Editor’s note: Andrew Carter is one of the AP Top 25 college basketball poll voters.
THE WEEK THAT WAS …
▪ What a Saturday it was in the ACC. Outside of Clemson’s 64-59 victory against Boston College, the other five games between league teams all went down to the final minutes – or seconds – and two went to overtime. Saturday had everything an ACC enthusiast could want: surprises (Pittsburgh over Notre Dame), late-game drama (like the buzzer-beating 3-pointer Trevor Lacey made to give N.C. State an OT win against Georgia Tech) and a marquee game with national implications (Duke over Virginia) that was played at a high level.
▪ Speaking of Duke, the Blue Devils lately have faced no shortage of adversity on the court and off it, too, apparently. Days after a disappointing loss at Notre Dame and the dismissal of junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon, did anyone give Duke a real shot to win at Virginia? But, in the memorable words of former Virginia coach Pete Gillen: Duke is certainly Duke. That victory was its most improbable of the season and, who knows, it might just represent a turning point after the Blue Devils avoided dropping to 4-4 in the ACC.
▪ Who knows when – or if – we’ll find out the full story of the dismissal of Sulaimon. Chances are details will emerge eventually. Regardless, it’s always disappointing to see a player fail to live up to his potential or expectations, and Sulaimon clearly had some issues that alienated him from Mike Krzyzewski’s program. Think of the mistakes a player has to make to simply be dismissed from a team midseason. A sad story.
▪ There’s an Internet meme – unfit for print in a family publication – about the sort of thing that happened to N.C. State at PNC Arena last Wednesday. It was simply an awful loss for the Wolfpack at home against Clemson – the kind of defeat that could be a real problem come Selection Sunday. The Wolfpack snapped a three-game skid Saturday, but three of its next five will be against Virginia, Louisville and UNC.
THE TOP 10
Each week I’ll share the top 10 teams on my ballot for The Associated Press top 25 poll. Let’s get to it:
1. Kentucky (21-0); last week: 1
The Wildcats’ chance of finishing the regular season undefeated now stands at 49percent, according to Ken Pomeroy. One of their most difficult tests remaining: Saturday at Florida, which is only 12-9.
2. Arizona (20-2); last week: 3
The Wildcats have won their past three games by at least 23 points each, and next will have a date Saturday with Herb Sendek and Arizona State.
3. Wisconsin (19-2); last week: 5
Wisconsin shouldn’t encounter too many challenges until late February though, remember, this is a team that (somehow) lost at Rutgers.
4. Duke (18-3); last week: 4
Where to rank the Blue Devils? The victory at previously unbeaten Virginia cancels out a disappointing loss at Notre Dame, so Duke stays where it was on my ballot.
5. Virginia (19-1); last week: 2
The Cavaliers lost out on a chance for a statement victory on Saturday against Duke. It doesn’t get any easier, with a game Monday night at North Carolina, and then Louisville at home Saturday.
6. Villanova (19-2); last week: 6
’Nova made easy work of Creighton and DePaul and should, too, Wednesday against Marquette before a chance for revenge at home against Georgetown on Saturday.
7. Gonzaga (22-1); last week: 7
It’s an age-old, annual question: How good is Gonzaga, really? The Zags haven’t played a top-50 team in the Pomeroy rankings since Dec. 27 against Brigham Young.
8. Louisville (18-3); last week: 8
The Cardinals seemed destined to fall out of the top 10 until rallying from an 18-point deficit and winning in overtime against UNC on Saturday.
9. Kansas (18-3); last week: 11
Jayhawks have won four in a row – against Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Christian and Kansas State – and now sit alone in first place atop a balanced Big 12.
10. Notre Dame (20-3); last week: 9
College basketball is weird sometimes, like Saturday when Notre Dame lost at Pitt. But there was the home win against Duke, and Jerian Grant might just be the best player in the ACC.
THE WEEK AHEAD …
TEAM TO WATCH
So the Cavaliers aren’t going undefeated. Still, their 19-0 start was their best in more than 30 years, and they’re good enough – eighth nationally in offensive efficiency, according to Pomeroy, and third in defensive efficiency – to make a deep run in March. But are they merely capable of reaching the Final Four, or should they be considered a favorite to do so? This week could provide a lot of answers. Virginia continues a brutal three-game stretch at North Carolina on Monday night and then back home against Louisville on Saturday.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Virginia at North Carolina, Monday, 7 p.m.
Two teams coming off difficult losses, both playing on just a day’s rest. (And Sunday probably wasn’t all that restful, anyway, for the Tar Heels and Cavaliers.) There are several quality games this week – Duke at home against Notre Dame on Saturday, followed by Louisville at Virginia that night – but the one at the Smith Center on Monday night will do the most to affect the conference race. A UNC win would leave four teams – UNC, Virginia, Notre Dame and Louisville – with two conference losses atop the standings. A Virginia win would allow the Cavaliers to maintain a cushion, but not much, at the top.