UCLA is surging, both toward the postseason and in The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll.
While Houston was No. 1 for a third straight week in Monday’s poll, the Bruins rose two spots to No. 2 for their highest ranking of the season. UCLA (27-4) has won its last 10 games, including a showdown with highly ranked Arizona in the regular-season finale behind star Jamie Jaquez Jr. to complete a perfect home record.
“I will say this, the recipe for success in March usually – I mean, aside from talent – is a great point guard and some senior leadership, like a guy like Jaime Jaquez,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said afterward. “I mean, we’ve got a chance. But as you know, that tournament’s crazy. It isn’t ‘March Normal.’”
Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars remained firmly entrenched at the top in their third stint at No. 1 this season, earning 58 first-place votes with the other three going to UCLA.
Houston hadn’t reached No. 1 before this season since 1983 during the “Phi Slama Jama” era, but the Cougars have now spent a total of seven weeks at the top to tie Purdue for the most of any team this season.
Houston (29-2) closed out its regular-season schedule by winning at Memphis on a last-second basket Sunday, marking its 11th straight win.
THE TOP TIER
The only change in the top five came with UCLA trading places with No. 4 Alabama, with Kansas remaining at No. 3 despite a loss at Texas in Saturday’s regular-season finale and the Boilermakers staying at fifth.
Marquette stayed at No. 6, followed by the Longhorns climbing two spots to No. 7. Arizona, Gonzaga and Baylor rounded out the top 10.
Texas A&M is the week’s biggest climber, leaping six spots to No. 18 after beating Alabama in its regular-season finale. That’s part of a strong finish under fourth-year coach Buzz Williams, with the Aggies going 17-3 since mid-December and losing just once since the start of February. Before this season, Texas A&M hadn’t been ranked since February 2018.
In all, eight teams climbed from last week’s positions.
Tennessee took the week’s biggest tumble, falling five spots to No. 17 after losing at Auburn in its regular-season finale and its first full game since losing Zakai Zeigler to a season-ending knee injury. Indiana was next, falling four spots to No. 19 after losing at home to Iowa by 22 points.
In all, six teams slid from their ranking last week.
Nearly a third of last week’s ranked teams (eight) stayed in their same position, including No. 13 Virginia, No. 22 TCU and No. 23 Kentucky.
The week’s three new additions are all returnees to the poll, headlined by No. 21 Duke.
The Blue Devils (23-8) returned to the poll for the first time since falling out in mid-January after opening the year at No. 7. First-year coach Jon Scheyer has led Duke to six straight wins to close out the regular season, including Saturday’s win at North Carolina for a rivalry sweep that wounded UNC’s iffy NCAA Tournament hopes.
Creighton checked in at No. 24, returning after a one-week absence for a third stint in the poll this season. Next came 25th-ranked Missouri, which won its last four regular-season games to return to the poll after spending two weeks there in the first half of January.
FAREWELL (FOR NOW)
Providence (No. 20), Maryland (No. 21) and Pittsburgh (No. 25) dropped out this week. All three will be playing in their conference tournaments this week.
The Big 12 and Southeastern conferences shared the lead this week with five ranked teams each, though three of the Big 12’s group were inside the top 10.
The Big East was next with four ranked teams, including No. 11 Connecticut. The Atlantic Coast Conference had three, followed by the Big Ten, Pac-12 and West Coast conferences with two each.
The American Athletic and Mountain West conferences each had one ranked team.
Next week’s poll marks the final edition for the 2022-23 season.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25