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UConn, 'Nova No. 1 seeds

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

Regional.

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

bid after falling to Syracuse on Gerry McNamara's last-second shot in the first

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

a 10th.

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

Hofstra."

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

final, must defeat Hampton in a special play-in game at Dayton, Ohio, tomorrow

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

and the presence of Adam Morrison, the Zags were seeded third in the Oakland

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

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