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Joe Boozell | | January 30, 2018

AP reactions: UK back in the mix; Auburn shoots up the poll

Here are the latest AP Top 25 rankings after another fun week of hoops:  

1 Villanova (47) 20-1 1,607 1
2 Virginia (17) 20-1 1,572 2
3 Purdue (1) 21-2 1,501 3
4 Duke 18-3 1,372 4
5 Michigan State 20-3 1,347 6
6 Xavier 19-3 1,278 8
7 Kansas 17-4 1,224 5
8 Cincinnati 19-2 1,208 9
9 Arizona 18-4 1,103 11
10 Texas Tech 17-4 987 14
11 Auburn 19-2 882 19
12 Oklahoma 15-5 840 12
13 Saint Mary's 21-2 753 16
14 Gonzaga 19-4 750 15
15 West Virginia 16-5 709 7
16 Wichita State 17-4 635 17
17 Ohio State 18-5 566 13
18 Tennessee 15-5 512 22
19 North Carolina 16-6 470 10
20 Clemson 17-4 414 18
21 Kentucky 16-5 344 NR
22 Rhode Island 17-3 327 24
23 Florida 15-6 172 20
24 Michigan 17-6 103 25
25 Arizona State 16-5 100 21

It was a relatively tame week at the top of the rankings despite several high-profile games. Most notably: voters opted not to drop Duke despite losing at home to No. 2 Virginia.

That’s defensible. The Blue Devils are a really good team with some obvious flaws, but no one did anything to justify jumping them. Had Kansas beaten Oklahoma, it would be a different story. But it didn’t, and while the Blue Devils should be expected to win every game they play at Cameron Indoor, a two-point loss to Virginia is explainable. The Cavaliers are national championship-good. So is Duke, even if Grayson Allen needs to snap out of his funk and Mike Krzyzewski needs to unearth more depth.

Virginia is running away with the ACC regular season title. But if these two meet in the ACC tournament, drop whatever you’re doing and watch.

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It’s not shocking that Villanova remained in the No. 1 spot, but there’s an argument to be made for Virginia jumping the Wildcats. If the previous statement is true – that Duke should be expected to win every home game – then anyone who beats the Blue Devils in Durham should get a ton of credit. Virginia held the No. 2 offense in the country to 63 points; the Cavaliers have the best defense of the KenPom era. Villanova took care of business this weekend, but wins over Providence and Marquette don’t compare to Duke, and the teams’ resumes weren’t all that different before. Plus, Nova lost Phil Booth indefinitely – and for everything positive you can say about the Wildcats, they’re not exactly swimming in depth.

It’s splitting hairs. Villanova, Virginia and Purdue have separated themselves as the three-best teams in the country, in some order. But the Hoos could be the No. 1 team before long.

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Eight of the top nine teams in last week’s poll are still in the top nine, albeit in a different order. West Virginia dropped from No. 7 to No. 15 after losses to TCU and Kentucky. The Mountaineers have lost four of their last five.

The Wildcats didn’t spend much time outside of the AP Top 25. Kentucky checks in at No. 21 this week after an unlikely win in Morgantown. The biggest reason for the Wildcats’ struggles to date: they have a lot of good players, but no great ones. And there’s a redundancy in their personnel.

But when Kevin Knox plays like he did against West Virginia, Kentucky has a true superstar. He scored a career-high 34 points. Knox won’t go for 34 every night, but he has the tools to average 20; Knox is a three-level scorer whose 3-point shot is cooking. Part of the reason for his explosion: John Calipari got creative with his lineups, using Knox at the four and giving him more space to operate. Jarred Vanderbilt hasn’t lit up the box scores since his return -- quite the opposite, in fact, given his lowly field goal percentage -- but his versatility has expanded what the Wildcats can do. He rebounds, defends and is a 6-9 forward with a smooth handle. He grabbed 11 boards in 11 minutes vs. West Virginia. Don’t overlook his impact – Kentucky finally has some positive momentum.

SEC foe Auburn has plenty of momentum, too. The Tigers only have two losses this season and have been running teams out of the gym lately. Auburn shot up eight spots to No. 11 in the latest rankings.

Auburn has outscored its last three opponents – all SEC teams – by 19 points per game. That’s a point differential you usually see against low-major teams in November; not against league rivals in January. The Tigers are ranked 10th in offense – up from 54th last year. They make a lot of 3s, grab plenty of offensive boards and hit 79 percent of their free-throws, a top-10 mark. That’s a recipe for success.

A few other tidbits: Kentucky was the only new team to join the AP Top 25. North Carolina dropped nine spots to No. 19. The Tar Heels have teeter-tottered through the rankings all season; they seem to play better as the underdog. Oklahoma could have shot up the rankings if it beat Alabama, considering its triumph over Kansas earlier in the week. But the Sooners lost, so they didn’t budge from No. 12. Saint Mary’s rose three spots to No. 13 – the Gaels are on a steady climb and haven’t lost since Nov. 26.

We’re starting to get a clearer picture of what teams will matter come March. We’re less than six weeks away from Selection Sunday, and it can’t come soon enough.

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