NCAA Basketball Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 18 Poll

Jason King@@JasonKingBRSenior Writer, B/R MagMarch 3, 2014

NCAA Basketball Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 18 Poll

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    The Florida Gators are 27-2 and haven’t lost a game since Dec. 2. So it may seem surprising that Billy Donovan’s squad actually dropped a spot in this week’s Bleacher Report Power Rankings.

    Relax, Gators fans. We’re not down on your team. C.J. Moore, Kerry Miller and I are just really high on Arizona. And I mean really high.

    One month after losing forward Brandon Ashley to a knee injury, the Wildcats regrouped and appear to be hitting their stride at just the right time. Arizona (27-2) won its last three games (against Colorado, Cal and Stanford) by an average of 22.7 points.

    No matter what happens in its final two regular-season games at Oregon State and Oregon, the Wildcats are a virtual lock for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and should be a favorite to reach the Final Four for the first time since 2001.

    These rankings are all about who is playing the best at the moment, and no one last week looked as good as Arizona.

25-21: VCU-UCLA

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    25. VCU (22-7, 10-4 in Atlantic 10)—The Rams defeated Atlantic 10-leader Saint Louis Saturday and are finally beginning to resemble the team that was ranked No. 10 earlier this season.

    24. Iowa State (22-6, 10-6 in Big 12)—The Cyclones travel to Waco, Texas, Tuesday to face a Baylor team in desperate need of a win to boost its NCAA tournament hopes.

    23. Michigan State (22-7, 11-5 in Big Ten)—The Spartans are finally getting healthy, but it isn’t showing on the court, where Tom Izzo’s squad lost three of its last four games.

    22. Memphis (22-7, 11-5 in American Athletic Conference)—Two days after losing at Houston, the Tigers bounced back and beat Louisville for the second time this season. Kudos to Josh Pastner for getting his team ready.

    21. UCLA (22-7, 11-5 in Pac-12)—Suspended stars Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson returned to the lineup for Sunday’s 74-69 victory over Oregon State. The win snapped the Bruins’ only two-game losing streak of the season.

20-16: Saint Louis-Connecticut

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    20. Saint Louis (25-4, 11-2 in Atlantic 10)—Losing to VCU on the road is understandable. But Duquesne at home? Seriously?

    19. Oklahoma (21-8, 10-6 in Big 12)—The Sooners are the Big 12’s second-best team. Raise your hand if you predicted that back in the fall.

    18. Cincinnati (24-5, 13-3 in American Athletic Conference)—The Bearcats’ toughness extends to its coaching staff. Don’t get in Mick Cronin’s face!

    17. SMU (23-6, 12-4 in American Athletic Conference)—The Mustangs lead the nation in field-goal percentage defense. With Larry Brown as the head coach, should we really be surprised?

    16. Connecticut (23-6, 11-5 in American Athletic Conference)—The Huskies won six of their last seven games thanks to Shabazz Napier, who leads Connecticut in points (17.8), rebounds (6.0) and assists (5.3).

15-11: New Mexico-Creighton

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    15. New Mexico (23-5, 14-2 in Mountain West)—Cameron Bairstow averages 20.3 points and shoots 55.6 percent from the field. Can you say “All-American”?

    14. San Diego State (25-3, 14-2 in Mountain West)—Huge week for the Aztecs, who play at UNLV Wednesday before hosting co-league-leader New Mexico in a must-watch game Saturday.

    13. Syracuse (26-3, 13-3 in ACC)—The Orange have been living dangerously all season, and it finally caught up with them last week. Jim Boeheim’s squad has lost three of its last four.

    12. Michigan (21-7, 13-3 in Big Ten)—Should John Beilein be the Big Ten Coach of the Year? It’s got to be either him or Nebraska’s Tim Miles.

    11. Creighton (23-5, 13-3 in Big East)—Last week’s loss to Xavier may have cost the Bluejays the conference title.

10. Louisville

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    Record: 24-5, 13-3 in American Athletic Conference

    For the second time this season, Rick Pitino’s squad lost to Josh Pastner’s Memphis team Saturday and is now tied with Cincinnati for the conference lead.

    Things won’t get any easier this week for the Cardinals, who will play before a raucous, sellout crowd Wednesday at SMU before hosting Connecticut three days later to end the regular season.

    This team should still be considered a serious threat to win the NCAA title.

9. Wisconsin

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    Record: 24-5, 11-5 in Big Ten

    After sputtering throughout January—they lost four of eight games—the Wisconsin Badgers are now the hottest team in the Big Ten.

