Winners and Losers from the AP College Basketball Top 25 Rankings in Week 19
In the final AP Top 25 of the regular season, the Florida Gators remain No. 1 in the nation to serve as the biggest winner of all.
As far as the biggest loser goes, it has to be Stephen F. Austin.
If we're being perfectly honest, the AP poll doesn't matter. In the hierarchy of things that the selection committee takes into consideration when building the bracket, AP ranking falls somewhere in between conference record and jersey color.
Until the tournament is set, though, those ordinal numbers mean everything. And the Lumberjacks deserved to have a number next to their name for the first time in 30 years as a D-I program.
Since opening the season with a 3-2 record, Stephen F. Austin has won 26 consecutive games. Only one of those wins came against a team in the RPI Top 125, but who cares? Pretty much all we've heard about Wichita State for the past two months is that you can only beat the opponents that you face and that strength of schedule shouldn't matter if you never lose.
So three cheers to the Lumberjacks for an incredible three-month stretch, but shame on the AP voters for denying them access to the Top 25.
Here are the rest of this week's biggest winners and losers.
Winner: Virginia Commonwealth
VCU opened the season ranked No. 14 in the nation, climbing into the Top 10 two weeks later.
But a pair of losses in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off caused the Rams to drop from No. 10 to unranked in just one week. They remained unranked for 15 consecutive weeks, but finally got back into the Top 25 in the final poll of the regular season.
They are playing inspired basketball right when it matters the most. VCU has won four straight games over the past two weeks. In the most recent game against St. Bonaventure, the Rams had 18 steals and forced a total of 24 turnovers.
The offense is a bit sporadic, but VCU leads the nation in steals per game by no small margin.
Shaka Smart has his guys ready for another deep run in the tournament.
Virginia didn't fall far at all in the polls, merely dropping from No. 5 to No. 6.
However, by losing to Maryland in their only game of the week, the Cavaliers only have themselves to blame for suddenly becoming a long shot for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
I can appreciate that it was an emotional game for the Terrapins. It was senior day, it was their last game in the ACC and it was pretty much their last chance to do anything special this season—as they are highly unlikely to make the tournament. If I were a betting man, I would've been all over Maryland +3.5.
That doesn't excuse the loss, though.
Virginia had a chance to do something special. No ACC team had ever won 17 conference games. Granted, they only played 16 conference games before last season, but the last time an ACC team only suffered one loss in conference play, those 2002 Maryland Terrapins (15-1) went on to win the national championship.
Winner: San Diego State
Among teams who entered the week ranked between No. 3 and No. 10, San Diego State and Villanova were the only ones that did not suffer a loss.
Better than simply avoiding losses, the Aztecs won a difficult road game against UNLV before coming from behind to beat New Mexico in the game that decided the Mountain West regular-season champion.
They went through a bit of a slump there in mid-February, but the Aztecs are back to looking like a legitimate threat to cut down some nets.
San Diego State moved up two spots this week from No. 10 into a tie with Michigan for No. 8.
Loser: Southern Methodist
Remember when some people thought SMU was a lock to make the tournament?
It's always fun to reminisce about the good ol' days.
After losing to both Louisville and Memphis this week, the Mustangs suffered a bit of a freefall from No. 18 to No. 25.
Now it seems Larry Brown's team will need to prove something in the AAC tournament in order to regain the approval of the selection committee. The Mustangs went 4-4 against against the top half of the conference while also suffering a pair of inexcusable losses to South Florida and Temple.
Coupled with a nonconference strength of schedule that ranks 300th in the country, SMU may have stumbled in more than just the AP poll.
With the exception of Oklahoma, every single team ranked between No. 16 and No. 26 in last Monday's poll suffered at least one loss in the past seven days.
The Sooners didn't have particularly challenging games—vs. West Virginia and at TCU—but the 2-0 record was substantially better than anything their closest peers submitted.
As a result, the Sooners skyrocketed from No. 23 to No. 17—their first appearance in the AP Top 20 since Nov. 16, 2009.
It has been a great year for Oklahoma. The Sooners went 12-6 in the Big 12, winning eight games in conference against teams in the RPI Top 50. As one of the few conferences that has every team playing a home-and-home against every other team, there's nothing fluky about their second-place finish in the conference standings.
It's just a shame it took 19 weeks for the AP to recognize how good Oklahoma has been.
This week was a double whammy for the Badgers.
For one, they had the misfortune of being ranked directly in front of three teams that went 2-0 this week. The loss at Nebraska wasn't particularly unforgivable, but Wisconsin dropped three spots in the rankings regardless.
