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65-team fields set for ultimate college hoops frenzy

Let the madness begin...

Posted: Monday, March 14, 2005

 

  Illinois' Luther Head drives past Wisconsin's Alando Tucker in the first half of the championship game at the Big Ten tournament Sunday, March 13, 2005, at the United Center in Chicago. AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Illinois' Luther Head drives past Wisconsin's Alando Tucker in the first half of the championship game at the Big Ten tournament Sunday, March 13, 2005, at the United Center in Chicago.

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

INDIANAPOLIS — If the process of seeding the top teams is any indication, this could be one big buzzer-beater of an NCAA tournament.

As expected, Illinois, once-beaten and top-ranked in the polls, was given the No. 1 overall seed.

The rest wasn't so cut and dried: Less than an hour before announcing the brackets on national television, the 10 committee members were still debating in an Indianapolis hotel suite, and two of the four No. 1 seeds were still undecided.

It wasn't until the last two conference tournament games ended, about 45 minutes before the selections went public, that the committee finally gave the top seeds to the Illini, North Carolina, Duke and Washington — the surprise of the group.

''I don't know if it's a record, but my blood pressure was going up every five minutes we were waiting,'' selection committee chairman Bob Bowlsby said.

Bowlsby acknowledged there were about a half-dozen contingency plans considered, and many of those were being sorted out in conference tournament championships.

Had Kentucky beaten Florida for its third straight Southeastern Conference title, it would have been a No. 1 seed. The Wildcats lost — and were dropped to a No. 2.

Had Duke lost to Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, Wake Forest could have sneaked in as a No. 1. The Yellow Jackets made it interesting, but that one wasn't to be, either.

Bowlsby's committee eventually picked Washington, the Pac-10 champ, as a No. 1 seed.

''I'm not going to lie and say I thought we were going to get a No. 1 seed,'' Huskies forward Bobby Jones said. ''But then I woke up today, and I started watching the shows. People were saying we could get it. I started believing them.''

The Huskies (27-5) joined some elite company. Big Ten champion Illinois (32-1) was assigned to the Chicago regional. North Carolina (27-4), the ACC regular-season champ, Albuquerque.

It's the sixth time in eight years two teams from the same conference were seeded No. 1. The last time was 2003, with Oklahoma and Texas of the Big 12.

No conference has ever had three No. 1s.

Duke opens against Delaware State, while the Tar Heels face the winner of Tuesday's play-in game between Oakland and Alabama A&M.

Bowlsby said it was the first time two No. 1 seeds would play in the same city for the first and second round. ''I think we may have created a little bit of a problem in Charlotte,'' Bowlsby said. ''With two No. 1 seeds there, it will be a prime ticket.''

No. 2 seed Kentucky will open against Eastern Kentucky (22-8) in Indianapolis — a matchup that pits Eastern Kentucky coach Travis Ford against his alma mater.

Wake Forest (26-5) drew the second seed in the Albuquerque region and will open against Chattanooga (20-10), the Southern Conference champion, in Cleveland.

And though Washington may have been the biggest surprise, it wasn't the only one.

Defending national champion Connecticut (22-7) vaulted past seventh-ranked Boston College (24-4) and got a No. 2 seed, even though the Huskies lost in the Big East tournament semifinals. Connecticut opens against Central Florida (24-8), the Atlantic Sun champ, in Worcester, Mass., as part of the Syracuse region. Fourth-seeded Boston College was sent to Cleveland to face Pennsylvania (20-8), the Ivy League champion.

Another stunner was Louisville (29-4), which won both the Conference USA regular-season and tournament titles. Some thought the Cardinals could be a top seed after being ranked No. 6 last week, but they drew a fourth seed and will play Louisiana-Lafayette (20-10) in Nashville as part of the Albuquerque region.

Gonzaga, the West Coast Conference regular season and tournament champion, was seeded third and faces Winthrop (27-5) in Tucson, Ariz.

There was little doubt about the overall No. 1 seed.

The Illini won't get any frequent flyer miles in this tournament, with the first and second rounds in Indianapolis, the regional in Chicago and the Final Four April 2 and 4 in St. Louis.

Illinois opens Thursday against Northeast Conference champion Fairleigh Dickinson. They were followed in the Chicago regional by second-seeded Oklahoma State, which won the Big 12 tournament; No. 3 Arizona, the regular-season Pac-10 champion; and Boston College.

Washington opens Thursday in Boise against Montana, the Big Sky champion.

Two teams went into last year's tournament with just one loss, and neither advanced to the Final Four. Saint Joseph's lost in the regional finals to Oklahoma State, while Stanford lost to Alabama in the second round.

Saint Joe's, despite a 19-11 record, was among those not invited this year, along with DePaul (19-10), Maryland (16-12) and Notre Dame (17-11). With the Irish missing the cut and 15-13 Indiana falling off the bubble, it is the first time since 1972 that the state of Indiana was shut out of the tournament.

After North Carolina, which lost to Georgia Tech in the ACC semifinals, and Connecticut, Kansas is No. 3 and Florida is No. 4.

The Big East and Big 12 each has six teams in the field, one short of the record, while the ACC, SEC and Big Ten have five apiece. The other multiple bid leagues were Conference USA and the Pac-10 with four; the Missouri Valley with three; and the Big West, Mountain West, West Coast and Western Athletic Conference with two.

Sunday's conference

tournaments:

Big 10

CHICAGO — Deron Williams said it all as he dribbled out the clock, holding his finger high in the air to signify what the polls have said most of the season — Illinois is indeed No. 1.

The top-ranked Illini dominated defensively to build a big lead and then held on Sunday to beat No. 23 Wisconsin 54-43 in the Big Ten tournament finals for their school-record 32nd win.

ACC

WASHINGTON — J.J. Redick scored 26 points, Shelden Williams had 16 points and 13 rebounds, and Duke held off a late charge to squeeze past fifth-seeded Georgia Tech 69-64 in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

Big 12

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — John Lucas scored 19 points, including a crucial free throw with 4.4 seconds left, and Oklahoma State earned its second straight Big 12 tournament championship with a victory over Texas Tech.

SEC

ATLANTA — Matt Walsh scored 26 points, including consecutive 3-pointers that sparked a stunning 21-2 run, leading the Florida Gators to a rout of Kentucky and their first Southeastern Conference tournament championship.



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