NCAA Tournament: UNC grabs No. 1 seed
Published 12:00 am Monday, March 16, 2009
By Eddie Pells
North Carolina might lose its No. 1 ranking after falling in the ACC tournament, but the Tar Heels are heading to the NCAA tournament with a top seed anyway.
North Carolina earned the No. 1 seed in the South Region and will play 16th-seeded Radford in Thursday’s first round. The Tar Heels came into the year as the preseason pick to win the national championship and will begin that quest in Greensboro, about an hour west of the Chapel Hill campus.
North Carolina (28-4) earned a top seed for the 13th time, the most of any school. It also marks the fourth time in five years the Tar Heels have been a No. 1 seed.
Meanwhile, the Big East put up the big numbers : 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.
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.
The rest of the tournament starts Thursday and Friday. The Final Four is scheduled for Ford Field in Detroit on April 4 and 6.
Pitt was the top seed 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 ó it changed hands seven times, to be exact ó 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.
In the West, it’s 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.
Conference tournament wins by Southern California in the Pac-10 and Mississippi State in the SEC 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.
The so-called mid-major conferences have gone from nine at-large bids in 2005 to less than half that this year. The most notable mid-major to get snubbed was St. Mary’s, which won 26 games but lost by 25 to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference final, with star guard Patty Mills just rounding back into shape after missing 10 games with an injury.
Other teams that were left out included San Diego State, Creighton and Penn State. The Nittany Lions had the 311th-ranked non-conference strength of schedule ó certainly not a help in the selection group’s meeting room.
“We look at teams, we don’t use a label,” said Mike Slive, chairman of the selection committee. “It’s not about mid-major teams and major teams. It’s about teams. In the final analysis, it’s about who you play, where you play and how you do. It’s about teams, not about conferences.”
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.
“We tried to deliver a message that it’s the entire body of work,” Slive said. “It starts in November and December and goes through the conference tournament.”
The ACC, Big East and Big Ten all placed seven teams in the tournament, the Big 12 and Pac-10 six each, while the A-10 and SEC had three.
The NCAA tournament will march on without Kentucky.
The Wildcats (20-13) failed to make the field for the first time in 18 years on Sunday, the latest in a string of setbacks suffered by the program over the last two months.
The last time Kentucky didn’t make the NCAAs was in 1991 while it was serving NCAA sanctions.
This year’s team appeared to be a lock in mid-January after winning its first five Southeastern Conference games. Nine losses in the next 13 games followed.