Michigan makes big leap while Kansas returns as a top seed

Monday January 27th, 2014

Nik Stauskas and Caris LaVert celebrate their monumental win over Michigan State on Saturday.
Leon Halip/Getty Images

This week's biggest riser in the Bracket Watch was pronounced as good as dead just one month ago. Now it is leading one of the country's best conferences and has five wins against top-50 RPI teams, three of which came on the road. I'm talking, of course, about the Michigan Wolverines.

With an 80-75 win at Michigan State on Saturday night, the previously discarded Wolverines moved to 7-0 in the Big Ten, taking sole possession of first place. They've played four of the five other teams in the conference likely to make the tournament and have beaten them all. In addition to winning in East Lansing, they went into Madison and Minneapolis and knocked off the Badgers and Golden Gophers, respectively. Seemingly adrift after losing Mitch McGary for the season to a back injury, the Wolverines have rallied behind sophomore Nik Stauskas and a perimeter attack that features three players (Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III are the others) averaging double figures.

After tearing through the conference elite, they get a break with their next three games coming against Purdue, Indiana and Nebraska. By the time we check on them again, that number next to their name could be even lower.

The Top Four Seeds

West Region

1. Arizona (20-0, Last week: West 1) -- The Wildcats are one of four teams ranked in the top 20 in both adjusted offense and defense by Ken Pomeroy. If they can win at Stanford on Wednesday, they'll enter the month of February with an unblemished record.

2. Villanova (17-2, LW: Midwest 2) -- After getting stomped by 28 at home by Creighton, the Wildcats nearly let a sure win at Marquette slip away. They should be able to relax just a bit this week with games at Georgetown and Temple.

3. Iowa State (15-3, LW: W3) -- The Cyclones got back in the win column, besting Kansas State over the weekend after three straight losses. Now they travel to Lawrence to take on the Jayhawks, who are playing as well as anyone in the country.

4. Cincinnati (19-2, LW: W4) -- The Bearcats have three wins over teams in the top 50 in RPI and have a chance to get another at Louisville this week.

East Region

1. Syracuse (19-0, LW: East 1) -- Clearly the Orange have adapted to the ACC well, but a win over Duke this weekend would truly give them their conference stripes.

2. San Diego State (18-1, LW: MW3) -- Could the Aztecs eventually rise to a 1-seed? They would need some help, but they own a road win over Kansas and neutral-court win over Creighton.

3. Oklahoma State (16-3, LW: E3) -- With Bedlam in Norman on Monday and a home game against Baylor this weekend, the Cowboys could get their first win over a potential tournament team since beating Texas at the beginning of January.

4. Michigan (15-4, LW: W6) -- It appears the downfall of the Wolverines was greatly overstated. They are now in first place in the Big Ten and boast victories over Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State.

Midwest Region

1. Kansas (15-4, LW: South 2) -- The Jayhawks look like the team many expected them to be heading into the season. They've won six straight, scoring at least 77 points in all of those wins. This is a big week with games against Iowa State and Texas.

2. Florida (17-2, LW: W2) -- If the Gators win regular season and tournament championships in the SEC, it would be hard for the selection committee to keep them off the top line.

3. Wisconsin (17-3, LW: E2) -- The Badgers' slide reached three with a road loss against Minnesota, but they bounced back with a comfortable win at Purdue. They'll get a chance to breathe with Northwestern coming to town Wednesday before welcoming Ohio State to Madison over the weekend.

4. Creighton (17-3, LW: S5) -- The Blue Jays took control of the Big East by sinking 21 three-pointers and throttling Villanova in Philadelphia last week. They rank No. 1 in adjusted offense at KenPom.com and are the site's No. 2 overall team behind Arizona.

South Region

1. Wichita State (21-0, LW: S1) -- So long as the Shockers are undefeated, they'll be a 1-seed here. One loss would likely relegate them to the 2-line for good, though.

2. Michigan State (18-2, LW: MW1) -- While the Spartans should be healthy by time March rolls around, they can't afford to be without Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson for long. Luckily, they expect Payne back shortly, perhaps as early as Tuesday when they visit Iowa.

3. Kentucky (15-4, LW: S4) -- The Wildcats will get a pair of road tests this week, taking on LSU and Missouri. Three of their four losses this season are on the road, all to teams that are outside the RPI top 50.

4. Pittsburgh (18-2, LW: MW4) -- If you add the adjusted offense and defense rankings of every team in the country, just two total 20 or less. One of those teams is Syracuse. The other is Pittsburgh.

Last Four In

Stanford -- Their next three games are against Arizona, Arizona State and California. They could do themselves a lot of favors with a couple wins in those three.

Providence -- The Friars' wins over Creighton and Xavier are looking more impressive by the day,and should be enough to counterbalance a bad loss to Seton Hall.

Oregon -- The Ducks have been terrible in 2014, losing five of their last six games. Their best win all year is over BYU.

Arizona State -- The Sun Devils have a great opportunity to bolster their resume with road games against California and Stanford this week.

First Four Out

Dayton -- The Flyers continue to struggle on defense, as they game up 88 points in a loss to lowly Rhode Island over the weekend.

Missouri -- Sorry Tigers fans, a win over South Carolina over the weekend isn't enough to get your team back in the big dance picture. We might be able to talk next week if they do the same at Arkansas.

BYU -- The loss at Gonzaga over the weekend doesn't hurt that much, but the one before it at Portland sure does.

Saint Mary's -- For now, the West Coast Conference feels like it's only going to get one bid. The Gaels have won four straight, but they'll probably have to upend Gonzaga to impress the committee.

The Field of 68



1. Arizona
16. North Carolina Central/Utah Valley
1. Syracuse
16. Robert Morris/UNC Asheville
8. Florida State
9. Gonzaga
8. Minnesota
9. Colorado
4. Cincinnati
13. Stephen F. Austin
4. Michigan
13. Toledo
5. Duke
12. Wisconsin-Green Bay
5. Massachusetts
12. Southern Methodist
3. Iowa State
14. UC Irvine
3. Oklahoma State
14. Georgia State
6. Connecticut
11. Southern Miss
6. Ohio State
11. North Carolina
7. Virginia
10. Tennessee
7. Oklahoma
10. Virginia Commonwealth
2. Villanova
15. IPFW
2. San Diego State
15. Stony Brook



1. Kansas
16. Chattanooga
1. Wichita State
16. Southern
9. Kansas State
8. Xavier
9. Baylor
4. Creighton
13. Manhattan
4. Pittsburgh
13. Mercer
5. Saint Louis
12. Arkansas
5. Iowa
12. Oregon/Arizona State
3. Wisconsin
14. Belmont
3. Kentucky
14. Delaware
6. Memphis
11. Stanford
6. Louisville
11. Harvard
7. Texas
10. California
7. George Washington
10. New Mexico
2. Florida
15. American University
2. Michigan State
15. Northern Colorado

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