Tourney seeding close to home

Posted: Monday, March 11, 2002

INDIANAPOLIS -- The first NCAA tournament that tried to keep teams closer to home features two old hands and two first-timers in the top spots.

Duke was seeded No. 1 for a record fifth straight year Sunday, joined atop the regional brackets by top-ranked Kansas, seeded first as recently as 1998, and Maryland and Cincinnati, both No. 1 for the first time.

A rule change allowed the selection committee freedom in placing teams closer to home for the first and second rounds before moving to the regionals. The biggest beneficiary was Pittsburgh, which was seeded third in the South Regional and will play in its own city.

The committee did keep more teams near campus: 39 will play in their own time zones, compared with 22 last season. The committee used four-team ''pods'' to keep schools from the same regionals together in the first two rounds.

''We can't avoid all travel because two-thirds of our teams are from east of the Mississippi,'' said committee chairman Lee Fowler, the athletic director at North Carolina State. ''But we're trying to develop a system that can cut down on travel.''

Cincinnati of Conference USA was the only top seed to win both its regular season and tournament championships. Maryland lost in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals to unranked North Carolina State. Kansas lost in the Big 12 title game Sunday to Oklahoma. The Terrapins and Jayhawks won their regular-season league championships. Defending national champion Duke won the ACC tournament.

Oklahoma's win over Kansas on Sunday might have been considered enough to make it a top seed, but the Sooners are No. 2 in the West.

''I talked to the committee about Oklahoma and Cincinnati,'' Fowler said. ''We had Cincinnati as a No. 1 seed before the game was played Sunday and I said, 'OK, what if Oklahoma beats Kansas, would that change your mind?' We had about a 30-minute discussion and then decided that something shouldn't be based on that one game versus the total season.''

As usual, the power conferences dominated the field. The Big 12, Pac-10, Southeastern Conference and Big East each got six teams in the tournament.

The Big Ten had five, while the Atlantic Coast Conference had four and the Mountain West and Conference USA three each.

The lowest-seeded of the 34 at-large selections were Utah, Missouri and Tulsa, all No. 12 seeds. The most prominent of the teams left out were Virginia, which was ranked as high No. 4 this season but lost nine of its last 12 games, and Butler, which had a 25-5 record but lost in the opening round of the Horizon League tournament.

Maryland (26-4) was seeded first in the East and will play in nearby Washington on Friday against the winner of Tuesday's opening-round game between Alcorn State of the Southwestern Athletic Conference and Siena of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

The other matchup in that pod is eighth-seeded Wisconsin against ninth-seeded St. John's.

The other four teams in that part of the East Regional bracket will play Thursday in St. Louis, Mo., with fourth-seeded Kentucky playing Valparaiso and fifth-seeded Marquette going against Tulsa.

The lower part of the bracket features second-seeded Connecticut against Hampton in Washington on Friday, along with seventh-seeded North Carolina State against Michigan State, which has been in the last three Final Fours.

In Chicago on Friday, third-seeded Georgia meets Murray State and sixth-seeded Texas Tech and coach Bob Knight play Southern Illinois.

In the Midwest Regional, Kansas (29-3), which had its 15-game winning streak snapped by Oklahoma in the tournament championship game, will play Holy Cross on Thursday in St. Louis. The other game in that pod is eighth-seeded Stanford against Western Kentucky.

The other half of the upper bracket has fourth-seeded Illinois staying in the area against San Diego State on Friday, while fifth-seeded Florida faces Creighton.

Oregon, the Pac-10 regular-season champion, is seeded second and will play Montana in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday, with seventh-seeded Wake Forest against Pepperdine in the other game.

The other half of the lower part of the bracket is in Dallas on Friday, with third-seeded Mississippi State against McNeese State, and sixth-seeded Texas facing Boston College.

Duke (29-3) will open defense of its national championship as the No. 1 team in the South, playing Winthrop on Thursday in Greenville, S.C., while eighth-seeded Notre Dame faces Charlotte.

The other pod in that bracket will be in Sacramento on Thursday, with fourth-seeded Southern California against North Carolina-Wilmington, and fifth-seeded Indiana facing Utah.

Alabama is seeded second in the South and will also play in Greenville, meeting Florida Atlantic, which is making its first tournament appearance. The other game in that pod features seventh-seeded Oklahoma State against Kent State.

Pittsburgh, which lost to Connecticut in the Big East championship game, gets to stay home, playing Central Connecticut State, which has the nation's longest current winning streak, on Friday. The other game features another in-state team, Ivy League champion Pennsylvania, against sixth-seeded California.

Cincinnati (30-3), the only team with 30 wins entering the tournament, is No. 1 in the West Regional. The Bearcats open against Boston University in Pittsburgh on Friday, with eighth-seeded UCLA facing Mississippi in the other game.

The other part of the top half of the bracket will be in Albuquerque, N.M., on Thursday. Fourth-seeded Ohio State, the Big Ten tournament champion, plays Davidson and fifth-seeded Miami faces Missouri.

Oklahoma's first game after the upset of Kansas will be as a No. 2 seed in Dallas on Friday against Illinois-Chicago, with seventh-seeded Xavier facing Hawaii in the other game.

The other pod in the lower half features third-seeded Arizona against Cal-Santa Barbara in Albuquerque, along with sixth-seeded Gonzaga facing Wyoming.

Gonzaga, along with Duke and Michigan State, is the only school to reach the regional semifinals each of the last three seasons. It was seeded sixth in the West, the same number it is ranked in the AP Top 25.

The Bulldogs (28-3) shared the West Coast Conference regular-season title with Pepperdine and won the league tournament.

''Regardless of seeding, I'm genuinely happy just to see us on that board,'' Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. ''If there's one program that knows you have to throw the seeds out starting tomorrow, it's us. We'll prepare like we have the last three years.''

Florida Atlantic, the Atlantic Sun champions coached by former NBA player Sidney Green, is the only school making its first tournament appearance.

San Diego State, which won the Mountain West title, snapped the longest nonappearance string, making the field for the first time since 1985. The Aztecs are coached by Steve Fisher, whose last NCAA tournament was in 1996 with Michigan. He led the Wolverines to the national championship as an interim coach in 1989 and then to the title game in 1992 and 1993.

Another coach returning to the tournament is Knight, who led Indiana to 24 appearances, winning it all in 1976, 1981 and 1987. He was fired by Indiana in 2000, and returned to coaching with Texas Tech this season, leading the Red Raiders back to the tournament for the first time since 1996.

North Carolina's first 20-loss season ever snapped the Tar Heels' record streak of 27 consecutive appearances. The longest streak now belongs to Arizona, which has been in every tournament since 1985.

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