Secondly, the steam that the Badgers were gathering in the No. 1 seed discussion went straight out the window. They entered the game against the Cornhuskers with eight consecutive wins—many of them of high quality—and were being seriously considered as the team that would replace the next No. 1 seed to screw up.
But now? Anything short of winning the B1G tournament would pretty much exclude Wisconsin from getting back into that conversation.
Has there ever been less discussion about a defending national champion?
Louisville simply lampooned Southern Methodist and Connecticut this week, climbing six spots in the AP poll to No. 5 and earning a share of the AAC regular-season championship in its first and only season in the conference.
By Ken Pomeroy's estimations, Louisville is the second-best team in the entire country. But when is the last time you heard the Cardinals mentioned as a legitimate candidate to win it all this season?
Perhaps that buzz will start in earnest now that the tournament is 10 days away and people who haven't watched any basketball since last April will start coming out of the woodwork, but it's weird, right? Louisville has quietly been ranked in the top 18 every single week.
I suppose it's just more interesting to talk about a defending champion missing the tournament and losing to Robert Morris in the NIT.
At long last, Iowa drops out of the AP Top 25.
I have no personal rooting interest for or against the Hawkeyes, but it's absurd that they were ranked for as long as they were.
After losses this week to Michigan State and Illinois, Iowa has a 4-7 record in its last 11 games—a stretch which includes the Hawkeyes' six worst losses of the season by RPI standards.
In the past six weeks, they only have one win (vs. Michigan) that anyone would realistically consider a quality victory.
Not to brag, but back on Jan. 30 I warned you guys that this might happen.
"Watch out for Iowa taking a nosedive in the near future. The Hawkeyes' computer profile isn't great, and their once extremely efficient offense has come crashing to a halt as of late."
The offense has marginally come back to life, but the defense has been atrocious. Over these past 11 games, Iowa's opponents have averaged 1.13 points per possession.
That isn't quite as bad as Grambling State, but it certainly isn't pretty.
Aside from the occasional blowout at the hands of Creighton, Villanova has been one of the best teams this season has had to offer.
The Big East isn't what it used to be, but wins over bubbly Xavier and Georgetown in the past seven days have earned Villanova its first outright regular-season championship in more than three decades.
The Wildcats have taken up residence as the fourth No. 1 seed in most projected brackets and climbed to No. 3 in this week's AP poll after six consecutive weeks in the latter half of the Top 10.
If they win the Big East tournament this week and finally take care of Creighton in the process, the Wildcats could conceivably still get the No. 1 overall seed on Selection Sunday.
Not too shabby for a team that was projected to finish in fourth place in the Big East.
The loss to West Virginia on Saturday was, without question, Kansas' worst of the season.
It's not crazy to argue that the Jayhawks would have won that game easily if they were at full strength.
But they weren't. And they might not be again this season.
In a developing story that is transforming into a nightmare situation for fans of the Rock Chalk, Joel Embiid traveled to California on Sunday to see a specialist about his back. Bill Self claims to be "100 percent confident" that Embiid will play in the tournament, but we're still skeptical.
Any time someone is traveling halfway across the country to see a specialist, it's probably not a good thing. Just ask any baseball fan who has seen "Dr. James Andrews" in the same sentence with one of his favorite players.
Andrew Wiggins was downright unbelievable on Saturday, scoring a career-high 41 points with eight rebounds, five steals and four blocks to boot. But with the exception of Kemba Walker, one-man shows don't typically last very long in March.
The Jayhawks dropped from No. 8 to No. 10 this week, but the biggest loss could be yet to come.
We absolutely wish Embiid well, but let's selfishly hope there's some clarity one way or the other regarding his health before the deadline to fill out our brackets.
Winner: 9 Teams Who Went Wire-to-Wire
It's not easy to be ranked in the AP Top 25 every single week, but it's almost a prerequisite to being considered a contender for the national championship.
In the past 10 seasons, eight of the teams that won the NCAA tournament were ranked in the AP Top 25 each week of that season. The other two (2011 Connecticut and 2006 Florida) debuted in the polls before the end of November and stayed there the rest of the way.
So it might be in your best interest to keep these nine schools in mind when you're filling out your bracket on Sunday.
Arizona, Duke, Florida, Kansas, Louisville, Memphis (yes, Memphis), Michigan State, Syracuse and Wichita State have been ranked since before the 2013-14 season began.
Congratulations to those teams on what has already been an excellent season.
Good luck figuring out which one will make it a season to never forget.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.
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