Gonzaga, Baylor remain atop AP Top 25; Alabama cracks top 10

Gonzaga and Baylor have remained firmly atop The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll all season while everyone else keeps rotating in and out of the top 10 beneath them as potential challengers.

This week, that includes Alabama for the first time in 14 years.

While the Bulldogs and Bears earned all 64 first-place votes in Monday’s latest Top 25 poll, the Crimson Tide had the week’s biggest jump by climbing nine spots to No. 9. That is the program’s highest ranking since last cracking the top 10 in January 2007.

Alabama has won nine straight games, with several wins marked by hot shooting and blowout margins.

“They’re playing together,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said Monday. “They’re showing great leadership, the chemistry’s good. Everything’s good around the program to the point where these guys deserve to be ranked in the top 10. Their play shows it. But all the hard work you put to get there, one bad outing and you’re probably out of it.”

Alabama (13-3, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) has won five league games by double-figure margins, including a 105-75 win at LSU last week that included the Crimson Tide hitting a league-record 23 3-pointers. They have scored at least 81 points in six straight games, including an 85-65 win at Kentucky and a 90-59 win against Arkansas.

THE TOP TIER

Mark Few’s Bulldogs earned 61 first-place votes while Scott Drew’s Bears claimed the other three, keeping both teams locked in their 1-2 position for the season’s 10th poll.

Villanova remained third followed by Michigan, with the Wolverines cracking the top five for a second straight season under Juwan Howard after being unranked earlier in the year. The rest of the top 10: Texas, Houston, Iowa, Virginia, Alabama and Texas Tech.

COVID-19 IMPACT

Michigan’s rise comes after the school announced a two-week pause in all sports activities due to concerns about a new COVID-19 variant believed to spread at a higher rate. That has led to the postponement of the Wolverines’ next four games through at least Feb. 11.

It remains to be seen how much their ranking will fluctuate during that time.

In Villanova’s case, the Wildcats were No. 5 when they beat Marquette on Dec. 23 before pausing team activities due to COVID-19 protocols. They didn’t play again until beating Seton Hall last Tuesday, though they had inched up to No. 3 by that point.

Florida State went the other direction. The Seminoles fell out from No. 25 in the midst of having three straight January games postponed. But they’ve won four straight games — three by double-digit margins — since returning and re-entered the poll Monday at No. 16.

RISING

Beyond Alabama’s big jump, Missouri climbed seven spots to reach No. 12 for the second time this season following Saturday’s win at then-No. 6 Tennessee. Virginia had the week’s other notable rise, climbing five spots after a 6-0 start in Atlantic Coast Conference play.

In all, 11 teams climbed from last week’s poll.

SLIDING

The Volunteers took the week’s biggest tumble, falling 12 spots after a 26-point loss at Florida followed by the Missouri home loss.

There were also six-spot slides for No. 15 Kansas and No. 17 Creighton. The Jayhawks lost at Baylor to start last week then fell at Oklahoma, marking the program’s first three-game skid since February 2013 and dropping them out of the top 10 for the first time in two years.

A total of seven teams fell from last week’s poll.

IN AND OUT

No. 24 Oklahoma and No. 25 Louisville joined Florida State as the week’s new additions to this week’s poll. Clemson (No. 20), Oregon (No. 21) and Connecticut (No. 23) fell out of the rankings.

The fall has been rapid for the Tigers, who were No. 12 two weeks ago before having to pause team activities. Since returning, Clemson has lost by 35 to Virginia, 18 to Georgia Tech and 19 to FSU.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big Ten and Big 12 lead the way among the conferences.

Both have a national-best six ranked teams, though the Big 12 has five in the top 15 (Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech, No. 11 West Virginia and Kansas). The Big Ten’s haul includes No. 13 Ohio State, No. 14 Wisconsin, No. 19 Illinois and No. 21 Minnesota.

The ACC is next up with four teams, followed by the SEC (three) and the Big East (two).

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More AP college basketball: http://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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This story has been corrected to show this is Alabama’s first top 10 appearance since January 2007, not 1997.

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