Michigan State holding off Wisconsin for final No. 1 seed

Tuesday December 17th, 2013

Sam Dekker and Wisconsin have one of the nation's most impressive non-conference resumes.
Andy Manis/AP

Wisconsin is one of 14 remaining undefeated teams in Division I and has wins over Florida and Marquette at home and Virginia on the road. Big Ten rival Michigan State entered the season with more acclaim, but it has a loss. Still, it's the Spartans, ranked No. 5 in this week's AP poll, and not the No. 4 Badgers who find themselves with a top seed in this week's Bracket Watch.

While the Bo Ryan's squad did bump up a spot to the two-line this week, it still hasn't done enough to warrant moving it ahead of Michigan State in the pecking order. The Spartans' lone slip-up was to a North Carolina team that also has wins over Louisville and Kentucky. Meanwhile, the Spartans' own triumph over John Calipari's Wildcats on a neutral floor carries more weight than any of Wisconsin's victories. It may seem counterintuitive to rank an undefeated team behind a one-loss team from the same conference, but the two do not yet have any common opponents.

Wisconsin is a team trending in the right direction, however, and this version of the Badgers could be the most dangerous one in years, especially if sophomore Sam Dekker continues his strong play. The sophomore from Sheboygan, Wisc., is scoring 14.3 points per game on 51.2 percent from the floor, and leads the team with 5.8 rebounds per game.

Wisconsin very well could jump the Spartans at some point, even before the two teams meet for the only time this season on Feb. 9 in Madison. At this point though, Tom Izzo's bunch still has an equal or superior resume.

NOTE: SI.com's weekly projection for the entire NCAA tournament field will debut on Jan. 6. Until then, we will take a look at the top four seeds in each region. The below is based on where things would stand if the season ended today.

East Region

1. Syracuse (10-0; Last week: East 1)

The Orange stayed unbeaten with a win over rival St. John's on Sunday but its next test against a former Big East opponent -- a Dec. 28 matchup against Villanova at the Carrier Dome -- will be a far better indicator of how good Syracuse is.

2. Wisconsin (12-0; LW: West 3)

The Badgers have two weeks off between last Saturday's win over Eastern Kentucky and their Dec. 28 game against Prairie View A&M.

3. Memphis (7-1; LW: W4)

The Tigers get a chance to play a name-brand opponent other than Oklahoma State when they take on Florida at Madison Square Garden tonight. Win or lose, Memphis will have plenty of chances for resume-building wins this season, with two games each Cincinnati, Connecticut and Louisville.

4. Florida (7-2; LW: On the cusp)

The Gators, whose two losses this year were in a pair of true road games at Wisconsin and Connecticut by a combined seven points, posted a convincing home win over Kansas in their only game last week, enabling them to climb back onto this list. Beating Memphis tonight at Madison Square Garden would likely give them another boost, provided they also take care of business against Fresno State on Saturday.

West Region

1. Arizona (11-0; LW: W1)

The Wildcats, our No. 1 overall seed, might have lost that distinction but kept this spot even had they not rallied in the final minutes to beat No. 25 Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday. Arizona came from 11 down in the second half, thanks in part to the way freshman star Aaron Gordon, who is proving to be an impact player all over the floor, shut down the Wolverines' Glenn Robinson III.

2. Villanova (10-0; LW: South 3)

This brand of Wildcats is now 10-0 for the first time since 2005-06 when they went to the Elite Eight, and they're doing it despite some poor perimeter shooting. Villanova attempts 26.8 3-pointers per game, fifth most in the nation, but is making just 32.1 percent. That doesn't bode well for facing Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone defense next week.

3. Duke (7-2; LW: Midwest 2)

The Blue Devils returned from a 13-day layoff to wax Gardner-Webb in a Monday tuneup for Thursday's showdown with UCLA at Madison Square Garden. Duke has lost both of its neutral-site games against big-name opponents this year, falling to Kansas in Chicago and to Arizona at MSG. The Bruins, especially sophomore forward Jordan Adams (21.2 ppg) are the Devils' last chance to bank a quality non-conference win to go with their home victory over Michigan on Dec. 3.

