By AARON BEARD, AP Basketball Writer
We got a taste of conference basketball before the new year. This week the SEC slate continues in earnest and the state’s flagship schools are the class of the conference at the moment.
Auburn is ranked 9th and Alabama 15th in the Associated Press men’s college basketball poll released Monday. The teams are coming off home wins against LSU and Tennessee, respectively.
Auburn suits back up tonight facing South Carolina on the road and Alabama travels to Florida tomorrow.
No. 16 Kentucky, No. 18 Tennessee, and No. 21 LSU round out the other SEC teams ranked this week.
Baylor is the clear choice for No. 1, and the voters seem to agree on the group of teams behind the Bears, too.
The reigning national champions kept their firm hold on the top spot Monday, earning all 61 first-place votes for the third time in four weeks. It also marked the second straight week that there were no new teams entering the rankings, with the poll representing another reshuffling of the same group, including an unchanged top seven.
The Bears haven’t done anything to shake voters’ confidence, either. They entered the week as the only team ranked in top five in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency rankings for offense (117.6 points scored per 100 possessions) and defense (87.5).
Baylor (13-0) has won 19 straight games going back to last year’s title run in the Indianapolis bubble. That has included double-digit margins of victory against current No. 10 Michigan State in the title game of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas and against No. 19 Villanova.
The Bears won at No. 11 Iowa State on Saturday to open Big 12 play, tenuously holding at least a two-possession lead throughout the second half with a balanced attack, with six players scoring at least nine points.
“It shows we have a great rotation,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said afterward, adding: “Different people step up at different times, and you need that because not everybody has great shooting nights and great games.”
The No. 2 Blue Devils (11-1) remained in place for the fourth straight week behind the Bears. They haven’t played since Dec. 22 after having to postpone last week’s Atlantic Coast Conference games at Clemson and Notre Dame due to COVID-19 protocols.
Duke hosts Georgia Tech on Tuesday night. Coach Mike Krzyzewski sounded optimistic Monday that the Blue Devils would play as scheduled, saying they were awaiting one test result but otherwise expected to have the entire team back together later in the day.
Krzyzewski said it “hit our program extremely hard” while impacting both players and staff, though the retiring Hall of Famer said he hasn’t had the virus himself.
“It went through just about our whole team,” he said. “We’re not in the shape that we have been in before, so it’s going to take time to ramp up.”
THE TOP TIER
Purdue, Gonzaga and UCLA rounded out the top five, followed by Kansas and USC in the unchanged top seven. Arizona, Auburn and Michigan State rounded out the top 10, marking the Tigers’ first trip there this season.
Nine teams moved up in the poll, with Providence making the week’s biggest jump of five spots to tie Kentucky at No. 16. No. 15 Alabama jumped four spots, while No. 14 Texas and Villanova each rose three spots.
No. 24 Seton Hall took the biggest tumble, falling nine spots after Big East losses to Providence and Villanova. No. 21 LSU fell five spots, while No. 18 Tennessee slid four and No. 11 Iowa State fell three.
In all, 12 teams held their position from last week, including No. 12 Houston, No. 13 Ohio State, No. 20 Colorado State and No. 25 Texas Tech.
The Big 12 and Southeastern conferences each had five ranked teams to lead the country, followed by the Big Ten and Big East with four each.
The Pac-12 had three, then four leagues — the ACC, West Coast, American Athletic and Mountain West — each had one.
FULL TOP 25