Once the expected furor died down about who was in and who was out of the NCAA’s 64-team field Sunday, a look at the brackets showed the selection committee set up some interesting matchups and made some interesting statements.
The last of the conference championship games made selecting the top four seeds rather easy, and there wasn’t any real surprise among where the top teams were placed until you got to Utah as the fourth seed in the West.
The Utes (27-5), the Western Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament champions, didn’t crack the Top 25 until last week and were 26th in the RPI, the computer rankings similar to the ones used by the selection committee.
Utah’s seeding and that of North Carolina Charlotte, seventh in the East, were surprising but not shocking. That description was saved for the inclusion of at-large teams from the following conferences: Mid-American, Metro Atlantic, Midwestern Collegiate and West Coast. The Mid-American was the highest-rated of those league’s on the conference RPI at 12th, with the others sitting 13th (WCC), 19th (MCC) and 20th (MAAC).
The power leagues were still well represented with half the field coming from the Big Eight, Atlantic Coast, Metro, Big East, Southeastern, Pac-10 and Big Ten, the top seven leagues in the conference power rankings. The last of those leagues, the Big Ten, had the most teams, six.
Once the brackets are studied, it’s fair to say the Midwest with Kansas, Arkansas, Purdue, Virginia, Arizona and Memphis as the top six seeds is the strongest. Many feel that may be so because the committee wanted to even things up as Kansas could play the regionals in Kansas City’s Kemper Arena, less than an hour from its Lawrence campus.
The first round has become almost a guarantee for an upset by one of the lower-seeded teams. A prime candidate seems to be No. 14 Wisconsin-Green Bay, which faces third-seeded Purdue in the Midwest. There isn’t a coach alive who wants to see Dick Bennett’s Phoenix on the horizon, even the Big Ten co-champion.
The most intriguing first-round matchup is the 6-11 game in the Midwest - Memphis against Louisville. The two used to be the marquee teams for the Metro Conference before Memphis left for the Great Midwest in 1991. They haven’t met since.
The second round is more likely to see a high seed depart, two No. 1s in particular.
UCLA, the top of the West bracket, would get the winner of the 8-9 game between Missouri and Indiana, while Kansas would get the winner of the same matchup between Western Kentucky and Michigan.
Five schools are making their first NCAA appearance Colgate, Florida International, Gonzaga, Mount St. Mary’s and Nicholls State, - while four others - Drexel, North Carolina A&T;, St. Peter’s and Texas Southern - are looking for their first tournament victory.
In three weeks and 63 games, a champion will be decided in the Kingdome, and by then all the seeding and complaining will be long forgotten.
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