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Joe Boozell | NCAA.com | March 4, 2019

College basketball rankings: North Carolina up to No. 3; Tennessee No. 5 in new AP Top 25

Power 36: Last push towards Selection Sunday

Less than two weeks away from Selection Sunday, here is the latest AP Top 25 Poll:

RANK SCHOOL RECORD POINTS PREVIOUS
1 Gonzaga 29-2 1,578(42) 1
2 Virginia 26-2 1,553(21) 2
3 North Carolina 24-5 1,428 5
4 Duke 25-4 1,399(1) 3
5 Tennessee 26-3 1,366 7
6 Kentucky 24-5 1,274 4
7 Michigan 26-4 1,216 9
8 Texas Tech 24-5 1,100 11
9 Michigan State 23-6 1,039 6
10 LSU 24-5 1,005 13
11 Purdue 22-7 999 14
12 Houston 27-2 895 8
13 Kansas 22-7 798 15
14 Florida State 23-6 702 18
15 Virginia Tech 22-6 668 20
16 Marquette 23-6 626 10
17 Nevada 26-3 579 12
18 Kansas State 22-7 499 16
19 Buffalo 26-3 437 21
20 Cincinnati 25-4 408 23
21 Wisconsin 20-9 322 19
22 Wofford 26-4 269 24
23 Villanova 22-8 214 NR
24 Maryland 21-9 207 17
25 UCF 22-6 48 NR

We'll start with North Carolina, which rose two spots to No. 3 this week and jumped Duke, down to fourth, in the process. These teams are going to be jockeying for No. 1 seeds come Selection Sunday, and will play each other for the second time on March 9.

The Tar Heels are rolling, and if anyone considers them a sneaky national title contender, they should remove the word "sneaky." North Carolina is just flat-out good. It's 14-2 in the ACC and has one loss since Jan. 13, which came against No. 2 Virginia.

Coby White is a legitimate star, and the Tar Heels surround him with shooters, ball-handlers and playmakers. White, Luke Maye and Cam Johnson form a lethal Big Three, and Nassir Little is emerging at the perfect time. Little has scored in double figures in two of his last three games and is the type of athlete whose improvement can swing an NCAA tournament game. North-Carolina Duke is always must-see television, but Zion Williamson's health is obviously a huge storyline. Hopefully he plays.

Tennessee jumped two spots to No. 5, and the Volunteers certainly deserved to after a complete drubbing of Kentucky, which fell to No. 6, on Saturday. Jordan Bone scored 27 points in that game and made all five of his 3s.

He's Tennessee's X-factor come March. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield are going to do what they do; the Volunteers have one of the best frontcourts in the country, which was also true last year. But Tennessee got upset in the second round last year. The backcourt was an issue, and guard play is hyper-critical in March.

Bone's year-over-year improvement is the biggest reason to be more optimistic about Tennessee this time around. He's almost doubled his scoring and assist averages from 2018 and is shooting 48.2 percent from the floor. The Volunteers will vault themselves into 1 seed territory if they continue to play well down the stretch.

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There was some other mild, but notable shifting in the top 10. Texas Tech leapt three spots to No. 8, and the Red Raiders are in position to end Kansas' Big 12 championship streak if they win out.

Texas Tech has Texas and Iowa State remaining on its schedule. The Red Raiders hit a bit of a mid-season speed bump after a hot start, but are rolling again now, having won seven in a row. Texas Tech has the No. 1 defense in the country, per KenPom, and a top 10 player in America in Jarrett Culver. That combination is going to win you a ton of games. Chris Beard is one of the most underrated coaches in the sport.

BIG 12 RACE: We're tracking it game-by-game until the end of the season

On the flip side, Michigan State fell three spots to No. 9 after losing to Indiana. And while that was a tough result, it's impressive that the Spartans are as high as they are considering they're without Nick Ward and Joshua Langford. Michigan State plays Michigan at home in its last regular season game. If the Spartans can sweep the Wolverines, it could have a big impact on NCAA tournament seed lines. Never doubt Tom Izzo in March, and Cassius Winston is playing like a first-team All-American. But he's carrying a huge load right now that could prove to be unsustainable.

Virginia Tech was the biggest riser in this week's rankings, leaping five spots to No. 15. The Hokies beat Duke on Tuesday, and while the Blue Devils were missing Williamson, Virginia Tech is without Justin Robinson. That's not equal, of course, but Robinson is really good. The Hokies are the type of squad that can beat anyone on a given night or lose to anyone on a given night based on their 3-point reliance. Virginia Tech makes almost 40 percent of its triples, but when the outside shots aren't falling, it has struggled to execute a Plan B. Just something to note when filling out your NCAA tournament bracket.

RANKED: Check out Andy Katz's new Power 36

Marquette, on the other side, dropped six spots this week. The No. 16 Golden Eagles lost to Villanova, which is excusable, and Creighton, which is.... not as excusable. Markus Howard scored 33 points vs. Creighton. No other Golden Eagle scored more than seven. That's not going to cut it in March, and perhaps opposing coaches will take note and send even more defensive attention/bodies Howard's way down the stretch.

A final thing to point out: UCF, which beat Houston, checks in at No. 25 and is ranked for the first time since 2010-11. It looks like we'll see Tacko Fall in the NCAA tournament, which will be a treat for casual college hoops viewers. The Knights aren't spectacular in any area, but are solid everywhere. They'll be a tough out in March.

We're so, so close to the dance. Bring on the madness.

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