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NCAA Tournament field of 68 unveiled

St. John's Dwight Hardy, center, celebrates with teammates

St. John's Dwight Hardy, center, celebrates with teammates after beating No. 4 Pittsburgh 60-59 in an NCAA college basketball game against Pittsburgh. (Feb. 19, 2011) Credit: AP

After dominating the national rankings all season, the Big East fulfilled the bracket experts' projections by landing a record-smashing 11 teams, including St. John's, in the 68-team NCAA Tournament field announced Sunday.

Regular-season champion Pittsburgh is the No. 1 seed in the Southeast Regional, Notre Dame is No. 2 in the Southwest, Connecticut and Syracuse were seeded third in the West and East, respectively, and Louisville is a fourth seed in the Southwest. West Virginia is fifth in the East; St. John's landed a sixth seed in the Southeast as Georgetown did in the Southwest and Cincinnati did in the West. Despite a 5-10 finish, Villanova landed a ninth seed in the East, and Marquette is the 11th seed in the East.

Big Ten champion Ohio State is No. 1 in the East Regional and overall; Kansas tops the Southwest Regional and Duke leads the West Regional. Among the locals, MAAC Tournament champion St. Peter's was seeded 14th in the Southwest and will face Purdue; Northeast Conference champion Long Island University is the 15th seed in the East with a tough second-round opener against North Carolina. Ivy League champion Princeton was seeded 13th in the East and faces SEC champ Kentucky in a second-round opener. Boston University, which edged Stony Brook in the America East Tournament final, draws Kansas in the second round.

The NCAA voted to expand this year's field from 65 to 68 teams, creating what it calls the "First Four'' play-in games that will take place Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, and constitute the first round. The four lowest-seeded teams will play each other to decide the 16th seed in the East (Texas-San Antonio vs. Alabama State) and Southeast (UNC Asheville vs. Arkansas-Little Rock) regionals, and the last four at-large teams admitted to the field will meet to decide the 11th seed in the Southwest Regional (Southern Cal vs. Virginia Commonwealth) and the 12th seed in the East Regional (Alabama-Birmingham vs. Clemson).

Under terms of the new 14-year television contract worth $10.8 billion, every tournament game will be televised in its entirety. The games will be spread among CBS and its new partners TBS, TNT and TruTV.

The Big East tied the previous record last year with eight NCAA bids, so giving 11 spots to a 16-team conference might ruffle some feathers, even though it's hard to argue with the impressive credentials they have.

"There's no guarantee the Big East will represent well,'' St. John's coach Steve Lavin said, "but no conference is deeper in terms of quality teams. We've faced the best night in and night out.''

Trailing the Big East was the Big Ten with seven teams, and the Big 12 and SEC each had five. The ACC clearly was considered down by the selection committee, landing four bids, and the Colonial Athletic Association got three with George Mason, Old Dominion (which topped Hofstra in the semifinals of the conference tournament) and VCU getting a spot in the First Four.

Some of the controversial omissions included Alabama, Colorado, St. Mary's (which defeated St. John's in the season opener) and perennial bubble bustout Virginia Tech. Harvard, which had an RPI rating of 35 but lost to Princeton in the Ivy League playoff, saw its NCAA drought extended to 65 years without a bid.

One other team that might attract considerable local interest is Tennessee, which features freshman Tobias Harris from Half Hollow Hills West. The Vols are the ninth seed in the West Regional and will open against Michigan.

New York Sports