Alabama, fresh off an SEC Tournament title to go with its regular-season crown, ascended to the top spot Monday, earning 48 of 61 first-place votes to jump Houston, which lost in the American Athletic Conference final without star guard Marcus Sasser. Alabama also spent a week at No. 1 last month.
“We set goals over the summer: regular season, (league) tournament, obviously a national championship,” Crimson Tide guard Jahvon Quinerly said. “I’m going to make sure our guys are ready to go no matter who we match up with.”
That will be Texas A&M-Corpus Christi or Southeast Missouri State, who meet in a First Four game Tuesday night. The winner will play the Crimson Tide on Thursday in Birmingham, an hour down the road from their Tuscaloosa campus.
The top seed in the South Region, Alabama would face West Virginia or Maryland for a spot in the Sweet 16 with a win.
And how sweet that would be for a team that’s gone through the ringer: former teammate Darius Miles and another man have been indicted on capital murder charges for a January shooting, an investigator has testified star freshman Brandon Miller was asked by Miles to bring the gun that night and police have also said Jaden Bradley was at the scene.
“To beat the teams we had to beat to get here was not easy,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said last week. “So proud of the guys, proud of their effort, proud they were able to get really focused. Got a lot of mental toughness.”
Houston still received nine first-place votes and was No. 2 after losing to Memphis in the final of the AAC tourney, where Sasser hurt his groin in the semifinal round. He did not play in the championship and his status will be watched closely leading up to the Cougars’ NCAA opener against Northern Kentucky.
Marquette remained at No. 6 after its Big East tourney title. UCLA earned one first-place vote and was seventh after losing in the Pac-12 Tournament final to Arizona, which was No. 8. Gonzaga and UConn rounded out the top 10.
“We have a special team. We’re not going to do what our past teams have done, which was to maybe get caught up in the wallow of losing,” said Huskies coach Dan Hurley, whose team fell to the Golden Eagles in the Big East tourney semifinals. “We’re going to get our minds right very quickly and get ready to make a run next week.”
Duke made the biggest jump in the final poll after beating Virginia for the ACC Tournament title, climbing nine spots to No. 12 — the highest the Blue Devils have been since the third week of the season. First-year coach Jon Scheyer has them seeded fifth in the East in the NCAA Tournament.
UCLA, seeded second in the West, fell five spots to No. 7 in the final poll.
Memphis was hardly receiving votes last week, but rolling to the AAC tourney title put Penny Hardaway’s crew into the poll for the first time this season at No. 24. Florida Atlantic, the Conference USA regular-season and tourney champ, returned at No. 25 after spending the first four weeks in the poll in school history in January and February.
Widely considered the toughest league in the nation, the Big 12 had two teams in the top five and five in the Top 25. The league has seven schools heading to the NCAA Tournament after Oklahoma State was left on the bubble.
The SEC, which tied the Big Ten for the most NCAA bids with eight, had four teams in the final Top 25. The Big East and ACC had three apiece, though the Big East had two in the top 10 and the leading ACC team was Duke at No. 12.
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