NCAA: Big East leads way

Sunday, March 15, 2009 6:23 PM
Last updated 7:03 PM
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The Big East put up a big number Sunday: Three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

Louisville, Pittsburgh and Connecticut helped the Big East, a group originally created for basketball only, become the first conference to put three teams on the top line. North Carolina, regular-season Atlantic Coast conference champions, was the other top seed.

Louisville was the top overall seed in the tournament and will play in the Midwest. The Cardinals will open against the winner of an opening-round game Tuesday between Alabama State and Morehead State.

Pitt was tops in the East, Carolina in the South and UConn in the West, the region the Huskies were in when they won their championships in 1999 and 2004.

Of the four top seeds, coach Rick Pitino’s Cardinals were the only team to win their conference tournament. Louisville entered the Big East conference tournament as the top seed, though Pitt and UConn were more highly regarded throughout the regular season, each spending time at No. 1 in The Associated Press poll.

But there was a lot of switching in the top spot this season – it changed hands seven times, to be exact – so it was no surprise there would be some debate about the No. 1 seeds.

For instance, Duke wound up a second seed despite winning the ACC tournament, beating the Florida State team the Tar Heels had lost to the day before; but North Carolina swept Duke in the regular season.

Meanwhile, Memphis (31-3) got snubbed, taking the second seed in the West despite a 25-game winning streak. The Tigers are often downgraded for playing in the less-than-steller Conference USA, but John Calipari’s team proved people wrong last year, making it to the national title game.

“If we’re a 1, we’re a 1; if we’re a 2, we’re a 2. We just want to play,” Calipari said before the bracket came out.

In the West, it’s No. 2 seed Memphis vs. Cal State-Northridge; Missouri vs. Cornell; Washington vs. Mississippi State; Purdue vs. Northern Iowa; Marquette vs. Utah State; California vs. Maryland; BYU vs. Texas A&M.

Last year’s national champion, Kansas, is almost completely revamped this year and was seeded third in the Midwest with an opening game against North Dakota State.

Arizona extended its string of tournament appearances to a quarter century, and the 25th bid will be among the most debated. The Wildcats were thought by many to be off the bubble after an early loss to Arizona State in the Pac-10 tournament, but made it as 12th seed in the Midwest.

In the Midwest, No. 2 seed Michigan State will face No. 15 seed Robert Morris. In other games: Kansas vs. N. Dakota State; Wake Forest vs. Cleveland State; Utah vs. Arizona; West Virginia vs. Dayton; Boston College vs. Southern California; Ohio State vs. Siena.

Tournament wins by Southern California in the Pac-10 and Mississippi State in the Southeastern Conference cost a couple of bubble teams spots among in the 65. Among the last teams to make it were: Wisconsin, a 12th seed in the East; Maryland, a surprisingly high 10th seed in the Midwest; and Dayton, one of only four teams from small conferences to earn an at-large bid.

In the East, it’s No. 2 seed Duke vs. Binghamton; Villanova vs. American; Xavier vs. Portland State; Florida State vs. Wisconsin; UCLA vs. Virginia Commonwealth University; Texas vs. Minnesota; and Oklahoma State vs. Tennessee.

In the South, it’s No. 2 seed Oklahoma vs. Morgan State; Syracuse vs. Stephen F. Austin; Gonzaga vs. Akron; Illinois vs. Western Kentucky; Arizona State vs. Temple; Clemson vs. Michigan; LSU vs. Butler.

Teams that were left out included San Diego State, Creighton, Penn State and Saint Mary’s.

The ACC, Big East and Big Ten all had seven teams, the Big 12 and Pac-10 six each while the A-10 and SEC had three. Florida missed for the second straight year after winning two consecutive titles, and Auburn also was left out after a strong finish.

Also missing will be Indiana and Kentucky – the first time both traditional powerhouses have been missing in the tournament since 1979.


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