By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Basketball Writer
Gonzaga will head into the NCAA Tournament exactly where it ended up in the final AP Top 25: right on top.
In fact, that’s where the Bulldogs began the season, too.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for coach Mark Few’s team, which dropped as low as fifth after a couple of early losses. But the Bulldogs wound up with 54 of the 61 first-place votes from a national media panel Monday after romping through the West Coast Conference Tournament to land at No. 1 in the final AP Top 25 for the second straight year.
Now, it’s a matter of finishing things off. The Bulldogs, who earned the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year, lost to Baylor in last year’s national championship game.
“It’s an amazing accomplishment,” Few said. “It’s a reward for being good for four months, 4 1/2 months, and this (NCAA) tournament is a reward for being good for three weeks. So I think it’s an amazing accomplishment by this group and last year’s group, and these No. 1 seeds we’ve been able to earn is also simply another amazing accomplishment.”
The Bulldogs begin their quest for that elusive national tile on Thursday against Georgia State in Portland, Oregon, where they should have a hefty fan advantage. They would face Boise State or Memphis in the West Region’s second round.
“It’s a fool’s errand to look down the road. There’s so many good teams,” Few said. “We just finished a two-game tournament and that’s what this is: a two-game tournament. You don’t win the first one, you don’t get the second one.”
The top four teams in the final AP Top 25 landed on the top four seed lines of the NCAA Tournament.
Arizona, which got the other seven first-place votes to finish second, will open against the play-in winner between Wright State and Bryant in the South Region. The Wildcats were followed by at No. 3 by Kansas, the top team in the Midwest, and Big 12 rival Baylor, which landed on the top seed line in the East Region.
The Jayhawks play the Texas Southern-Texas A&M Corpus Christi winner while the Bears open against Norfolk State.
The biggest departure between the bracket and the final poll came with SEC Tournament champ Tennessee, which landed at fifth in the AP Top 25. The Vols didn’t get the same kind of support from the selection committee, earning the third seed in the South Region and a tough potential road through Arizona and No. 2 seed Villanova to reach the Final Four.
“Wherever they put us, we’ll go. Got to be ready to play, and again,” Volunteers coach Rick Barnes said. “Just I’m happy for our guys, and we’ll see what happens going forward. We have a new season starting again. We have to be ready.”
BEST OF THE REST
Villanova was sixth in the final Top 25, followed by Kentucky, Auburn and Duke — all of them No. 2 seeds in the NCAA tourney — with Purdue rounding out the top 10. The Boilermakers earned the No. 3 seed in the East Region.
UCLA was 11th and Texas Tech was No. 12. They were followed by Providence and Wisconsin, each of which was left off one of the Top 25 ballots, with Houston coming in at No. 15. Big Ten Tournament champion Iowa was 16th with Arkansas, Saint Mary’s, Illinois and Murray State rounding out the top 20. UConn, Southern California, Boise State, Colorado State and Texas finished out the final Top 25 of the college basketball season.
No team has been No. 1 in the final Top 25 and gone on to win the national championship since Kentucky in 2012, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good barometer for who to watch in the NCAA Tournament. Each of the last six national champions finished among the top six in the final poll, including Baylor, which was third last season.
In fact, the lowest ranked team to win the title in at least 20 years was UConn, which was 18th in the 2014 final poll.
UP AND DOWN, IN AND OUT
Iowa was the biggest mover, climbing eight spots to No. 16, while Auburn slid four spots to No. 8. The only newcomer was Boise State at No. 23 while North Carolina fell out after losing to Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament semifinals.
The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 tied for the most teams in the final Top 25 with four apiece, while the Pac 12 and Big East each had three. The West Coast and Mountain West conferences each had two teams while the once-mighty ACC had only Duke — the same number of teams as the Ohio Valley (Murray State) and American (Houston) conferences.
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