Two new schools are at the top of the last AP Poll of February. The full rankings:
We'll start with Gonzaga, the new No. 1 team in the land. The Bulldogs haven't lost since Dec. 15 and jumped ahead of Duke, which lost to North Carolina this week.
Gonzaga was expected to run through the WCC after playing well during a grueling nonconference schedule, but the Bulldogs have probably exceeded expectations in the new year. Gonzaga isn't just winning; it's destroying foes. The Bulldogs have won their last four home games by an average of 35(!) points. That's just laughable, regardless of opponent.
Gonzaga hasn't really missed Killian Tillie yet. It might come NCAA tournament time. But for now, the Bulldogs are firing on all cylinders. Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura are monsters, and the Zags surround them with shooting and playmaking. There are no weak links in the starting lineup.
Gonzaga is national championship-level good. We'll see if it can make it back to the big game for the second time in three years.
It's mildly surprising that Virginia leapt ahead of Duke for the No. 2 spot, as the Blue Devils have beaten the Cavaliers twice and lost to North Carolina playing without Zion Williamson for almost the entire game. But Virginia's resume is pristine. The Hoos are undefeated against non-Duke opponents, and just scored two impressive road wins over clear tournament teams in Virginia Tech and Louisville.
De'Andre Hunter is the key for Virginia. It's good with or without him, but it's a serious national championship contender because of him. Hunter scored 26 points against Louisville, and he's the type of bucket-getter that transcends Virginia's rigid system.
Duke is down to No. 3, but it's only 11 points behind Virginia in voters' minds. It was certainly an eventful week for the Blue Devils, but the North Carolina loss does nothing to veer Duke off of its national title path, provided Williamson comes back at full strength (and it seems like that will be the case). R.J. Barrett is playing his best basketball of the season; he dominated in a Saturday win against Syracuse. Duke will almost always have the two best players on the floor in a given game. That will take you a long way.
North Carolina jumped three spots to No. 5 as a result of the win, and the Tar Heels are playing their way into the conversation for a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday. They followed up the Duke game with an impressive 18-point win over a Florida State team that has been on fire lately.
UNC has the nation's No. 7 offense and No. 10 defense, per KenPom. When you're in the top 10 at both ends, you're a national title threat. Nassir Little scored 18 points in 23 minutes against the Seminoles and is coming into his own at the perfect time. The Tar Heels are good even if Little is struggling, but when he's on, UNC looks unbeatable. This is not a team you want to face in March.
Michigan State rose four spots to No. 6 after an incredible win at Michigan on Sunday, and the Spartans are somehow thriving without Josh Langford or Nick Ward. Tom Izzo seems to do his best coaching jobs when his talent level is in question. Cassius Winston has played like a first-team All-American in February; he dropped 27 on the Wolverines. Winston is showing that he's more than just a distributor. He's Michigan State's only real shot creator right now, but he's one of the best decision-makers in college basketball. The Spartans may run the risk of being one-dimensional, but when a player as good as Winston has such a high usage rate, you're going to be a good offensive team.
We'll see if they can keep this up shorthanded.
Kansas State and Maryland were the biggest risers this week, jumping seven spots each. The Wildcats have a huge game against Kansas on Monday night that will have serious Big 12 title implications. Maryland, meanwhile, is fresh off of back-to-back wins over Iowa and Ohio State. The Terrapins have quietly outperformed preseason expectations all year. Also, a quick shout out to Wofford, which is ranked for the first time in school history. The Terriers check in at No. 24 after a massive win over Furman. Wofford is going to be a serious player in March.
On the flip side, Nevada dropped the most of any team this week, falling six spots to No. 12 after losing to San Diego State. The Wolf Pack have a ton of offensive ability, but they've had a few woeful shooting nights in MWC play that have hampered them.
We are just a few weeks away from Selection Sunday. The best time of the year almost upon us, but for now, enjoy some wildly entertaining conference races.