Start dancing

Terps get 10th seed, will play Cal

15th seed Morgan faces Oklahoma

Bracket has some unusual suspects, striking absences

March 16, 2009|By Chris Dufresne | Chris Dufresne,Los Angeles Times

Louisville ended up as the top team in the field, Kentucky won't sniff the bluegrass for the first time since 1991 and Arizona got up off the desert floor to extend its tournament streak to 25 consecutive years.

Northern Iowa, you're in, but Florida, go take a seat next to Kentucky.

Deep breath ...

Giant killer alert: Two years ago, Virginia Commonwealth upset Duke in the first round in Buffalo.

Duke was a No. 6 and, gulp, VCU was a No. 11.

The VCU kid who downed Duke, a guard named Eric Maynor, is still the guard at VCU.

Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS jumped on this immediately and announced on VCU's behalf, "I think they're going to advance and pull off the upset."

Big inhale, then exhale ...

Saint Mary's didn't make it. That's right, the Gaels are goners - so what happened?

The selection committee, in the end, wasn't convinced star guard Patty Mills was sufficiently recovered from his broken hand. Mills got hurt in late January against Gonzaga and returned last week for the West Coast Conference tournament, only to make two of 16 shots against the Zags in a blowout loss in the title game.

Bottom line: Had Mills not been injured, Saint Mary's probably would have bumped a team off the bubble, maybe Maryland.

"He obviously made a valiant effort to come back," Mike Slive, chairman of the NCAA selection committee, said yesterday.

The committee had to make tough calls on other bubble teams: Penn State, San Diego State, Creighton ... you know who you are.

It doesn't help when schools that might otherwise not earn at-large NCAA bids become must-takes by winning their conference tournaments.

Mississippi State mucked up the mud by winning the Southeastern, Temple by winning the Atlantic 10 and Southern California by winning the Pacific-10.

That put the squeeze on at-large teams waiting in line with a ticket.

"This is the most gut-wrenching moment of five long days," Slive said of having to push at-large hopefuls off the plank.

"Slots were taken as a result of tournaments."

But Arizona, to the surprise of many, got into the field to extend its tournament streak, only two shy of North Carolina's record of 27.

Arizona appeared doomed after USC's Pac-10 tournament run, but the committee ended up taking six teams from the conference.

Arizona finished 19-13 and stumbled home after losing five of its past six. Arizona was only 2-9 on the road, had a Rating Percentage Index rating in the 60s, yet it was Slive's three favorite words - "body of work" - that saved the Wildcats. The committee, aware basketball has become a back-ended sport, is putting more emphasis on early-season games.

In December, Arizona beat Gonzaga, Kansas and San Diego State and later scored key conference wins against Washington, UCLA and USC.

"November and December, it's not the exhibition season," Slive said.

The field of 65 isn't perfect - it never is - but it's out.

You could grumble about Connecticut getting a top seeding over Memphis, but Slive said there was a sliver's difference between many of the top teams on the first two lines.

Louisville had a racehorse finish in earning the top No. 1 spot in the Midwest Regional, winning the Big East regular-season conference and tournament. The other top teams, in order of seeding, are Pittsburgh (East), North Carolina (South) and Connecticut (West).

In 2004, 12 schools from "mid-major" conferences crashed the 65-school field. You could argue more little-guy at-larges make the tournament more compelling. In 2006, George Mason took an at-large bid and raced all the way to the Final Four out of the Colonial Athletic Association - but what fun was that?

Slive said the committee pays no attention to conferences, not that anyone believes him.

"We just look at teams," Slive said.

It's time to print out your bracket and look at 65.

goin' to kansas city

You might take a train, you might take a plane. ... If you want to head to Kansas City, Mo., to see Maryland or Morgan State in the NCAA tournament, here are some options:

* AIR: Last night, Orbitz was showing round-trip flights - leaving Wednesday evening and returning Sunday morning - from BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport from $270 to $320. The shortest trips took about 4 1/2 hours.

* RAIL: According to, a round trip from Baltimore's Penn Station to Kansas City would cost $387. You would leave Tuesday a bit after noon and get to K.C. (via Chicago) at about 10 p.m. Wednesday.

* CAR: According to, the trip from Baltimore to Kansas City is about 1,080 miles and would take more than 17 hours. The fuel cost, depending on your vehicle's miles per gallon, would be less than $100.

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