Dance contestants aim to waltz way to St. Louis


March 14, 2005|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Syracuse -- the regional, not the Orange -- is stacked.

Albuquerque is so balanced, the Associated Press poll has the No. 4 seed, Louisville, eight spots above the No. 1, Washington.

Austin is set up for a Duke-Kentucky final that would revisit one of the tournament's great moments.

As expected, Chicago will serve as the backdrop for Illinois as it balances the excitement of a near-perfect regular season against the sorrow of a death in the family.

The 2005 NCAA men's basketball tournament will conclude three weeks from tonight in St. Louis. The 65-team draw was unveiled last night, just 45 minutes after the 10 men who select the 34 at-large teams, seed all and come up with pairings completed their work.

For the first time since 1993, the tournament will not include Maryland, but Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest are among the top five seeds.

The Big East and Big 12 lead the way with six teams apiece, but can the Atlantic Coast Conference become just the second league, and the first in 20 years, to send three teams in the Final Four?

In that loaded Syracuse Regional, will Tar Heels coach Roy Williams have to face players he recruited, or the defending champion?

Did the NCAA Division I men's basketball committee favor a Corn Belt state?

The big winners in the seeding process were Washington and the state of Iowa, which produced three of the last seven at-large teams selected. Besides the Mid-American Conference, which once again didn't get any at-large berths, and the teams that weren't selected, the big losers included Boston College, Louisville and Vermont.

At the top, Duke's run to its sixth ACC title in seven years and Washington's Pac-10 championship made them the last two No. 1 seeds, joining the obvious choices, Illinois and North Carolina. Kentucky was set to be the fourth No. 1, but a convincing loss to Florida in the Southeastern Conference final opened the door for the Huskies.

Illinois, No. 1 in the polls since early December but mourning the death of coach Bruce Weber's mother, will face no more than a three-hour bus ride during the tournament, as it opens in Indianapolis on Thursday. It's followed in the Chicago Regional by Big 12 champion Oklahoma State, Pac-10 runner-up Arizona and Boston College, the co-champion in the Big East.

Coach Al Skinner was stone-faced when the Eagles appeared as a No. 4 seed on CBS' selection show. In its final season in the Big East before moving to the ACC, BC started 20-0 and appeared poised to lock up a high seed in the Syracuse Regional. Instead, it split its last eight games and the Big East's presumed berth on the familiar Carrier Dome floor went to Connecticut.

The Syracuse Regional starts with North Carolina, which is regarded as the most talented team in the nation. No. 2 is Connecticut, the defending national champion, which has won 10 of its past 12 -- one of the losses was a nail-biter to the Tar Heels -- with a cast that includes Josh Boone and Big East Rookie of the Year Rudy Gay, who first teamed for a Baltimore recreation center.

The third seed is Kansas, which has veterans who were recruited by Williams before he moved to Chapel Hill. North Carolina also faces the possibility of a Sweet 16 game against Villanova or Florida, two of the hottest teams in the nation.

Under the pod system designed to minimize travel, both the Tar Heels and Duke will spend the tournament's opening weekend in Charlotte. Wake Forest had an inside track on that route over the Blue Devils, until Chris Paul was suspended for a game and the Demon Deacons lost in the ACC quarterfinals.

Duke and North Carolina will be heavy favorites to move on to the Sweet 16, but could there be a Black Sunday to match 1979's Black Friday? That year the Tar Heels and Blue Devils were seeded Nos. 1 and 2 in the East, but within a three-hour span of a double-header in Raleigh, both lost their opening-round games.

The second seed behind Duke in the Austin Regional is Kentucky, which lost a classic overtime regional final to the Blue Devils in 1992. Austin doesn't appear deep until you study the first-round game between fourth-seeded Syracuse and Vermont, which is seeded 13th but could be justified several lines higher.

Wake Forest was shipped out to Cleveland, where it could face a second-round game against streaking West Virginia, and then Albuquerque, where Gonzaga looms in the Sweet 16. Washington will be the hot pick to be the first No. 1 to be eliminated, simply because the Huskies are strangers outside the West Coast. Pittsburgh in the second round and Louisville or Georgia Tech in the third round loom for the Huskies.

One of the committee's mantras is that you can play your way out of a bad seeding, but you can't play your way in if you don't make the cut on Selection Sunday. Maryland, Miami of Ohio, Notre Dame and Saint Joseph's were among those whose bubble burst.

The Terps and others were left to lament upsets out west, where Nevada, Pacific and Utah took at-large bids after losing in their conference tournaments. Pacific's loss to Utah State in the Big West final concluded past 2 a.m. yesterday on the East Coast, starting an abnormally eventful final day's work.

The last at-large teams selected were Northern Iowa, Alabama-Birmingham and UCLA. North Carolina State and Iowa are the only ones with losing records in conference play. Iowa State, rated below Maryland in most computer programs, lost six straight in January but finished with a flourish that included wins at Texas and Kansas. Seeding principles forced the committee to give the Cyclones a higher line than they deserve.

"Iowa State came in as a 10th seed, but due to bracket considerations, they were moved to a 9," said Bob Bowlsby, the chairman of the NCAA committee. "The University of Iowa was the one that moved to 10."

Where is Bowlsby the athletic director?

The University of Iowa.

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