Alabama, Houston lead last AP men’s basketball poll before NCAA Tournament

Purdue, seeded first in the East Region, earned three first-place votes and was third in the AP poll after the regular-season Big Ten champion won its conference tournament, too.

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Alabama players celebrate after winning the SEC tournament.

Alabama players celebrate after winning the SEC tournament.

John Amis/AP

The overall No. 1 seed for March Madness is No. 1 in the final AP Top 25, too.

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.

Purdue, seeded first in the East Region, earned three first-place votes and was third in the AP poll after the regular-season Big Ten champion won its conference tournament, too. Kansas, which expects to have Bill Self back for the NCAA tourney after a medical scare, was fourth after receiving the No. 1 seed in the West.

Texas routed the Jayhawks in the finals of the Big 12 Tournament and rounded out the top five.

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.”

RISING AND FALLING

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.

IN AND OUT

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.

The Tigers and Owls made the AP poll at the expense of Creighton, which was routed by Xavier in the Big East semifinals, and Kentucky, which fell to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament quarterfinal round.

CONFERENCE WATCH

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.

THE TOP 25

1. Alabama (48 first-place votes) 29-5

2. Houston (9) 31-3

3. Purdue (3) 29-5

4. Kansas 27-7

5. Texas 26-8

6. Marquette 28-6

7. UCLA (1) 29-5

8. Arizona 28-6

9. Gonzaga 28-5

10. UConn 25-8

11. Baylor 22-10

12. Duke 26-8

13. Xavier 25-9

14. Virginia 25-7

15. Kansas St. 23-9

16. Miami 25-7

17. Texas A&M 25-9

18. San Diego St. 27-6

19. Saint Mary’s 26-7

20. Tennessee 23-10

21. Indiana 22-11

22. TCU 21-12

23. Missouri 24-9

24. Memphis 26-8

25. FAU 31-3

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