    Bo Ryan’s squad won seven straight and will have a good chance to make it nine in a row with upcoming games against Purdue and Nebraska.

    Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky are averaging a combined 26.4 points for a team that beat three ranked teams (Michigan, Iowa and Michigan State) in February.

8. Villanova

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    Record: 26-3, 14-2 in Big East

    The Wildcats’ 26 regular-season wins are the most in the 95-year history of the program.

    Jay Wright’s team has a one-game lead on Creighton in the Big East standings and can capture the conference title outright by defeating Xavier (on the road) and Georgetown (at home) this week.

    Villanova’s only two conference losses came against Creighton, and their only nonconference setback was against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.

7. North Carolina

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    Record: 22-7, 12-4 in ACC

    After starting out 1-4 in league play, the Tar Heels caught fire and won 11 straight.

    The last two victories—an overtime road win against NC State and a four-point triumph at Virginia Tech—have been less than convincing. But that won’t shake North Carolina’s confidence entering its final two games against Notre Dame and Duke.

    It will be interesting to see if point guard Marcus Paige garners any sort of All-American mention. He is averaging 17.2 points and scored a career-high 35 in last week’s win over NC State.

6. Kansas

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    Record: 22-7, 13-3 in Big 12

    The Kansas Jayhawks already captured their 10th straight Big 12 title, but they hardly looked like the league’s best team during a second-half collapse Saturday at Oklahoma State.

    Freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins went 5-of-16 from the field in the 72-65 loss and is now 10-of-30 in his last two games.

    This is still one of the country’s top teams when its playing at a high level, but the Jayhawks’ consistency issues make them a difficult team to trust in March.

5. Virginia

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    Record: 25-5, 16-1 in ACC

    Saturday’s victory over Syracuse gave Virginia its first ACC title in 33 years. The Cavaliers captured the crown, despite averaging just 66.2 points per game, a mark that ranks 288th in the country.

    Virginia leads the nation in scoring defense. That’s a tribute to Tony Bennett, who should garner consideration for National Coach of the Year.

    Bennett’s squad, which hasn’t lost since falling 69-65 at Duke Jan. 13, closes out the regular season Sunday at Maryland.

4. Duke

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    Record: 23-6, 12-4 in ACC

    The Blue Devils hit the road to play Wake Forest Wednesday before closing out the regular season at home Saturday against North Carolina. The Tar Heels came from behind to beat Duke 74-66 in Chapel Hill Feb. 20.

    Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood are averaging a combined 35.1 points for a squad that scores nearly 80 per game.

    The Blue Devils should have fresh legs for their final week of the regular season, considering they didn’t have a game last weekend.

3. Wichita State

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    Record: 31-0, 18-0 in Missouri Valley

    The Shockers became the first team since St. Joseph’s in 2003-04 to finish the regular season undefeated. And if it wins this week’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament, Wichita State will became the first team since UNLV in 1990-91 to enter NCAA tournament play without a loss.

    Wichita State hasn’t won the MVC tournament since 1987, but Gregg Marshall’s squad will be the heavy favorite this season. The Shockers’ 18 league victories came by an average of 15.6 points.

    “If we play well, we’ve got a chance to play with and beat anyone in the country,” Marshall said after Saturday’s victory over Missouri State.

2. Florida

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    Record: 27-2, 16-0 in SEC

    Before Saturday’s 79-61 blowout of LSU at home, the Gators’ previous three wins had come by a combined 12 points.

    Considering those victories came against SEC also-rans Auburn, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, it's safe to say Florida hadn’t been looking as crisp as it had at other times during the season. 

    Granted, even the best teams turn in a clunker from time to time. And it says a lot that the Gators are able to tough out wins on nights when they don’t play all that well.

    That’s a characteristic that can be found on any NCAA title-contending team. And these Gators are definitely that.

1. Arizona

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    Record: 27-2, 14-2 in Pac-12

    The Wildcats may boast a future first-round draft pick in Aaron Gordon and a first-team All-American candidate in Nick Johnson. Still, make no mistake: This team relies on defense and toughness. 

    After Sunday’s game against Stanford, Sean Miller’s squad ranks fifth in the country in scoring defense. Opponents are averaging just 57.9 points per game against the Wildcats.

    Arizona is particularly tough down low, where the team is out-rebounding foes by an average of 9.2 boards per game, a mark that ranks third in the nation.