Monday, March 15, 2004
Seeds are planted, now for the games
By MIKE LOPRESTI
Gannett News Service
INDIANAPOLIS - Here we have the NCAA tournament bracket, with Kentucky at the top and Lehigh and Florida A&M at the bottom, and 62 other teams in between.
Here we have winners and losers, questions and controversy, and three weeks to sort them all out.
Are they angry at Utah State, shunned with a 25-3 record?
Puzzled at Pittsburgh, which seems not only under-seeded but sent to Milwaukee where it may have to play Wisconsin?
Red-faced in the Big Ten, which had only three teams invited, and nobody ranked in the top four of any region?
Do they feel vindicated at Saint Joseph's, with a No. 1 seed drawing fire?
Are they shocked at Maryland, which in 10 days went from a bubble team to a No. 4 seed?
Is there a going-away party in Conference USA, where the gang is breaking up, but not before getting six teams in the field - as many as the Big Ten and Pac-10 combined?
And how about CBS analyst Billy Packer and Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli and their on-air squabble Sunday? Can Crossfire be far behind?
So it begins this week, in regions named after the regional sites and not direction. No more East, West, Midwest, etc.
Geography teachers with complaints for the NCAA selection committee can stand in line.
East Rutherford Region
SEED STUFF: This may be the first time in tournament history a team was behind 74-37 on Thursday and seeded No. 1 on Sunday. But that's Saint Joseph's, which has its skeptics after the Xavier shellacking, and questions about how the Atlantic 10 compares with the blueblood conferences.
One is Packer, whose open disdain of Saint Joseph's seed drew a sharp on-air rebuke from Martelli: "We'd like to play him."
Later, Martelli told the Associated Press, "I think he's a complete jackass."
Boys ... boys ...
Said NCAA committee chairman Bob Bowlsby, "I think reasonable people can disagree about the No. 1 seedings."
No. 2 seed Oklahoma State should have been No. 1. The Cowboys are 17-1 since Jan. 10 and won the Big 12, though the lateness of the championship game Sunday hurt their chances with the committee.
Pittsburgh was penalized for a cream cheese non-conference schedule, but still roared through the Big East with a 29-4 overall record. No. 3 seems too low, and for an extra elbow in the gut, the Panthers might get Wisconsin in the second round in hostile Milwaukee.
Best first-round game: Texas Tech vs. Charlotte. Bob Knight against one of the dangerous teams from Conference USA.
Second-round possibility: Wisconsin vs. Pittsburgh, in a match of the underseededs.
Upset alert: Manhattan, winner of 18 of its last 20, against struggling Florida.
ETC.: Wisconsin looked far better than a No. 6 seed in mashing Illinois Sunday in the Big Ten title game. But like the Big 12, the Big Ten pays a price for playing its Sunday game so late, choosing TV dollars above sense ... Saint Joseph's opens against Liberty, Jerry Falwell's school and a national power - with its debate team ... No. 15 seed Eastern Washington is the only first-timer in the field of 65.
SEED STUFF: This is the sixth No. 1 seed for Duke in seven years. Nine of the top 10 seeds in this region have been in the Final Four since 1986.
Best first-round game: Xavier vs. Louisville, meeting from opposite directions. The Musketeers started 10-9 but closed 13-1. Louisville started 16-1, but won only four of its last 12.
Second-round possibilities: Duke vs. Arizona.
Upset alert: East Tennessee State, which nearly upset Wake Forest last year, has won 19 of its last 20, and takes aim at mercurial Cincinnati.
ETC.: Air Force is in the field for the first time since 1962 ... How juicy would this be - Duke vs. North Carolina for the regional title?
St. Louis Region
SEED STUFF: Kentucky, seemingly out of No. 1 contention a few weeks ago, blew past the field by winning 12 of its last 13 and nine in a row - by an average of 16 points. Gonzaga has gone from Cinderella to a No. 2 seeded heavyweight.
Best first-round game: Michigan State, recovered from its brutal non-conference schedule, against Nevada, which beat Kansas and won 14 of its last 16.
Second-round possibility: Washington, winner of 14 of its last 17 and the only team to beat Stanford, could take aim at Kentucky.
Upset alert: Pacific, winner of 20 of its last 21, against Providence.
ETC.: Mid-Eastern Conference champion Florida A&M, which meets Lehigh in the play-in game Tuesday, started the season 1-10 and at 14-16 is the only team in the field with a losing record ... Dark days in Indiana. Valparaiso is the only team from the state to be invited.
SEED STUFF: This is Stanford's third No. 1 seed in five years. No. 2 seed Connecticut is the only team in the nation to have two different stints in the No. 1 ranking this season. No. 4 Maryland was once 14-11 and in danger of not even making the field. Then the Terrapins went on a tear that carried them to their first ACC tournament title in 20 years.
Best-first round game: Alabama, 17-12 after playing one of the country's toughest schedules, against Southern Illinois, winner of 17 of its last 19.
Second-round possibility: Syracuse vs. Maryland, a match of the past two national champions.
Upset alert: Western Michigan, a 26-4 team from the upset specialist Mid-American Conference, against Vanderbilt.
ETC.: Texas-El Paso (24-7) is the lowest seeded at-large team at No. 13, which suggests it was the last team invited. So UTEP won't have many fans at Utah State. The Aggies were apparently punished for playing only four teams in the top 100 of the NCAA power rankings. They can take their 25-3 record down the street to the NIT.
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THIS WEEK'S SPORTS POLL
Which Xavier win was bigger: UC when the Bearcats were ranked No. 1 or No. 1 St. Joseph's?