One day after the Big East wrapped up a successful 34-year run, the NCAA Tournament selection committee effectively crowned it as America's strongest basketball conference Sunday with eight schools in the 68-team field, including No. 1 overall seed Louisville, which will compete in the Midwest Regional.
The remaining No. 1 regional seeds went to Big 12 champion Kansas, Big Ten regular-season champ Indiana and to Gonzaga, which is ranked No. 1 in the polls despite playing in the weaker West Coast Conference. Many regard the Big Ten as the strongest overall conference, but it was second with seven teams in the field, and the last two, Minnesota and Illinois, had sub-.500 conference records.
Although Miami won the regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference title and the ACC Tournament, it was relegated to a No. 2 seed after being ranked fifth overall by the committee. The ACC came away with only four teams in the field, finishing behind the Atlantic 10, Big 12, Mountain West and Pac-12, all of which had five teams selected.
Asked about Indiana being placed on the top line ahead of Miami, selection committee chairman Mike Bobinski, the athletic director at Xavier, said: "We felt there was no way [Indiana] should drop below the top four slots, and that's where they are . . . If we had five slots, Miami would be right there. We put Gonzaga just ahead of them, but it was very, very close."
In a symbolic bow to parity and the rise of mid-major schools, the committee extended a bid to Middle Tennessee State (28-5), which had a 19-1 record in the Sun Belt but blew the automatic bid by losing in the conference tournament. The committee denied a bid to defending national champion Kentucky (21-11), which tied for second in the Southeastern Conference but lost star Nerlens Noel to injury and was 4-7 in true road games before losing in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals.
"Middle Tennessee was a veteran team with the ability to win on the road," Bobinski said. "That was the deciding factor."
Gonzaga (31-2) led the rise of the mid-majors and was rewarded with the top seed in the West Regional. The last school from a non-power conference to land a No. 1 regional seed was Memphis, which did it in 2008 and 2006. Bobinski said the Bulldogs "took on the challenge" in terms of playing a tough non-conference schedule.
"They were 16-1 on the road," Bobinski said, including the Zags' six neutral-site games. "In our judgment, that's a very complete and very strong basketball team."
Asked before the bracket was announced how his team might handle the expectations that come with being a No. 1 seed, Gonzaga coach Mark Few noted that his teams had been seeded second, third and fourth in the past and said of his current group led by national player of the year candidate Kelly Olynyk, "This group really has dealt with expectations in a remarkable way."
While Gonzaga made the top line, fellow WCC member St. Mary's was one of the last four into the field and meets Middle Tennessee State in a First Four game in Dayton for a spot as an 11th seed opposite Conference USA champ Memphis. LaSalle of the A-10 and Boise State of the Mountain West will play in the First Four for a shot at No. 4 seed Kansas State of the Big 12.
As usual, the bracket includes several intriguing potential matchups. If Louisville and second overall seed Kansas want to reach the Final Four in Atlanta, they might have to go through A-10 Tournament finalists St. Louis and VCU, respectively, in the Sweet 16. And if Miami felt slighted by being placed behind Indiana, the Hurricanes might face the Hoosiers in the East Regional final. With AP