NCAA Tournament: Big East dominates
By Eddie Pells
Three more teams in this year’s edition of March Madness. Three more networks to cover it.
And the Big East will have its hooks in practically every nook and cranny of that new-look NCAA bracket.
The NCAA selection committee released its newfangled, 68-team draw Sunday and included a whopping 11 teams from the deepest conference in the nation.
Leading the way for the Big East was Pittsburgh, seeded first in the Southeast even though it didn’t win a game in the conference’s postseason tournament.
“It has Hall of Fame coaches, great programs with storied traditions and heritage,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said, a few minutes before his team became the 11th and final squad from the Big East to have its name announced on the selection show. “It has athletic programs that understand the value of investing the dollars that are needed to run a topflight program.”
All 68 teams in the NCAA tournament are aiming for one destination — the Final Four in Houston, set for April 2. At the Las Vegas Hilton, Ohio State was made an early 7-2 favorite to cut down the nets at Reliant Stadium after the title game on April 4.
The Buckeyes (32-2) of the Big Ten were the top seed overall, with Kansas (32-2) of the Big 12 next, while defending champion Duke aced out another Big East team, Notre Dame, for the fourth and final top seed. Led by one of the country’s best guards, Nolan Smith, the Blue Devils (30-4) are trying to become the first team since Florida in 2006-07 to repeat as national champions.
The tournament got a facelift this year, including the addition of three more at-large teams that will open the tournament in what the NCAA is calling the “First Four.” Those games — UAB (22-9) vs. Clemson (21-11) and Southern Cal (19-14) vs. Virginia Commonwealth (23-11) — will take place Tuesday and Wednesday.
Those, along with every other game of the entire tournament, will be aired in their entirety on four networks. Before the start of the season, TBS, TNT and TruTV joined CBS in signing a new, 14-year TV contract worth $10.8 billion — the price to be paid to air the games that make up the ingredients for America’s biggest office pool. The games used to all be shown on CBS, with the network deciding which part of the country got which games. Now, it’s the viewers who will make the choice.
But more teams, more TV and more money don’t solve every problem or erase every whiff of controversy.
As is always the case on Selection Sunday, there were plenty of head-scratchers — a list of teams that came out of nowhere to make it and other virtual shoo-ins that didn’t.
In the first category: Georgia (21-11), given a surprisingly high No. 10 seed despite losing twice to Alabama, a team that got left out. Many experts thought VCU, UAB and Clemson making the tournament at all were equally big surprises.
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