4. Kansas (7-3; LW: E2)

Andrew Wiggins' up-and-down season continued last week. After putting up 26 points in a loss at Florida (on the heels of 22 in another road loss at Colorado), he was held to 11 on 3-of-11 shooting in a win over New Mexico. It will be interesting to see how he and the Jayhawks respond in yet another non-conference test this Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse against Georgetown.

Midwest Region

1. Ohio State (10-0; LW: S1)

This Saturday's game against inconsistent Notre Dame is essentially all that stands between the Buckeyes and keeping this No. 1 seed heading into their showdown with Michigan State on Jan. 7. Between now and then, point guard Aaron Craft will get to pad his school record for assists that he broke last Saturday.

2. Baylor (8-1; LW: MW3)

The Bears boast one of the most impressive resumes this season. They've beaten Colorado, Dayton and, last week, then-No. 3 Kentucky and their only loss came by single-digits on a neutral court to Syracuse. Baylor gets a well-deserved break before Big 12 play starts, with four games against cupcakes. If a No. 1 seed slips up between now and then, the Bears could take its place.

3. North Carolina (7-2; LW: On the cusp)

It might be time to stop being surprised by the Tar Heels. On Saturday, Carolina picked up another huge non-conference win, beating Kentucky at home to go with wins over Louisville (on a neutral court) and Michigan State (on the road). UNC has now beaten the top three teams in the preseason AP top 25, and that win over the Cardinals bumps the Tar Heels ahead of the defending national champions on the seed line. Almost as welcome for the Heels: James Michael McAdoo broke out of a slump with 20 points against the Wildcats after having only one double-figure scoring game in his last five outings.

4. Louisville Cardinals (9-1; LW: E3)

The Cardinals still have three tuneups before their yearly battle with Kentucky on Dec. 28. Their pressure defense has been as active as ever, forcing 19.0 turnovers per game, third-best in the nation.

South Region

1. Michigan State (8-1; LW: MW1)

The Spartans went down to the wire with Oakland last week, though double-doubles from Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson eventually paced them to a 67-63 win. Gary Harris missed that game with an ankle injury but this was still the third shaky performance from Michigan State, to go with a narrow nine-point win at home over Columbia on Nov. 15 and a 14-point loss at the Breslin Center to North Carolina on Dec. 4.

2. Oklahoma State (9-1; LW: W2)

After scoring at least 25 points in three straight games, Marcus Smart has scored fewer than 20 in his last four. The Cowboys will need him at his best to beat No. 20 Colorado in Las Vegas on Saturday.

3. Connecticut (9-0; LW: MW4)

They may be undefeated, but the Huskies will need a few more big wins to jump up from a three-seed. Their best victory of the season was at home against an undermanned Florida team.

4. Oregon (9-0; LW: E4)

The Ducks managed to go undefeated while Dominic Artis and Ben Carter were suspended but, like UConn, it's hard to seed them higher when their best wins are over two unranked teams in Georgetown and Illinois. Artis and Carter will be back when Oregon hosts a tough BYU team on Saturday. The Cougars went down to the wire with Iowa State and were within three points of Wichita State with three minutes to play.

On the cusp

Kentucky: While it would be a surprise if the Wildcats are not a top-four seed come March, their three losses have them on the outside looking in for now. It's worth nothing that they've fallen to all three ranked teams they have played this year: Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina.

Iowa State: The Cyclones rallied impressively in their 85-82 win over the in-state rival Hawkeyes for a nice non-conference win to pair with their one over Michigan on Nov. 17.

Colorado: The Buffaloes have won 10 straight games after a neutral-court loss to Baylor to start the season. Saturday's game in Stillwater against Oklahoma State will give us a good idea of exactly where they are heading into the Pac-12 season.

Wichita State: After holding Tennessee to 38.5-percent shooting in a win last week, the Shockers are off to a 10-0 start for the first time in school history.

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