Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina, Michigan State claim top seeds in NCAA tournament
Kentucky, which had a 24-game winning streak snapped Sunday by Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament final, is the top overall seed. Coach John Calipari said the loss could be helpful.
“Maybe now everybody realizes we’re not invincible,” he said. “We’re like everybody else out there. We’re going to have to execute, play hard and with some aggressiveness and intensity or we will get beat.”
Michigan State clinched its No. 1 seed Sunday by winning the Big Ten tournament. As with Kentucky, Syracuse (Big East semifinals) and North Carolina (ACC final) lost in their conference tournaments. Kentucky is placed in the South region, with Syracuse in the East, North Carolina in the Midwest and Michigan State in the West. All four programs have won the national title at least once since 1998.
The No. 2 seeds were awarded to Duke in the South, Missouri in the West, Ohio State in the East and Kansas in the Midwest.
Duke’s No. 2 seed behind Kentucky sets up a potential match-up in the 20th anniversary season of the famous Christian Laettner shot that eliminated the Wildcats in the East Regional final. Seeded third in the region is Baylor, while Indiana – which beat UK in December on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer – is the No. 4 seed.
[ Pat Forde: Breakdown of the entire NCAA tournament field ]
Kentucky’s first opponent in the tourney will be either Western Kentucky, which is the only team in the field with a losing record, or Mississippi Valley State, which is coached by former Kentucky point guard Sean Woods; he was on the Wildcats team that lost to Duke in 1992. Western and Valley meet in a “First Four” game Tuesday.
The No. 2 seed in the West behind Michigan State is Missouri, which won the Big 12 Conference tournament. Marquette is seeded third and Louisville fourth.
One of the biggest surprises in the field is in the West, with Iona involved in a play-in game for the region’s No. 14 seed. The Gaels will meet BYU for that spot. Iona won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season title but fell in the MAAC tourney semifinals. The MAAC typically is a one-bid league; Loyola of Maryland, which won the MAAC tourney, is a No. 15 seed but is not involved in a “First Four” game.
Murray State also is in the region, seeded sixth. The Racers are 30-1 and have the fewest losses in the nation.
The No. 2 seed behind Syracuse in the East is Ohio State, which likely would’ve been a No. 1 seed had it won the Big Ten tournament final Sunday. Seeded third is Florida State, which won the ACC tournament, while Wisconsin is seeded fourth.
Vanderbilt parlayed its SEC tourney title into a No. 5 seed. The Commodores meet No. 12 Harvard in a second-round game; the Crimson is making its first NCAA appearance since 1946.
One interesting venue in this region is Pittsburgh, which will see 10th-seeded West Virginia play about an hour from the Mountaineers’ campus in Morgantown. Gonzaga is WVU’s first opponent.
Kansas is seeded second in the Midwest Region, behind North Carolina. Georgetown is seeded third and Michigan, which was a regular-season tri-champion in the Big Ten, is the No. 4 seed.
The Midwest Region Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games will be in Kansas City, Mo., which would provide a big home-court edge of sorts for the Jayhawks.
As formidable as the No. 1 seeds appear to be, keep in mind that only once, in 2008, have all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four. Last season’s Final Four was one of three in history not to include a single No. 1 seed.
This season’s tournament begins Tuesday night with two “First Four” games in Dayton, Ohio. Two more “First Four” games will be played Wednesday before the tournament begins in earnest Thursday with what now is dubbed the second round.
By next Sunday, the field will be down to 16 teams, and the Elite Eight games will be played March 24 and 25. The Final Four is March 31 and April 2 in New Orleans.
This will be the first Final Four in New Orleans since 2003, when a Carmelo Anthony-led Syracuse team beat Kansas for the title.
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