“Why won’t you vote us No. 1?” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett seems to scream (but actually isn’t). Virginia won at Duke 65-63 on Saturday, but it wasn’t enough to move the Cavaliers past Villanova. Chuck Liddy cliddy@newsobserver.com
“Why won’t you vote us No. 1?” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett seems to scream (but actually isn’t). Virginia won at Duke 65-63 on Saturday, but it wasn’t enough to move the Cavaliers past Villanova. Chuck Liddy cliddy@newsobserver.com

Luke DeCock

Luke DeCock’s AP Top 25 basketball poll ballot: Week 13

By Luke DeCock

ldecock@newsobserver.com

January 29, 2018 07:28 AM

How do you separate Villanova and Virginia? Not easily.

They’re the top two teams in the country by whatever metric you pick, they both have lost only once, on the road to good teams – Virginia at West Virginia, Villanova at Butler – and they both have an impeccable record against the best teams they have played (Villanova is 13-1 in KenPom A/B games, Virginia is 11-1). Virginia’s win at Duke is better than Villanova’s best win and Virginia’s loss is better than Villanova’s loss, but Villanova has played a tougher schedule overall which earned it a couple more good wins. I just can’t dislodge the Wildcats without a hair more justification. But it’s close. Really close.

I will say this: Villanova has two tough home games (Creighton, Seton Hall) and Virginia has a tough home game (Louisville) and a sneaky tough road game (Syracuse) this week. I don’t think both teams will go 2-0, but if they do, the road win would be enough to move Virginia to No. 1. The margins are that small here.

Help us deliver journalism that makes a difference in our community.

Our journalism takes a lot of time, effort, and hard work to produce. If you read and enjoy our journalism, please consider subscribing today.

The Virginia Cavaliers hold off a furious second half effort by the Blue Devils to take home 65-63 win. Missed free throws and turnovers made the difference. Chuck Liddycliddy@newsobserver.com

As for North Carolina, some voters will certainly be dropping the Tar Heels out of their polls after the losses to Virginia Tech and N.C. State. Which is fine. Opinions are opinions. And the Tar Heels definitely need to fall. But once you start dropping them, there’s a point where you start running into teams that just don’t have resumes that compare. (The same is true of West Virginia, which lost at TCU and at home to Kentucky and went falling along with UNC.)

I can’t look at Creighton and say that it’s a better basketball team than West Virginia or North Carolina, so that was the stopping point for me. But both teams fell double-digit positions, which seems appropriate. North Carolina has been a tough team to rate this year. The Tar Heels do things that make you want to drop them, only to realize they’ve also done things that a lot of other teams haven’t. And Clemson moves up a couple spots despite getting whomped at Virginia for the same reasons.

That’s one of the things people forget about this poll: You may think Team A is bad and deserves to fall from 10 to 25, but you’ve got to find 24 better Team Bs first. It’s a ranking, not a raw number. By that standard, North Carolina is still one of the top 21 teams in the country. But not by much at this point.

Ah, but what about N.C. State, you say, which has posted wins over Arizona, Duke, Clemson and North Carolina, all top-25 teams? I can’t say this enough: My vote in this poll (and the committee’s selection of a team, for that matter) is never based on a single result or even a handful of results. It is based on the totality of the evidence. N.C. State’s schedule hasn’t done it any favors: It just hasn’t played or beaten as many good teams as the top-25 competition.

The Wolfpack is 5-5 in KenPom A/B games, ranks 41st in Wins Against Bubble (a measure of the quality of a team’s wins; how a hypothetical bubble team would fare against that schedule), 65th in KenPom, 61st in BPI and 45th in Strength of Record. That’s not a top-25 resume. Nor does it project to be an NCAA tournament resume at this point, unless N.C. State picks up another unexpected win or two, which is certainly possible. And if that does happen, the Wolfpack will get renewed consideration in this poll as well.

PAST BALLOTS

Week 1 (Preseason) Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9 Week 10 Week 11 Week 12

MY TOP 25

1. Villanova (Last week: 1)

2. Virginia (2)

3. Purdue (4)

4. Duke (3)

5. Michigan State (6)

6. Xavier (7)

7. Kansas (5)

8. Cincinnati (10)

9. Auburn (12)

10. Texas Tech (13)

11. Arizona (15)

12. Gonzaga (16)

13. Tennessee (18)

14. Ohio State (11)

15. Oklahoma (14)

16. St Mary’s (23)

17. Kentucky (NR)

18. Florida (17)

19. West Virginia (9)

20. Clemson (22)

21. North Carolina (8)

22. Creighton (24)

23. Florida State (NR)

24. Wichita State (25)

25. Rhode Island (NR)

OUT Nevada (19), Michigan (20), Arizona State (21).

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, @Luke DeCock