.
5. Louisville – The Cardinals are the hottest team in the Big East – other than Georgetown. It seems Rick Pitino has fixed the problems associated with that swoon after Louisville rose to No. 1 in mid-January.
6. Indiana – Losing at home on Senior Night is a painful experience and the Hoosiers jeopardized their status as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with a loss to Ohio State Tuesday night. Indiana has the talent to win it all, but losing two of three triggers concern.
7. Miami – No reason for Miami to be alarmed by that loss at Duke. The Hurricanes played well at Cameron and it required a career night by Ryan Kelly to lift the Blue Devils. Miami closes out with home games against Georgia Tech and Clemson.
8. Michigan – That stunning loss at Penn State could have had residual effects for the Wolverines but they battled rival Michigan State and came away with a 58-57 win. Credit Trey Burke with the save. Indiana visits the Crisler Center Sunday.
9. Florida – The Gators have lost their last two road games, at Tennessee and Missouri, so it will be interesting to watch Florida close out the regular season Saturday at Kentucky. Florida showed tremendous resiliency in its victory over Alabama.
10. Ohio State – The Buckeyes played the role of party pooper at Indiana Tuesday night. And, in the process, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft reminded everyone that they have Final Four experience that should help them the rest of this season.
11. Kansas State – The Wildcats still have a chance to end Kansas’ domination of the Big 12 regular season. K-State will need to win at Oklahoma State and then hope that Baylor can upset the visiting Jayhawks. Either way, coach Bruce Weber has had a special season in Manhattan.
12. Michigan State – Coach Tom Izzo can’t be happy with a three-game losing streak, but the opponents were Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan. Wisconsin, tied with Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten, visits the Breslin Center next.
13. New Mexico – The Lobos can play at different speeds but because they trust their defense so much, they don’t mind playing ugly. Opponents are shooting under 40 percent and scoring fewer than 60 points. “This team is downright nasty,” says Lobos coach Steve Alford.
14. Oklahoma State – Coach Travis Ford has done a remarkable job with this young group of Cowboys. But before Saturday’s big showdown with Kansas State, OSU must survive a road trip to Iowa State. That’s never easy.
15. Saint Louis – We simply can’t praise the Billikens enough for coming on strong at the end of the regular season. This team has the potential to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Dwayne Evans has been on fire. Rick Majerus would be so proud.
16. Marquette – Yes, the Golden Eagles can win away from home. Marquette trailed most of the game at Rutgers, but Jamil Wlson triggered a dramatic comeback. “I like coming on the road and stealing wins like that,” said Vander Blue, who had 22 points for Marquette.
17. Syracuse – Jim Boeheim’s team picked an unfortunate time to struggle offensively. Or perhaps the credit should go to the defensive efforts of Georgetown, Marquette and Louisville. Either way, Syracuse has lost three in a row.
18. Virginia Commonwealth – The Rams simply destroyed Butler Saturday, defeated Brad Stevens’ team 84-52. Since Jan. 26, VCU’s only loss came at the hands of Saint Louis. Count on Shaka Smart’s team to create some postseason havoc in the next few weeks.
19. UCLA – “It would be really sweet to win the Pac-12,” freshman Shabazz Muhammad said after the Bruins defeated Arizona Saturday night. That seemed impossible back on Nov. 25, when Cal Poly stunned the Bruins, but it’s not such a fairy tale now.
20. Pittsburgh – The Panthers can close out the regular season on a four-game win streak with a win over DePaul on Saturday. That would give Pitt a 24-win season and a 12-6 conference record. Nice bounce-back season for coach Jamie Dixon.
21. Arizona – The Wildcats are 3-4 in their last seven games and back-to-back losses to USC and UCLA last week dropped Arizona to fourth place in the Pac-12 standings. Sean Miller’s team faces rival Arizona State at the McKale Center on Saturday.
22. Wisconsin – The Badgers got a dose of their own medicine in a 69-56 loss to Purdue – at the Kohl Center. Purdue used tough defense, rebounding and hustle plays to pull the upset. Wisconsin closes with road trips to Michigan State and Penn State.
23. Notre Dame – The Irish shot 68 percent in the second half to defeat St. John’s 66-40. When guards Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins play well, Notre Dame is tough to beat. Big regular season finale Saturday at Louisville.
24. North Carolina – The return of “small ball” has paid off for coach Roy Williams and the Tar Heels. North Carolina takes a five-game winning streak to Maryland on Wednesday, and then finishes up with Saturday’s home game against Duke.
25. UNLV – The Rebels are 6-5 against teams ranked 1-50 in the RPI and 5-1 against teams from 51-100. Compare that to Memphis with a 2-3 record against 1-50 opponents and 7-1 against 51-100. Give the edge to UNLV because of the tougher schedule.