Connecticut and Villanova, who won a combined one game
in the Big East Tournament, were accorded top seeds while their expanded
conference received a record eight invitations to the NCAA men's basketball
tournament when the 65-team field was announced last evening.
The Huskies and Wildcats, who tied for the regular-season championship,
were placed at the top of the brackets in the Washington and Minneapolis
regions, respectively. After adding the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament
title to its regular-season crown, Duke was seeded first overall and will play
in the Atlanta Regional. Memphis, the only national contender in diluted
Conference USA, will begin its journey from the top line of the Oakland
Even with its record haul, the Big East was disappointed that Cincinnati,
which split its 16 conference games and finished eighth overall, was denied a
round of the tournament.
McNamara was the key in three succeeding upsets, lifting the Orange from
the brink of elimination to a fifth seed in the Atlanta Regional. Pittsburgh,
the other tournament finalist, also nabbed a fifth seed while West Virginia was
granted a sixth, Marquette and Georgetown both earned a seventh and Seton Hall
The Big Ten, the top league in the country according to computer rankings,
placed six schools in the field, as did the Southeastern Conference. The
surprising Missouri Valley, the deepest of the so-called mid-major conferences,
will be represented by as many teams (4) as the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-10. The
Atlantic 10, WAC, Mountain West, Conference USA and the Colonial all received
two bids. Alas, the Colonial selections were tournament champion UNC Wilmington
and a George Mason team Hofstra defeated twice in the last three weeks.
According to Craig Littlepage, the athletic director at Virginia who served
as chair of the NCAA's 10-man selection committee, it wasn't an either/or
situation between the teams.
"The first [distinction] is that George Mason and North Carolina Wilmington
were regular-season co-champions," he said. "George Mason wasn't tied with
Besides Seton Hall, which will meet one of the Missouri Valley's best in
Wichita State on Thursday in Greensboro, N.C., other area teams scheduled to
compete are Iona and Monmouth. Iona, which won the MAAC Tournament to clinch
its first NCAA berth since 2001, was seeded 13th and will face big, athletic
LSU on Thursday in Jacksonville.
Monmouth, which upset Fairleigh Dickinson in the Northeast Conference
night for the right to face Villanova in Philadelphia on Friday. Connecticut
also will open at the Wachovia Center against first-time participant Albany,
the America East representative.
Omitted teams who were in consideration included Florida State from the
ACC, Michigan from the Big Ten and Missouri State from the Missouri Valley. At
No. 20, Missouri State had the highest ranking on the Ratings Percentage Index
ever to be denied entry to the tournament. The at-large selections of Air Force
(Mountain West) and Utah State (WAC) appeared to signify a commitment to
institutions not associated with the traditional power conferences.
"We took more time looking at those schools, looking at their schedules and
watching their games," Littlepage said from the Indianapolis hotel where the
selection committee conducted its business.
In terms of seeding, George Washington took a major hit despite sailing
through an undefeated regular season in the Atlantic 10 and posting a 26-2
overall record for the best percentage in Division I. The Colonials, who were
dropped to eighth in the Atlanta region, suffered from a convincing loss to
Temple in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament and, perhaps more
significantly, a late-season leg injury to Pops Mensah-Bonsu.
Although GW coach Karl Hobbs said the senior forward will return for the
tournament, Littlepage said the committee didn't have the same clarity of
information provided by Villanova in the case of Allan Ray's eye injury
suffered in the Big East Tournament.
"His situation was a little more nebulous than the situation at Villanova,"
the chair said, adding that the Colonials' non-conference schedule "could have
been a little more rigorous."
Clearly, that wasn't a problem with Gonzaga, which took on the likes of
Michigan State, Connecticut, Memphis and Washington before running the table in
the West Coast Conference. Despite the team's ranking of No. 4 in the polls
Regional behind No. 2 UCLA, the champion of the very average Pac-10.
Whereas Tennessee, which faded down the stretch, earned a questionable No.
2 seed in Washington. Littlepage attributed that to the "rigor" of the
conference schedule for the Volunteers and others on the second line, Ohio
State and Texas.
Gergen's final four
Atlanta Regional: Duke
If Pops Mensah-Bonsu is healthy, GW might give the Blue Devils some
competition in the second round. But neither third-seeded Iowa nor
fourth-seeded LSU has the skill to stay with Duke. Only Texas does, but what's
the Longhorns' confidence level after that blowout at the Meadowlands?
Oakland Regional: Gonzaga
If ever the Zags are going to reach the Final Four, this is their chance.
Both No. 1 Memphis and No. 4 Kansas are immensely talented but exceedingly
young. An improving UCLA team will be Gonzaga's major obstacle but the Zags
have been under pressure to justify their ranking all season.
Washington Regional: UConn
How do you pick against the Huskies? No. 4 Illinois and No. 6 Michigan
State are so last year, Tennessee is a nice story gone south and Carolina
couldn't match Boston College's muscle, let alone UConn's.
Minneapolis regional: Boston College So much depends on the condition of
Allan Ray's eye, but even with the guard at full health, Villanova faces the
toughest bracket of any No.
1. BC, which punished Carolina and Duke, has the size and discipline to
frustrate the Wildcats.
Who's in, by conference
BIG EAST (8): Connecticut, Georgetown, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Seton Hall,
Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia
BIG TEN (6): Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan St., Ohio St., Wisconsin
SEC (6): Alabama, Arkansas, Florida,
Kentucky, LSU, Tennessee
BIG 12 (4): Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M
ACC (4): Boston College, Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State
MISSOURI VALLEY (4): Bradley, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, Wichita St.
PAC-10 (4): Arizona, California, UCLA, Washington
MOUNTAIN WEST (2): Air Force, San Diego State
ATLANTIC 10 (2): George Washington, Xavier
BIG WEST (2): Pacific, Utah St.
CAA (2): George Mason, N.C.-Wilmington
CONFERENCE USA (2): Memphis, UAB
AMERICA EAST (1): Albany, N.Y.
ATLANTIC SUN (1): Belmont
BIG SKY (1): Montana
BIG SOUTH (1): Winthrop
HORIZON LEAGUE (1): Wisconsin-Milwaukee
IVY (1): Pennsylvania
MAAC (1): Iona
MID-AMERICAN (1): Kent State
MID-CONTINENT (1): Oral Roberts
MEAC (1): Hampton
NEC (1): Monmouth, N.J.
OHIO VALLEY (1): Murray State
PATRIOT LEAGUE (1): Bucknell
SOUTHERN (1): Davidson
SOUTHLAND (1): Northwestern St.
SWAC (1): Southern University
SUN BELT (1): South Alabama
WEST COAST (1): Gonzaga
WAC (1): Nevada