Few moves made in clutch

Men's tournament: The lateness of some conference finals forces the selection committee to react before the final buzzer.

March 15, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Many teams moved around the bracket ladder for this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament -- up, down or off the board entirely -- depending on how they finished their regular season.

A few simply remained stationary, depending on when they finished their conference finals.

And one -- the Maryland Terrapins -- soared to an unexpected position with their dramatic and improbable victory yesterday in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship game.

The ebb and flow for the selection of the 65 teams in this year's field finally ceased last night.

There were many surprising choices in the seeding and more than a few potential showcase matches in the offing, including a possible regional final between Duke and North Carolina in Atlanta.

Not only did Maryland's stunning overtime win over the Blue Devils launch the Terrapins to a No. 4 seed, but it also dropped the ACC's regular-season champion to the second-ranked No. 1 seed behind Kentucky.

While Connecticut, a No. 2 seed, was helped by its last-minute victory over Pittsburgh in the Big East final Saturday night, Oklahoma State's victory over Texas in the Big 12 title game was not completed in time yesterday afternoon to give the Cowboys a No. 1 seed.

And Wisconsin, which won the Big Ten tournament final around the same time, was seeded sixth, one spot lower than Illinois, the team the Badgers defeated.

The Big Ten and Big 12 finals -- the last Division I games to be played -- didn't end until around 5:30 p.m. Eastern, and the brackets were supposed to be televised nationally on CBS at 6 o'clock. Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby, chairman of the selection committee, acknowledged in a teleconference last night that the late conclusion to those two conference finals proved problematic.

"In years when there's a lot riding on it, we put in place the best contingency plans we can, but there arises a time in the afternoon when we have to complete the seeding process and put the teams on the bracket," Bowlsby said.

"We have a great many principles that we adhere to, and it's all designed to create fairness in the process and create the best possible tournament we can. ... You just can't implement those things in a manner of minutes."

It appears the committee went against one of those principles that was put in to take home-court advantage away from most teams, particularly lower seeds.

If Wisconsin beats No. 11 seed Richmond in the opening round at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, the Badgers could meet No. 3 seed Pittsburgh. (It was the Panthers who benefited in the 2002 tournament, when they played their first two rounds in their hometown.)

Bowlsby even said the committee had erred by placing No. 6 North Carolina against No. 11 Air Force in Denver -- an easy drive from the Falcons' campus in Colorado Springs, Colo. -- until it was brought to his attention by tournament director Bill Hancock that the rule only covers the top four seeds in each region.

Another potential problem could develop if Kansas, a No. 4 seed, advances out of the first weekend's games in, of all places, Kansas City, Mo., to the Sweet 16 and plays in St. Louis.

"We protect the higher seeds in the first round only," Bowlsby said. "We do that exclusively. We try never to have anybody disadvantaged by a home crowd when they're a higher seed. We are going to try and put people as close to home as we possibly can."

It helped Gonzaga, a No. 2 seed in the St. Louis Regional. It plays its opening games in Seattle (which is about 200 miles from Spokane), but the Zags were shockingly shipped out of the Phoenix Regional, where Stanford is the top seed.

Both Duke, the top seed in the Atlanta Regional, and Wake Forest, the No. 4 in the East Rutherford, N.J., Regional, will open this year's tournament in familiar territory, the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina State's home court.

This year, the NCAA has done away with designating regions by areas of the country. Instead, regions are identified by the cites in which they will be held. And unlike past years, when the matchups in the national semifinals were preordained, this year they will be done by the seeding of the top team in each bracket.

That means the winner of No. 1 seed Kentucky's regional will play the winner from Saint Joseph's, the top seed in the East Rutherford regional but the lowest rated of the top four seeds overall. The winner of No. 2 Duke's regional in Atlanta will play the winner of No. 3 Stanford's bracket.

The Final Four and the national final will be played April 3 and 5 in San Antonio.

The tournament will begin with the play-in game tomorrow in Dayton, Ohio, between Patriot League champion Lehigh and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference winner Florida A&M, with the winner facing Kentucky in Columbus, Ohio.

Among the potential second-round matchups: Maryland and Syracuse, the past two national champions, Saturday in Denver; Duke and Arizona, a rematch of the 2001 championship game, Saturday in Raleigh.

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