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College Basketball

Gators get good news, and a well-deserved bump to a No. 1 seed

Photo: SI

Chris Walker is finally going to be in action for Florida on Tuesday after missing the first 21 games of the season.

For the third straight week, we have a shakeup on the top line in the Bracket Watch. This time, an elite team that has managed to stay under the radar finally gets its due.

It's hard to remember a 19-2 team that plays in a power conference getting less attention than the Florida Gators have received this season. The Gators are ranked No. 3 by the AP, No. 5 in the RPI and No. 5 at KenPom.com. They are seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency and would likely be even higher if they hadn't been short-handed for a decent chunk of the early part of the season due primarily to injuries. Their only two losses were both on the road, at Wisconsin and Connecticut.

As if Florida wasn't already one of the best teams in the conference, freshman forward Chris Walker, a McDonald's All-America, has been cleared to play and will suit up for his first collegiate game this week against Missouri. Walker has missed the Gators' first 21 games while the NCAA looked into his eligibility, eventually ruling that he received preferential treatment from five people, including two agents.

While head coach Billy Donovan may not shake up his rotation that much, Walker gives this team even more depth on its front line. Remember, if he played a full college season, he might have been a lottery pick in the NBA draft. His arrival only makes the Gators a heavier favorite for a deep run in March.

East Region

1. Syracuse (21-0, Last week: East 1): The Orange are now the No. 1 overall seed in the Bracket Watch by virtue of Arizona's loss at California on Saturday. After beating Duke, the next real test for the undefeated Cuse will come at Pittsburgh on Feb. 12.

2. Villanova (19-2, LW: West 2): The Wildcats haven't lost to a team with an RPI worse than No. 8 all season long. Monday's game against Xavier gives them another opportunity for a solid win.

3. Iowa State (16-4, LW: W3): There's no shame in losing at Kansas, as the Cyclones did last week, especially because they bounced back with a win over a surging Oklahoma squad.

4. Iowa (17-5, LW: South 5): The Hawkeyes lost a tough game to Michigan State at home last week, but all five of their losses have come to teams currently in the top 15 in RPI.

West Region

1. Arizona (21-1, LW: W1): They may no longer be undefeated, but the Wildcats are still a safe 1-seed with wins over Duke, Michigan and San Diego State.

2. San Diego State (19-1, LW: E2): Speaking of the Aztecs, they pushed their winning streak to 18 with a victory over Colorado State last week. They'll face one of their few true tests in the Mountain West when they visit Boise State on Wednesday.

3. Michigan (16-5, LW: E4) -- The Wolverines suffered their first Big Ten loss at the hands of Indiana on Sunday. After what should be a stress-free game against Nebraska on Wednesday, they travel to Iowa City to play the Hawkeyes over the weekend.

4. Texas (17-4, LW: Midwest 7): Rick Barnes has to be on the shortlist of National Coach of the Year candidates. The Longhorns are in second in the Big 12 at 6-2 and own the conference's only win over Kansas, an 81-69 domination on Saturday.

Midwest Region

1. Wichita State (23-0, LW: MW1): According to KenPom, the Shockers, now 23-0, have a nearly 40 percent chance to finish the season undefeated. If they do that, they'll be a 1-seed come March.

2. Michigan State (19-3, LW: S2): Sure, they lost to a struggling Georgetown team over the weekend at Madison Square Garden, but that win at Iowa while missing Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson was one of the most impressive any team has had this season.

3. Duke (17-5, LW: W5): They may have lost the season's best game at Syracuse on Saturday, but the Blue Devils are still the top-ranked team in offensive efficiency on KenPom. Duke seems to be coming together heading into the final month of the regular season.

4. Oklahoma (17-5, LW: E7): Oklahoma's lone loss to a team outside the RPI top 10 was by six points at Kansas State, and it now has wins over Texas, Iowa State and Oklahoma State.

South Region

1. Florida (19-2, LW: MW2): Thanks to losses by Kansas and Michigan State last week, Florida finally makes it up to the top line. They should be here again next week after home games against Missouri and Alabama.

2. Kansas (16-5, LW: MW1): The Jayhawks still have the top RPI in the country, thanks to an outstanding seven wins over teams in that ranking's top 35. All five of their losses were to teams in the RPI top 25.

3. Cincinnati (21-2, LW: W4): After beating Louisville on the road last week, the Bearcats took control of the AAC. They play two second-tier teams in the conference this week, hosting Connecticut before heading to Dallas to take on SMU.

4. Creighton (18-3, LW: MW4): The Blue Jays squeaked past St. John's last week, which was not enough to push them up a seed line. They host DePaul on Friday before a rematch with the Red Storm in New York on Sunday.

Last Four In

LSU: The Tigers are currently in the field thanks to their win over Kentucky last Tuesday. To remain in, they can't slip up against Georgia or Auburn this week.

Stanford: The Cardinal had a great week, taking Arizona down to the wire and then beating Arizona State. A win at Cal on Wednesday would likely get them out of a play-in game.

Missouri: While their win at Arkansas was nice, the Tigers could have really done themselves a huge favor by beating Kentucky over the weekend. Their position in the bracket is tenuous.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils' win at California looks even better after the Golden Bears handed Arizona its first loss of the season.

First Four Out

North Carolina State: The Wolfpack have failed in most of their big tests this season, but their win over Florida State last week was their first against a team that is almost certainly going to make the tournament.

Oregon: After winning its first 13 games of the season, the Ducks are now 3-6 in the Pac-12, with losses to Oregon State and Washington. Their only win over a potential tourney team was against Brigham Young.

Richmond: You need to prove to the selection committee that you can beat tournament teams if you are going to be on the right side of the bubble. The Spiders have not done that, evidenced by their 1-5 record against RPI top-50 teams.

Brigham Young: The Cougars took care of business with wins over Pacific and Saint Mary's last week, but they still likely need to beat Gonzaga to have a chance to make the field of 68.

West

East

1. Arizona
16. North Carolina Central/Utah Valley
1. Syracuse
16. Robert Morris/Coastal Carolina
8. Florida State
9. Gonzaga
8. Xavier
9. California
4. Texas
13. Toledo
4. Iowa
13. Stephen F. Austin
5. Ohio State
12. Wisconsin-Green Bay
5. Saint Louis
12. SMU
3. Michigan
14. UC Irvine
3. Iowa State
14. Georgia State
6. Connecticut
11. Southern Miss
6. Pittsburgh
11. Tennessee
7. George Washington
10. Baylor
7. Massachusetts
10. Colorado
2. San Diego State
15. IPFW
2. Villanova
15. Stony Brook
 

South

Midwest

1. Florida
16. Southern
1. Wichita State
16. Chattanooga
8. Minnesota
9. New Mexico
8. UCLA
9. Kansas State
4. Creighton
13. Mercer
4. Oklahoma
13. Delaware
5. Virginia
12. Missouri/Arizona State
5. Louisville
12. Providence
3. Cincinnati
14. Canisius
3. Duke
14. Belmont
6. Kentucky
11. Harvard
6. Memphis
11. Stanford/LSU
7. Wisconsin
10. North Carolina
7. Oklahoma State
10. VCU
2. Kansas
15. Weber State
2. Michigan State
15. American University

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