By AARON BEARD, AP Basketball Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Virginia went from being an unranked team that few expected to contend in the Atlantic Coast Conference to the unanimous No. 1 in the final AP Top 25 of the season.
The Cavaliers (31-2) earned all 65 first-place votes in Monday’s poll to remain on top for the fifth straight week, the past two by unanimous counts. That came after Virginia completed a 20-1 run against Atlantic Coast Conference teams by winning the league tournament , which helped the Cavs secure the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“Each year presents different opportunities and challenges,” coach Tony Bennett said after the field was unveiled Sunday. “You’ve heard me say it and it’s what I keep saying is you can’t overcomplicate it.
“You prepare well, you try to improve and then you play to win and I think that’s that best way to go about it from past experiences and all that.”
Virginia was picked in the preseason to finish sixth in the ACC, but climbed to No. 1 exactly one month ago for the first time since the Ralph Sampson era.
Now the Cavaliers, who headline the NCAA South bracket , will try to make the Final Four for only the third time and first since 1984.
ALIGNED AT THE TOP
The top four teams in the AP poll matched the selection committee’s No. 1 seeds. Villanova (30-4) won the Big East Tournament and stayed at No. 2, while Xavier (28-5) was third and Kansas (27-7) jumped five spots to fourth after winning the Big 12 Tournament.
Villanova is the No. 1 seed in the East , Xavier in the West and Kansas in the Midwest .
Michigan State slid a spot to fifth, though the Spartans had last week off after the earlier-than-usual Big Ten Tournament.
Cincinnati climbed to No. 6 after winning the American Athletic Conference Tournament, while Big Ten tourney champ Michigan stayed at No. 7.
Gonzaga slid two spots to No. 8, while Duke fell four spots to No. 9 after losing in the ACC semifinals to North Carolina — which climbed two spots to No. 10.
St. Mary’s (28-5) missed the NCAA Tournament despite checking in at No. 25 in this week’s poll, down five spots.
The Gaels suffered an upset loss to BYU in the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinals March 5, leaving them at No. 40 in the RPI and owning just a 4-3 record against Quadrant 1 and 2 opponents.
Now St. Mary’s is a 1-seed in the NIT .
Kansas’ climb was the biggest of the week, while No. 12 Arizona moved up three spots after winning the Pac-12 Tournament. No. 15 West Virginia also climbed three spots after reaching the Big 12 tourney final.
Wichita State joined St. Mary’s with the week’s biggest tumble, falling five spots to No. 16 after falling to No. 21 Houston in the AAC semifinals.
Hello again to Kentucky, which re-entered the poll at No. 18 after beating Tennessee to win the Southeastern Conference Tournament. This is the third time the Wildcats have climbed back in after falling out since mid-January — which marked the only times they have been unranked since March 2014.
Rhode Island’s loss to Davidson in Sunday’s Atlantic 10 Tournament final dropped the Rams out from No. 25.
The AP Top 25 ended up with four teams holding the top ranking this season, with Villanova spending a season-high eight weeks in two stints there. Preseason No. 1 Duke held the spot for five weeks, Michigan State made a one-week appearance there and then Virginia spent the last five weeks at No. 1.
Of that group, Duke and Virginia each spent two weeks as the unanimous No. 1.
And among the wildest swings, Arizona State, Oklahoma and Texas A&M all pushed into the top 5 only to end up unranked. The Sun Devils were No. 3 and the Aggies were No. 5 in the Christmas Day poll, while the Sooners hit No. 4 on Jan. 15.
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By AARON BEARD, AP Basketball Writer