Injuries lay seeds for hurt No. 1 feelings

Arizona, Cincinnati both lose centers, but only Bearcats lose top seed

March 13, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Kenyon Martin and Loren Woods will not be playing in this year's NCAA tournament because of injuries, but the performance of their respective teams without the two centers last week weighed heavily in the decision to bypass Cincinnati for Arizona as a No. 1 seed, selection committee chairman Craig Thompson said in a national teleconference last night.

Martin sustained a season-ending broken leg early in the then-top-ranked Bearcats' first-round loss to Saint Louis in the Conference USA tournament, a tournament subsequently won by the Billikens. Woods is sidelined with back problems, yet it didn't deter the Wildcats from beating No. 2 Stanford in Tucson Thursday night.

"They're a different team without Kenyon Martin," Thompson said from NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, site of next month's Final Four. "The issue here was, how different? When you lose a potential Player of the Year candidate, that's going to affect your team. ... We did get to see Arizona play Stanford and beat Stanford without Loren Woods."

Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins reacted angrily to the snub.

"It's ridiculous, totally ridiculous," said Huggins, whose Bearcats had lost just twice before Martin went down and were ranked No. 1 for 12 straight weeks in one stretch.

"We must be the first team in history to be No. 1 in the RPI [Ratings Percentage Index] and not get a No. 1 seed. That's a historical thing those guys did to us. How do they know how good we'll be without Kenyon Martin?"

History was also made by Stanford (26-3), which despite losing two of its last four games and a share of the Pac-10 title with Arizona was given a No. 1 seed for the first time. The Cardinal was shipped to the South Region. The 26-6 Wildcats stayed in the West Region. It marked the fourth time since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985 that the same conference had two No. 1 seeds.

Duke (27-4), which won both the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship and yesterday's tournament final over Maryland, was chosen as the top seed in the East. Michigan State (26-7), a co-Big Ten regular-season champion, was named the No. 1 seed in the Midwest after beating Illinois in the league's tournament final.

Thompson said that Arizona officials confirmed Friday that Woods will not play in the NCAA tournament.

While the Pac-10 seemed to be held in the highest regard by the committee -- even UCLA, a bubble team until recently, received a No. 6 seed in the Midwest and Oregon was a No. 7 seed in the East -- it did not get the largest number of bids. The Big Ten, Southeastern Conference and Big 12 each placed six teams in the field.

Despite getting five teams in the tournament, the Big East saw its highest seeded team, St. John's, shipped across the country to the West Region as a No. 2 seed. The Big East also watched regular-season co-champion Miami drop to a No. 6 seed in the South and had its two bubble teams, Notre Dame and Villanova, left among the missing.

For the second straight year, the ACC was given just three invitations. Some questioned Thompson as to why North Carolina (18-13) made it in for the 26th straight year despite losing its two regular-season games to Virginia (19-11), which was left out despite the same conference record. It came down to the Cavaliers playing too many games against weak competition, while the Tar Heels played a strong nonconference schedule.

"Virginia's nonconference record was probably the determining factor," Thompson said.

Even among those teams from the same conferences that made it in, head-to-head competition played little role in considering the seeds they received.

Tulsa, which lost for the third straight time to Fresno State in the Western Athletic Conference final, was made a No. 7 seed in the South compared to the Bulldogs being a No. 9 seed in the West. The same thing happened to St. Bonaventure, seeded 12th in the Midwest after twice beating Dayton, the No. 11 seed in the West.

"This is the most difficult process I've been through in my five years on the committee," said Thompson.

Here's a few things to consider as the tournament begins:

Toughest bracket: The East is a beast. While it might look to some that Duke was made the top seed in the tournament, this will not be an easy road for the Blue Devils. There are a number of potential pitfalls, starting with a second-round matchup against either Kansas or DePaul, a young and explosive team that took Duke into overtime at Cameron Indoor Stadium during the regular season. If anything, No. 2 seed Temple appears to have a lighter schedule en route to the Sweet 16 in Syracuse.

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