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No. 1 seeds remain in place for bracket that will have depth at top

Photo: SI

Despite the presence of likely Player of the Year Doug McDermott, Creighton may have a hard time landing a top-3 seed.

The first weekend of the NCAA tournament gets more fanfare, but the second is just as good, if not better, for a different reason. Sure, it doesn't have the emotions of a 14-seed knocking off a No. 3 and reacting as if it just won the championship, or the sheer excitement of the beginning of the dance, but it presents us with the best set of matchups, as most of the 16 teams remaining are capable of winning a championship.

That will be truer than ever this year, given the depth at the top of the bracket. In this week's Bracket Watch, the four No. 2 seeds are a combined 80-12, and feature two teams, Kansas and Michigan State, that are in the conversation for best teams in the country. Cincinnati just lost for the first time in the American Athletic Conference, and the Bearcats are a 3-seed. Duke is the No. 1 offense in terms of adjusted efficiency on kenpom.com, and the Blue Devils, too, find themselves a No. 3. Creighton features the runaway National Player of the Year in Doug McDermott, but even the best scorer on the collegiate level can't push his team above the 4-line after a loss on Sunday to St. John's.

When you're settling in for Selection Sunday just under five weeks from now, pay particular attention to the top-four seeds in each bracket. They'll be the ones providing us with the best drama.

East Region

1. Syracuse (23-0, LW: East 1): The Orange remain unbeaten heading into mid-February. They have road games remaining with the teams currently in second through fourth in the ACC, starting with Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

2. Villanova (21-2, LW: E2): The Wildcats pounded likely tourney-bound Xavier by 23 points last week, adding that impressive victory to a resume that includes wins over Kansas and Iowa.

3. Iowa State (18-4, LW: E3): Melvin Ejim had potentially the best game in Cyclone history, putting up 48 points and 18 rebounds in the win over TCU. Fred Hoiberg's squad is 18-2 against all teams not coached by Bill Self, including wins over tourney locks Michigan, Iowa, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State.

4. Iowa (18-6, LW: E4): The Hawkeyes bounced back from a tough loss to Ohio State by throttling Michigan at home. All six of their losses are to teams in the top 20 in RPI.

West Region

1. Arizona (23-1, LW: W1): Brandon Ashley's absence showed up right away for the Wildcats, as they struggled to beat Oregon at home. If there's a silver lining to the injury, it's that it happened with plenty of time for Arizona to adjust before the postseason.

2. San Diego State (21-1, LW: W2): There may be glut of teams worth of 2-seeds come Selection Sunday, but it will be hard to move the Aztecs off the line. Remember, they beat Kansas and Creighton, and their only loss is to Arizona.

3. Duke (19-5, LW: Midwest 3): Jabari Parker had the best game of his Duke career on Saturday, scoring 29 points and pulling down 16 boards in the Blue Devils' win over Boston College. They shifted to the West Region to make room for ACC rival Virginia. The next installment of Duke-UNC comes in Chapel Hill on Wednesday.

4. Louisville (19-4, LW: MW5): The Cardinals' best win remains at Connecticut, but all four of their losses are by single-digits, three of them to teams locked into the tournament in Cincinnati, Memphis and Kentucky.

Midwest Region

1. Wichita State (25-0, LW: MW1): After dispatching of Indiana State in Terre Haute last week, the road to an undefeated season for the Shockers is clear. According to kenpom.com, they have a 70-percent chance to finish the regular season with an unblemished record.

2. Michigan State (20-4, LW: MW2): The Spartans were without Branden Dawson and Keith Appling at Wisconsin on Sunday. Gary Harris shot 3-20 from the floor. And they lost by two points. They get to stay on the 2-line.

3. Cincinnati (22-3. LW: South 3): The Bearcats suffered their first loss in the AAC last week to SMU, but the resume, with five wins over teams in the top 40 in RPI, still warrants a No. 3 seed.

4. Virginia (19-5, LW: S5): The Cavaliers have ripped off seven straight wins after nearly knocking off Duke in Durham last month, a run that includes wins over Florida State, North Carolina and Pittsburgh on the road.

