Only in the NCAA tournament could Spokane be part of the South.
Or the Midwest.
But those are the two regions represented here starting Friday, when the first-round of the 65-team tournament kicks off at the Arena.
In the Midwest Region, fifth-seeded Michigan State (24-8) will probably be the fan favorite, with the Spartans’ area connections. Former head coach Jud Heathcote still lives in Spokane and attends numerous Gonzaga home games. And GU played MSU (24-8) earlier this year in East Lansing, losing 75-71. The two-time national champion Spartans were ranked 11th in the latest Associated Press poll.
Michigan State will face Western Athletic Conference tournament champion New Mexico State. The Aggies (22-11) tied Nevada for second in the conference’s regular season, then defeated the Wolf Pack and Utah State to earn the automatic berth.
No. 19 Maryland tied Duke atop the Atlantic Coast Conference standings but lost its opening ACC tournament game. The fourth-seeded Terrapins feature ACC Player of the Year Grievis Vasquez. Coach Gary Williams led Maryland (23-8) to the 2002 national title.
Houston (19-15) hasn’t made an NCAA appearance since 1992, and the 13th-seeded Cougars were a long shot to make this one. But Tom Pender’s team won four Conference USA tournament games in four nights, upsetting No. 25 UTEP, 81-73, in Saturday’s final.
Utah State (27-7) earned an at-large berth – the sixth NCAA invite under coach Stew Morrill – and a 12th seed in the South Region. The Aggies’ reward? A first-round matchup with another group of Aggies, fifth-seeded Texas A&M (23-9). Coach Mark Turgeon’s team, ranked 24th, was one of four to tie for second in the Big 12 behind top-seeded Kansas, and lost to the Jayhawks 79-66 last Friday.
The fourth seed in the South is Purdue, just a couple weeks ago ticketed for a possible No. 1 seed. But that was before the Boilermakers (27-5) lost star Robbie Hummel and his 15.7 points per game to a knee injury. Since he went down, No. 6 Purdue is 3-2, including a 69-42 loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament.
Siena went 17-1 to win the MAAC regular-season title, then defeated Fairfield 72-65 in overtime to win the automatic berth. The Saints (27-5), seeded 13th, upset Ohio State in the first round last year.