Ohio State remains undefeated and a No. 1 seed with comeback win

Monday December 23rd, 2013

Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored all nine of his points against Notre Dame in the final minute of the game.
Jason DeCrow/AP

With 58 seconds remaining at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, it looked like the Bracket Watch would have its first real shakeup at the top this season. Ohio State, a No. 1 seed in every iteration of the Watch thus far, trailed Notre Dame by eight points. The Irish had completely stifled the Buckeyes for the first 19 minutes of the second half, limiting them to just 17 points and seven made field goals. Then Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. took over, forcing two quick turnovers after a LaQuinton Ross jumper to cut the deficit to two points. The veteran duo hooked up again for the game-winning bucket with 16 seconds left.

It wasn't so much that OSU came back to stun Notre Dame and rob the Irish of what would have been a resume-building victory that kept the Buckeyes a No. 1 seed in this week's Watch. It was more the resiliency and defensive effort from a team that knows exactly what it is and how it will have to play if it wants to be suiting up in early April this year. While their offense abandoned them for significant stretches, the Buckeyes held an Irish squad that had been averaging 81.2 points per game to 61 points on 45.1 percent from the floor. The Irish make nearly 40 percent of their three pointers. They made just 4-of-14 on Saturday.

The Buckeyes will simply have to get more offensive consistency from both Ross and Smith if they are to compete once conference play begins, but they know that their defense will have them right there in every game they play this season. That's a necessary element for a team that has designs on raising a Big Ten championship banner.

West Region

1. Arizona (12-0, Last week: West 1)

The Wildcats held onto the No. 1 overall seed after a 69-43 win over Southern in their only game last week. They play their final non-conference game of the season Monday against Northern Arizona and then shut it down for 2013.

2. Baylor (10-1, LW: Midwest 2)

They got a scare from Northwestern State last week, but the Bears pulled it out in overtime behind 20 points from Kenny Chery. After finishing off their non-conference slate, two of their first five games in the Big 12 are on the road against Iowa State and Kansas.

3. Duke (9-2, LW: W3)

In cruising to wins over Gardner-Webb and UCLA last week, the Blue Devils scored 165, led by Jabari Parker who had 45 points on 56 percent shooting in the two games combined. They host Eastern Michigan on Saturday, their only game this week.

4. Wichita State (12-0, LW: On the cusp)

The Shockers remained unbeaten with wins over Alabama and North Carolina Central last week, and it's now time talk about this team running the slate. If they can make it through back-to-back road games with Indiana State and Northern Iowa the first week of February, they'll likely take that goose egg under the "L" column into the Big Dance.

Midwest Region

1. Ohio State (12-0, LW: MW 1)

The Buckeyes welcome Louisiana-Monroe to Columbus on Friday, but you can bet they already have Jan. 7 circled on their calendar. That's when they travel to East Lansing for their first of two games against Michigan State.

2. Villanova (11-0, LW: W2)

Villanova already has wins over ranked teams in Kansas and Iowa, but it has a chance to put the country on notice when it takes on former Big East rival Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on Saturday. While the Wildcats haven't shot it well from deep this year, they have the guards -- specifically James Bell and Darrun Hilliard -- to put pressure on the Orange 2-3 zone.

3. Memphis (8-2, LW: E3)

A neutral-court loss by two against a Florida team that gets better by the week isn't enough to knock Memphis from a 3-seed. The Tigers have two more cupcakes before playing Cincinnati, Louisville (on the road) and Connecticut in three of their first four conference games.

4. Kansas (8-3, LW: W4)

The Jayhawks ran Georgetown out of the gym on Saturday, getting 17 apiece from Joel Embiid and Tarik Black in an 86-64 rout. Andrew Wiggins, however, shot just 3-of-10 from the floor, the fourth time this season he shot worse than 40 percent in a game. They don't play this week, but host a tough Toledo squad next Monday. The undefeated Rockets average 86.4 points per game and are the clear favorite in the MAC.

East Region

1. Syracuse (11-0, LW: East 1)

The Orange have a stranglehold on a 1-seed right now, and could challenge Arizona's standing as the No. 1 overall team in the bracket with an impressive showing against Villanova on Saturday.

2. Wisconsin (12-0, LW: E2)

What will it take for the Badgers to jump up to a top seed? They don't play Ohio State or Michigan State until February, so they'll need to hold serve and hope for one of the teams ahead of them to slip. A win over Michigan on January 18 would help, too.

3. Florida (9-2, LW: E4)

Casey Prather has become a true star for the Gators in his senior season, leading them to a 77-75 win over Memphis at Madison Square Garden last week. They may not get another real challenge until the second week of February when they travel to Tennessee and Kentucky.

4. Iowa State (9-0, LW: On the cusp)

Fred Hoiberg has his Cyclones undefeated and scoring 89.6 points per game, the second-highest total in the country. They play Akron in the seminfinals of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu on Monday. A win there would set up a matchup with the winner of South Carolina and Boise State on Christmas Day.

South Region

1. Michigan State (10-1, LW: S1)

The Spartans put together their best half of basketball this year in the second half against Texas, scoring 56 points on 62 percent shooting. Aderian Payne had a career-high 33 points and was instrumental as MSU put the game away over the last 10 minutes. They should find themselves right back here next week, as their host New Orleans in their only game this week.

2. Oklahoma State (11-1, LW: S2)

The Cowboys got their first big win since November on Saturday, earning a 78-73 victory over then-No. 20 Colorado in Las Vegas behind 23 points and 11 rebounds from Markel Brown. They don't play this week but get tested immediately in conference play with games against Kansas State and Texas.

3. Louisville (11-1, LW: MW4)

Rick Pitino's bunch is 11-1 after two easy victories last week, but it bears mentioning that the Cardinals do not boast a win over a team in the top 50 of RPI or Ken Pomeroy's rankings. They can change that on Saturday when they travel to Lexington to take on Kentucky in their annual Bluegrass battle.

4. Oregon (11-0, LW: S4)

The Ducks squeaked past BYU in overtime on Saturday, keeping themselves among the ranks of the unbeaten thanks to a 31-point, 13-rebound night from Jason Calliste. Despite their gaudy record, they can't move off the 4-line until their best win is better than a seven-point victory over Illinois. They'll get a chance for that in Boulder on Jan. 5.

On the cusp

Kentucky: Julius Randle boosted his Wooden Award bona fides with his ninth double-double of the season in a win over Belmont. The Wildcats will be back in the better section of this column next week if they can beat Louisville on Saturday.

North Carolina: The hardest team in the country to figure out continued its confounding ways last week, as the Tar Heels fell to Texas before needing overtime to get past Davidson at home. Leslie McDonald gives them the second outside-shooting threat they lacked, though they'll now be without Joel James for about two weeks as he nurses a sprained MCL. They have to have their fingers crossed hoping he'll be back for their Jan. 11 game at Syracuse.

Connecticut: The Huskies suffered their first loss of the season on Wednesday, losing 53-51 to Stanford at home. That was enough to relegate them to the cusp this week. Their first two conference games are at Houston and SMU, but they'll challenge themselves after that when they host Ivy League favorite Harvard on Jan. 8.

Colorado: The Buffaloes had their 10-game winning streak snapped by Oklahoma State on Saturday night in Las Vegas. Their next chance to jump up to a top-four seed comes on Jan. 5 when they host Oregon.

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