South Region

1. Florida (21-2, LW: S1): The Gators haven't lost for two months and haven't really been challenged since winning by two at Arkansas in early January. We finally get to see the first showdown between Florida and Kentucky on Saturday.

2. Kansas (18-5, LW: S2): Another week, another pair of double-digit victories for a Kansas squad that could be a No. 1 seed by time Selection Sunday rolls around. Despite having five losses, they're first in RPI.

3. Michigan (17-6, LW: W3): While they got destroyed at Iowa on Saturday, it wasn't quite enough to knock the Wolverines down to a No. 4. Their next three games, at Ohio State and home for Wisconsin and Michigan State, will have a major bearing on their seeding.

4. Creighton (19-4, LW: S4): Doug McDermott is averaging 25.3 points per game, and could end the season with the coveted 50/40/90 shooting percentages. He's shooting 49.6 percent from the floor, 42.6 percent from three, and 89.7 percent from the line.

Last Four In

Providence: It was tempting to knock the Friars out of the picture after losses to St. John's and Xavier last week, but their resume still gets them in, thanks primarily to the win over Creighton.

LSU: The Tigers took a hit at Georgia last week, but wins over Kentucky, Missouri and St. Joe's, as well as a 3-3 record against teams in the top 50 in RPI, is enough for them to remain in the picture this week.

Richmond: The Spiders own two wins against teams in the top 50 in RPI, including a big victory against Massachusetts. They've also defeated likely tournament teams Delaware and Belmont.

Clemson: The Tigers have lacked statement win since beating Duke a month ago, but they got themselves back into the tourney discussion with a win at Florida State two Saturdays ago. Their spot in the bracket, however, has as much to do with the other bubble teams failing as it does with them succeeding.

First Four Out

Oregon: The Ducks fell at both Arizona and Arizona State by two points, and still have just one win over a team in the top 50 in RPI, a two-month old victory against BYU.

Missouri: They had a chance to get back in the picture in the last 10 days, but the Tigers lost to Kentucky and Florida, then dropped a must-have game at Ole Miss.

Indiana: The Hoosiers have a way with coming up with resume-building victories juxtaposed to damaging losses. Four days after beating Wisconsin in January, they lost to Northwestern. After losing to Nebraska on Jan. 30, they beat Michigan three days later.

Georgetown: The Hoyas got back into the tournament discussion by beating an undermanned, lackadaisical Michigan State team on a neutral court on February 1. While wins over DePaul and Butler last week won't really move the needle, they're games the Hoyas had to have to remain on the bubble.

The Field Of 68

West

East

1. Arizona
16. North Carolina Central/Utah Valley
1. Syracuse
16. Robert Morris/VMI
8. Kansas State
9. Gonzaga
8. New Mexico
9. Arizona State
4. Louisville
13. Delaware
4. Iowa
13. Stephen F. Austin
5. Wisconsin
12. Richmond/Missouri
5. Kentucky
12. Southern Miss
3. Duke
14. UC Irvine
3. Iowa State
14. Georgia State
6. Memphis
11. Harvard
6. Connecticut
11. Tennessee
7. Virginia Commonwealth
10. Oklahoma State
7. Oklahoma
10. California
2. San Diego State
15. Iona
2. Villanova
15. Stony Brook
 

Midwest

South

1. Wichita State
16. Davidson
1. Florida
16. Southern
8. George Washington
9. Stanford
8. Minnesota
9. North Carolina
4. Virginia
13. UW-Green Bay
4. Creighton
13. Mercer
5. Ohio State
12. Colorado
5. Saint Louis
12. Toledo
3. Cincinnati
14. Belmont
3. Michigan
14. North Dakota State
6. Texas
11. Providence/LSU
6. Pittsburgh
11. SMU
7. UCLA
10. Florida State
7. Massachusetts
10. Xavier
2. Michigan State
15. American University
2. Kansas
15. Weber State

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