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College Basketball

Arizona, Syracuse avoid trap games to remain top seeds

Photo: John W. McDonough/SI

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Arizona held off UCLA after blowing a 13-point lead on Thursday.

We've been doing the 2013-14 Bracket Watch for about a month now and in that time have had continuity among the four No. 1 seeds. After Ohio State's back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Iowa, that is no longer the case.

The Buckeyes fell to the 3-line this week, with conference foe Wisconsin replacing them as the top dog in the Midwest Region. Don't look for the Buckeyes to slip much further, however. First of all, there's no shame in losing to Michigan State in East Lansing. Secondly, despite allowing 84 points to Iowa at home, OSU is still first in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defense rankings. While home losses are always damaging, Fran McCaffery has the Hawkeyes looking like a dark-horse Final Four candidate. Something tells me Thad Matta is happy that his team has a chance to get back on track not with a pushover, but at a tough Minnesota team that nearly knocked off the Spartans on the road. This team will need more consistency from LaQuniton Ross -- the junior has scored 25, 11, 5 and 22 points in OSU's four Big Ten games -- but its defense will keep it on the list of legitimate title contenders all season long.

The Top Four Seeds

West Region

1. Arizona (17-0, Last week: West 1) -- The Wildcats showed championship-caliber resolve at UCLA on Thursday, holding on to win after blowing a 13-point lead and committing a season-high 17 turnovers.

2. Wichita State (17-0, LW: W3) -- The Shockers nearly fell from the ranks of the unbeaten at Missouri State, the first of a handful of potential landmines for them in the Valley. Cleanthony Early's 22 points and 14 boards helped them pull it out.

3. Ohio State (15-2, LW: Midwest 1) -- One week ago, the Buckeyes were undefeated. Losing in East Lansing isn't anything for them to hang their heads over, but they failed to protect their home court against Iowa on Sunday. They'll have to get back on track against a Minnesota team that was seconds from beating Michigan State.

4. Baylor (13-2, LW: MW2) -- The Bears' defense was exposed in their loss to Iowa State last week. They allowed the Cyclones to shoot 54.8 percent from the floor, including 40 percent from behind the arc.

East Region

1. Syracuse (16-0, LW: East 1) -- Jim Boeheim's squad proved over the weekend it can win in a number of ways. The Orange shot just 35 percent against North Carolina, yet still picked up a comfortable victory.

2. Iowa State (14-1, LW: South 3) -- The Cyclones suffered their first loss of the season, but still moved up in the Bracket Watch thanks to their evisceration of Baylor. DeAndre Kane is a game-time decision for Monday's game against Kansas, another litmus test for ISU in the Big 12.

3. Kentucky (12-3, LW: MW3) -- Kentucky was initially penciled in as a 4-seed this week, but jumped back up to the 3-line after Colorado's loss at Washington.

4. Colorado (14-3, LW: E3) -- The Buffaloes' resurgence has been jeopardized after Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a non-contact knee injury Sunday.

Midwest Region

1. Wisconsin (16-0, LW: E2) -- This version of the Badgers is easily Bo Ryan's best offensive team since Devin Harris' days in Madison. In their last three halves, one against Iowa and two against Illinois, they've scored 51, 50 and 45 points.

2. Florida (13-2, LW: W2) -- The Gators needed overtime to beat Arkansas, but they were without leading scorer Casey Prather due to a bone bruise in his knee. He is expected to miss six games. Patric Young has tendinitis in both knees, though he was able to play 21 minutes in the win over the Razorbacks.

3. Oklahoma State (14-2, LW: W4) -- The Cowboys bounced back from their loss to Kansas State in their conference opener with wins over Texas and West Virginia last week. A huge game with Kansas looms on Saturday.

4. Memphis (12-3, LW: W5) -- Shaq Goodwin had a huge week, going for 15 points and eight rebounds in the Tigers' win at Louisville before putting up 23 and 11 in their victory at Temple.

South Region

1. Michigan State (15-1, LW: S1) -- It wasn't their best performance of the year, but the Spartans' win over Minnesota was important, especially since it came without Adreian Payne. The senior isn't expected to be out long, though the Spartans can probably survive without him at Northwestern on Wednesday.

2. Villanova (15-1, LW: S2) -- The Wildcats cruised to wins over two of the Big East's doormats, St. John's and Seton Hall. They'll get another, DePaul, in their only game this week.

3. San Diego State (14-1, LW: S4) -- The Aztecs have now ripped off 13 straight wins and may not get another true test until the travel to Boise to take on the Broncos on February 5.

4. Kansas (11-4, LW: E5) -- The Jayhawks return to the top quarter of a bracket after an eye-opening week in which they won at Oklahoma and pounded Kansas State at home. The win in Norman looked even better after the Sooners beat Iowa State over the weekend. For all the handwringing over Andrew Wiggins, he's averaging 15.7 points and 5.4 rebounds, leading the team in both categories.

Last Four In

Virginia: RPI may not be a perfect measure, but the Cavaliers are 2-2 against the RPI top 50 and 6-4 against the top 100.

Saint Mary's: One of the strongest factors in favor of the Gaels is their win over Boise State, a team that is also squarely on the bubble.

California: The Golden Bears' win over Oregon last week is sufficient for now to get them into the dance, albeit in a play-in game. They'll need to fatten up on the state of Washington and USC before a four-game stretch in which they play UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and Stanford.

SMU: While the Mustangs have struggled against the better competition they've played this season, their win over Connecticut and close losses to Virginia, Cincinnati and Louisville are enough to qualify.

First Four Out

Clemson: The Tigers are definitely on the radar after their win over Duke on Saturday. They quietly sit in ninth in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defense rankings.

Boise State: It's hard to justify an at-large bid for the Broncos given that they're 0-5 against teams in the RPI top 100.

Texas: They can't continue to trade on their victory over North Carolina, especially as the Tar Heels moved to 0-3 in the ACC. They're presented with an opportunity for a big win this week when Iowa State travels to Austin.

Brigham Young: They may forever look back at their 90-88 loss to Iowa State at the end of November as the one that got away. They'd likely be in the field, at least in a play-in game, had they pulled that one out.

The 68-Team Field

West

East

1. Arizona
16. St. Francis (NY)/Florida Gulf Coast
1. Syracuse
16. UNC Asheville/Murray State
8. Illinois
9. Tennessee
8. Kansas State
9. North Carolina
4. Baylor
13. UW Green Bay
4. Colorado
13. Georgia State
5. Duke
12. Southern Miss
5. Iowa
12. UC Santa Barbara
3. Ohio State
14. Boston University
3. Kentucky
14. Stephen F. Austin
6. Creightoni
11. George Washington
6. Oregon
11. Dayton
7. Missouri
10. Florida State University
7. New Mexico
10. Michigan
2. Wichita State
15. IPFW
2. Iowa State
15. UMKC
 

Midwest

South

1. Wisconsin
16. Western Carolina
1. Michigan State
16. Southern
8. Connecticut
9. Georgetown
8. Xavier
9. Virgina Commonwealth
4. Memphis
13. Manhattan
4. Kansas
13. Ohio
5. Gonzaga
12. Minnesota
5. Massachusetts
12. California/SMU
3. Oklahoma State
14. Delaware
3. San Diego State
14. Stony Brook
6. Cincinnati
11. Virginia/St. Mary's
6. Louisville
11. Oklahoma
7. UCLA
10. Harvard
7. Pittsburgh
10. Saint Louis
2. Florida
15. North Carolina Central
2. Villanova
15. Northern Colorado

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