Not many gripes after NCAA men's basketball tournament field selected — game tips off Thursday
National title is up for grabs versus parody, surprises and Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, Gonzaga as top seeds
By ARNIE LESHIN
March Madness bounces in once more and tips off on Thursday and on St. Patrick's Day Friday.
And if you haven't learned by now, the NCAA takes the same road each year in piecing together its field for the men's national basketball tournament.
It leads to the regular season conference champions, to those that played not only against their conference teams, but also against a strong slate of other schools, preferably ranked ones, and of course the bubble busters.
Win your conference and you're in. Lose in your conference tournament, you're still in. Ask overall No. 1 seeded Kansas, which lost there to unranked TCU and already knew it was in while the Horned Frogs knew they were out of the post-season. No. 1, they had a losing record. No. 2, they didn't go on to win the Big 12 tournament.
It was Iowa State that did win the tourney and receive a 5th seed.
Purdue won the Big 10 regular-season, than lost in overtime to Michigan in the tournament final. But the Boilermakers knew they would get a higher seed than the Wolverines, who knew it, too. Michigan was rewarded for its surge through the tournament with a 7th seed, Purdue was handed a 4th seed.
Pity poor Duke. It defeated regular-season ACC champion North Carolina twice in three match-ups that included the semifinals of the tournament, played four games in four days, turned back Notre Dame in the final, and was no doubt not satisfied with a 2nd seed while the joyous Tar Heels got a top seed.
Now the Irish made the final by knocking off West Virginia, but the Mountaineers picked up a 4th seed and Notre Dame became a 5th. Why? Well
West Virginia, which wasn't exactly the same team away from home, finished higher in the regular season.
The Pac 12 had Oregon as No. 1 when it defeated Arizona in their one game of the regular season to get the tiebreaker. When it won the tournament final over the Ducks, the committee made it a No. 2 and Oregon State a No. 3 along with UCLA, which came in third, a game behind those two.
No problem with that decision. No problem at all in the Big East. Defending national champion Villanova won both the regular season and the tournament, getting past Seton Hall by two points in the semis, and getting one of the other No. 1 seeds.
The fourth one went to Gonzaga, the last unbeaten team to fall, the only Big West champion, and the Zags did beat Arizona at home.
Wichita State did the same in the Missouri Valley, but many felt the Shockers deserved better than a 10th seed. On the other hand, South Carolina started fast, went downhill midway and finished, just finished, but the committee still thought the Gamecocks rated a 7th seed.
In the Big 10, Northwestern was red-hot as it envisioned its first-ever invite to the Big Dance. But in the tournament quarterfinals, it was dominated by Wisconsin, losing by 27 points, but held onto an 8th seed, the same as the Badgers, and grabbed the television spotlight with the team and its overflowing supporters celebrating like no one else.
SMU won its conference and finished with a rush. It's Larry Brown's recruits before he resigned as head coach after last season, and he'll most likely attend each of the Mustang games. They were rewarded as a 6th seed, but many felt they deserved better.
Kentucky walloped Arkansas in the SEC final and also won the regular season, which brought it a rather surprising 2nd seed in a campaign in which it struggled to pull out several contests.
St. Mary's, well it got a break in gaining a 7th seed. True, it lost all three times to Gonzaga and was the runner-up, but its strength of schedule wasn't all that impressive.
For the remaining schools in based on their tough schedules, it paired together the four 11th seeds of deserving teams. One has Kansas State facing Wake Forest, the other has Providence meeting up with Southern Cal. All figure to be close contests. The Friars-Trojans winner will go against SMU, the Kansas State-Wake Forest survivor matches up with 6th seeded Cincinnati.
Then there's the four bubble-busters playing as 16th seeds, the last stop in the selections. Here, North Carolina Central plays UC Davis and Mt. St. Mary's takes on New Orleans. Kansas gets the NC Central-UC Davis victor and Villanova awaits the other.
Louisville, a 2nd seed, is not in same bracket as Minnesota, a 5th seed, but it's a father-son interest here with long-time coach Rick Pitino at Louisville, and his son, Richard, in his second year with Minnesota.
Doug Collins, former player, coach and now a television commentator, is rooting for his son, Chris, who is head coach of that happy Northwestern team.
Danny Manning, who was the Player of the Year and best-in-tournament when the Larry Brown-coached Kansas team won the NCAA title, is head coach of Wake Forest.
Danny Hurley is head coach of a good 11th seed Rhode Island, while his brother Bob's Arizona State team did not make the post-season. As an All-America at Duke, Bob Hurley, Jr. was the point guard and ran the show for a pair of Blue Devil national championships, and holds the NCAA record for career assists. He coached Buffalo to the tournament in 2015 before leaving for Tempe.
Florida Gold Coast, the surprise of the of the tournament when it reached the elite eight in 2014, is back and goes against 3rd seeded Florida State.
Fifteen schools in the field enter with double-digit defeats. The ACC brings in the high of nine teams, while there are seven each representing the Big East and Big 10. Of the other three power conferences, there are five each from the Big 12 and SEC, and the Pac 12 comes in with four.
The eight versus nine seeds usually makes for tight games, but five versus 12 have already resulted in surprises. One will match No. 12 Princeton, the Ivy League champion, and No. 5 Notre Dame. Another sends (12) Nevada against (5) Iowa State.
As for the 9 against 8s, Wisconsin (8) and Virginia Tech (9) look like a good one, as does Northwestern (8) and Vanderbilt (9). And you might also expect the same when 8th seed Miami takes on 9th seed Michigan State. The other has No. 8 Arkansas versus No. 9 Seton Hall, and who knows what will come from this one, and don't forget that the Pirates almost upset Villanova.
It appears to be the year that parody will be very much in play, with perhaps a dozen different schools on top of the heap, but those upsets could be costly for the high seeds and the millions of bracket pickers.
No 16th seed has ever beaten a No. 1 seed. There have been some exciting, tight finishes, but this tough task is still out there. The "almost" might have been when 12th seeded Princeton had the final shot in the final seconds against top-seeded Georgetown.
But then in 1985 there was the 4th seeded Hoyas having no trouble beating Villanova three times during the regular season of the Big East, but losing to the 12th seeded Wildcats in the tense championship game.
This time, it could be Cincinnati for instance, a No. 8, who should be facing a tough go against the Kansas State-Wake Forest winner. The same could be true for 6th seed SMU versus the Providence-USC survivor.
Who could win it all? Who knows? On top of the list would be the name, high seed schools like Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Arizona, Louisville, Kentucky, Duke, and don't count out UCLA and Oregon from the Pac 12's terrific trio.
It's always a tough job for the NCAA to put this field together. Syracuse had to settle for the National Invitational Tournament along with Illinois State. Now the Orange, who went undefeated at the Carrier Dome and upset Virginia, Florida State and Duke while winning only two of 13 on the road, open at home as a top seed and would be happy to reach the NIT Final Four played at Madison Square Garden, its other familiar court.
Yes, it's also March Madness for this field, but it is also the hip-hop, not the Big Dance.