Defending champ Louisville a surprise No. 4 seed in NCAA Tournament
It came as no surprise that No. 1 Florida was named the top seed in the 68-team NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday, but when fans pick up their brackets, they shouldn't be surprised if they tilt heavily toward the Midwest Regional, which is loaded with heavyweights.
Three of last year's Final Four were placed in the Midwest, including undefeated and No. 2- ranked Wichita State, second-seeded Big Ten champion Michigan and defending national champion Louisville, which shockingly was relegated to a fourth seed despite winning the American Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles. For good measure, the committee threw preseason No. 1 Kentucky and perennial ACC power Duke into the regional.
Clearly, the committee had concerns about the relatively weak schedules played by the top-seeded Shockers in the Missouri Valley and by the Cardinals in their new league, a hybrid of former Big East and Conference USA teams. Some expected Louisville to receive strong consideration for a No. 1 seed, but selection committee chairman Ron Wellman indicated Rick Pitino's team wasn't even a possibility for the second or third line in the bracket.
"They did not fall at all,'' Wellman said on CBS. "Look at their total resume. Louisville is playing as well as anyone, but every time we 'scrubbed' that seed, Louisville ended up in the same place every time when compared with [teams] above them.''
Besides Florida and Wichita State, the other No. 1 seeds were Arizona (West) and Virginia in the East, which will be played at Madison Square Garden. The Cavaliers won the regular-season and tournament titles in the ACC to earn their spot.
"Virginia's total resume was very impressive,'' Wellman said.
Some thought Wisconsin merited No. 1 consideration, but Wellman said Michigan and Big East regular-season champion Villanova were considered more strongly before being placed as second seeds.
Big East Tournament champion Providence was placed in the bottom half of the East Regional bracket with Villanova. Other candidates to reach the Garden include Big Ten Tournament champion Michigan State, former Big East teams Connecticut and Cincinnati, Big 12 Tournament champion Iowa State and North Carolina of the ACC.
Besides Villanova and Providence, the reconfigured basketball-only Big East got Creighton into the West Regional as a third seed and Xavier into the First Four against North Carolina State for the chance to move into the powerful Midwest as a 12th seed in the second round against St. Louis.
The Big 12 leads the way with seven entries because of the surprising addition of Oklahoma State, which rebounded after the three-game suspension of guard Marcus Smart for an altercation with a fan in the stands. Baylor also made it from that conference despite a 2-8 stretch.
Receiving six bids were the ACC, A-10, Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences. The American Athletic Conference got four bids, like the Big East. The only New York-area team to make it was MAAC Tournament champ Manhattan, which has the unenviable task of facing Louisville.
One seeding surprise involved the entries from the Mountain West. New Mexico won the regular-season and tournament titles but was a seventh seed in the South, while second-place San Diego State was seeded fourth in the West. Wellman cited non-conference strength of schedule concerns about the Lobos.
One surprising omission was the AAC's Southern Methodist, coached by Larry Brown. "Their non-conference strength of schedule was in the 300s,'' Wellman said. "When you give them the eye test, they're very good, but strength of schedule was a major factor in the decision.''
Said Brown: "When I saw Louisville , I kind of figured that they didn't have a lot of respect for our conference. But we can only blame ourselves.''