By JOHN MARSHALL, AP Basketball Writer
Auburn has steadily moved up the rankings this season, climbing from No. 22 in the preseason to No. 2 in this week’s AP Top 25.
Coach Bruce Pearl believes the Tigers, with their quality wins and strength of schedule, should be even higher.
“We should be No. 1 based on our resume,” Pearl said on Monday. “But that doesn’t mean we’re the best team in the country, and I’m not saying that. I think we’re one of the top 20 teams in the country.”
They certainly are.
Picked to finish fifth in the Southeastern Conference, Auburn (16-1, 5-0 SEC) has rolled through most of its schedule, going 10-1 in Quad 2 or higher games and 5-0 on the road. The Tigers’ lone hiccup was a double-overtime loss to UConn in the Bahamas, but have since reeled off 13 straight wins.
Auburn moved into the top 10 two weeks ago, was No. 4 last week and climbed two spots this week after beating Alabama and Ole Miss.
The Tigers had 36 first-place votes to top-ranked Gonzaga’s 25 in the poll released Monday, but the Zags had a slight edge in overall points.
Auburn gets a chance to add to its resume this week.
The Tigers kick off the week Wednesday against Georgia, a team that’s struggled but has given them trouble in the past. Next up is No. 12 Kentucky Saturday at home.
The Wildcats appear to be rounding into form as they usually do under coach John Calipari and are coming off two lopsided wins over Western Kentucky and Tennessee.
“We’re one of the top five or six teams in our league,” Pearl said. “As far as where we wind up, that’s where we wind up. That’s how you play the season. So, we’ve just got to continue to do the things that we’re doing and know we’ve got to get better if we’re going to continue to win.”
AP TOP 25
Others receiving votes: Iowa 56, BYU 50, Davidson 34, Alabama 26, San Diego State 25, Miami 21, Oregon 15, West Virginia 14, Colorado State 13, Texas A&M 10, Oklahoma 7, TCU 4, North Carolina 2, Indiana 2
Dropped from rankings: Seton Hall 20, Alabama 24
DESERT RAT POISON
Shortly after Arizona raced away from Utah in an 82-64 win on Saturday, first-year coach Tommy Lloyd was asked about the possibility of the Wildcats rising to No. 3 this week, which they did.
“As Nick Saban would say, rat poison. Rat poison,” Lloyd said. “This team is just sitting around and everybody’s telling them how good they are. They’ve got to understand what makes them good.”
Arizona (14-1, 4-0 Pac-12) has been better than expected with a free-flowing offense that Lloyd brought with him from Gonzaga and a big frontcourt full of rim protectors. The Wildcats are first nationally in assists (21.5 per game), scoring (88.5 points) and third in blocked shots (3.3).
Picked to finish tied for fourth in the Pac-12, Arizona climbed to its highest ranking since hitting the same mark in 2017-18.
The Wildcats hit the road to face the Pac-12’s Bay Area teams this week, Stanford on Thursday and California Saturday.
BIG 12 TEST
No. 18 Texas Tech (13-4, 3-2 Big 12) pulled off its biggest win of the season, ending reigning national champion Baylor’s 21-game winning streak with a 65-62 win last week. The Red Raiders followed that up with a win over Oklahoma State, but then lost to Kansas State 62-51 on Saturday.
Texas Tech faces another stiff test on Tuesday, when it hosts No. 15 Iowa State.
The Cyclones (14-3, 2-3) won the first meeting 51-47 on Jan. 5, but Texas Tech’s top two scorers were injured and its roster was down to five scholarship players due to health and safety protocols.
Iowa State has lost two of three, but knocked off then-No. 21 Texas and took No. 7 Kansas down to the wire in a one-point loss.
OTHER RANKED GAMES
The game of the week in the Big Ten is Friday, when No. 8 Wisconsin plays at No. 14 Michigan State.
The Badgers (14-2, 4-1 Big Ten) have won six straight, including wins over No. 4 Purdue and No. 19 Ohio State. They climbed five spots in this week’s poll.
The Spartans went the other way, dropping four spots after losing to Northwestern at home.
An SEC rematch is set for Saturday, when No. 13 is at No. 24 Tennessee.
The Tigers (15-2, 3-2 SEC) won the first meeting 79-67 Jan. 6 in Baton Rouge behind Tari Eason’s 24 points and 12 rebounds. This one will be in Knoxville, where the Vols (11-5, 2-3) are 9-0.
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