Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina tried to manufacture some chaos before the brackets came out. Like a group of 7-foot forwards roaming the middle, the members of the NCAA selection committee simply swatted all that noise away.
Even though they lost over the weekend, the Wildcats, Orange and Tar Heels turned out to be what they thought they were: top seeds – all armed with a well-timed bit of humble pie as they gear up for a run through the NCAA tournament they hope will end at the Final Four in New Orleans.
“It’s done now,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said of the 24-game winning streak that ended Sunday with a surprising loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament final. “Now let’s just go onto these three weekends. We’ve got a weekend in front of us. It’s going to be a bear.”
Michigan State earned the last No. 1 seed and was the only one of the four top-billed teams to win its conference tournament. The Spartans defeated Ohio State 68-64 in the Big Ten title game Sunday – a contest widely viewed as the game for the last No. 1 seed, even if selection committee chairman Jeff Hathaway wouldn’t quite go there.
“As it turned out, this game put the No. 1 seed into the field,” he said.
While No. 2 seeds Kansas, Duke, Missouri and Ohio State wonder whether they could have been rated higher, teams such as Drexel, Seton Hall, Mississippi State and Pac-12 regular-season champion Washington curse what might have been. Those bubble teams were left out, and all will be wondering how Iona, California and South Florida made it.
The Big East led all conferences with nine teams, including defending national champion Connecticut, a dangerous No. 9 seed, conference tournament winner Louisville and, of course, Syracuse, which cruised through most of the season with only one loss.
“I think it’s going to help us a little bit,” coach Jim Boeheim said of the second defeat, Friday to Cincinnati in the Big East tournament. “I think players, when they’re winning, they kind of excuse their mistakes. I think we finally got their attention. I think they’ll be a better team going forward than they were last week.”
There were 11 at-large teams from the so-called mid-major conferences, four more than last year and the most since 2004 when 12 made it.
The tournament starts Tuesday with first-round games and gets into full swing Thursday and Friday, with 64 teams in action.
Second-seeded Duke got serious consideration for moving up to a No. 1, but an 18-point loss to North Carolina in the regular-season finale and a loss to Florida State in the ACC tournament certainly hurt.
The mighty fall
For the second time in 13 months the top four teams in the Associated Press’ Top 25 all lost in the same week.
No. 1 Kentucky lost 71-64 to Vanderbilt on Sunday in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game, just about the same time No. 4 North Carolina lost 85-82 to No. 17 Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.
On Friday, No. 2 Syracuse lost 71-68 to Cincinnati in the Big East semifinals and No. 3 Kansas lost 83-66 to No. 12 Baylor in the Big 12 semifinals.
Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina still received No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.
The week of Feb. 14, 2011, No. 1 Kansas lost to Kansas State, No. 2 Ohio State was beaten by Purdue, No. 3 Texas lost to Nebraska and No. 4 Pittsburgh was beaten by St. John’s.
SEC championship: Jeffery Taylor scored 18 points and Vanderbilt (24-10) rallied to beat No. 1 Kentucky (32-2) 71-64 at New Orleans, ending the Wildcats’ 24-game winning streak.
John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli both had 17 points for Vanderbilt, which was playing in its first SEC tournament final since 1951, the year of its only other championship.
ACC championship: Michael Snaer scored 18 points and 17th-ranked Florida State used a barrage of 3-pointers to beat No. 4 North Carolina 85-82 at Atlanta.
Florida State (24-9), which joined the ACC in 1991, won the men’s basketball crown for the first time.
North Carolina (29-5) nearly came all the way back from a 16-point deficit in the first half. P.J. Hairston missed a tying 3 at the buzzer.
Big Ten championship: Brandon Wood scored a season-high 21 points to help No. 8 Michigan State (27-7) defeat No. 7 Ohio State (27-7) 68-64 at Indianapolis.
Atlantic 10 championship: Andrew Nicholson had 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocked shots and St. Bonaventure (20-11) won its first Atlantic 10 title by holding off Xavier (21-12) 67-56 at Atlantic City, N.J.