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March 16, 2008
McClellan: Committee was kind to Big East
North Carolina may have received the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night, but clearly the selection committee felt the Big East was the best conference in the country.
The Big East placed eight teams in the field, the most of any league, and seven of them were seeded seventh or better. Meanwhile, the ACC got only three other teams into the field with the Tar Heels – Duke (a No. 2 seed), Clemson (No. 5) and Miami (No. 7) – despite the No. 1 conference RPI.
The Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC had six teams in the field, while the Big Ten joined the ACC with four. The Atlantic 10 and the West Coast Conference each received three invitations.
In direct contrast to the high seeds of the Big East was the SEC. Of its six teams in the field, four were seeded eighth or worse.
Of the 34 at-large bids, 28 went to teams from the "Big Six" power conferences. The six at-large teams outside of those leagues who received invitations were Xavier and Saint Joseph's from the Atlantic 10, Gonzaga and Saint Mary's from the West Coast Conference, South Alabama from the Sun Belt and BYU from the Mountain West.
Joining North Carolina as No. 1 seeds were Memphis (South Regional), UCLA (West) and Kansas (Midwest). The Tar Heels will play the first and second rounds in Raleigh, N.C., and the regional semifinals and finals in the East are in Charlotte.
"I don't think it's an advantage," Heels coach Roy Williams said. "I really don't. It's an advantage if you play well."
The 2008 NCAA Tournament marks the 12th time North Carolina has been a No. 1 seed, the most of any school. The Tar Heels enter the fray on an 11-game winning streak after taking the ACC Tournament title Sunday over Clemson.
Tennessee, the regular-season champ in the SEC, felt it deserved a No. 1 seed. It was ranked No. 1 in the RPI and had the nation's toughest strength of schedule. The Vols instead are the No. 2 seed in the East.
"Obviously the body of work didn't weigh as heavily as perhaps the conference tournaments," said Vols coach Bruce Pearl, whose team was upset in the SEC semifinals by Arkansas. "We were No. 1 in the RPI, No. 1 in strength of schedule. We did everything we could, pretty much, to put ourselves in that position."
The eight teams with the biggest complaint about being left out of the tournament, listed in order of most legitimate gripe:
Illinois State 24-9, RPI of 33rd: Finished second in Missouri Valley – which had a conference RPI of 8th – in the regular season and the league tourney. The MVC got just one bid.
Virginia Tech 19-13, RPI of 52nd: Finished fourth in the ACC – which had a conference RPI of 1st – in the regular season
Ohio State 19-13, RPI of 49th: Finished fifth in the Big Ten and had wins over Michigan State and Purdue in the final week of the regular season.
Virginia Commonwealth 24-7, RPI of 54th: Won the CAA regular-season title by three games before losing in the league tourney semifinals.
Arizona State 19-12, RPI of 83rd: Finished tied for fifth in the Pac-10, swept Arizona (which got in) and had five wins over teams in the TPI top 50.
Syracuse 19-13, RPI of 55th: Finished tied for eighth in the Big East, played a top-20 schedule and had three top-50 wins.
Dayton 21-10, RPI of 32nd: Had the best RPI of any team not in the field and had four wins over teams in the RPI top 50, including Louisville and Pitt.
Massachusetts 21-10, RPI of 42nd: Finished third in the A-10 in the regular season and had six wins over teams in the RPI top 100.
No team had a real gripe as far as not getting in. Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg seemed to bang his drum the loudest, but the Hokies were 53rd in the RPI and 1-7 against teams in the RPI top 50. Yes, they reached the semifinals of the ACC tourney and nearly took down North Carolina, which beat them on a last-second shot by Tyler Hansbrough. But before the ACC postseason event, they hadn't done anything to warrant consideration.
"If you don't think this team is one of the top 65 teams in the country, you're certifiably insane," Greenberg said before the selection show.
Guess they don't call it March Madness for nothing.
Florida and Ohio State couldn't make the field, either. It marked the first time that both teams that played for the national championship missed the next season's tournament since 1980, when neither Magic-less Michigan State nor Bird-less Indiana State was invited. The Gators were the first defending national champ to miss the dance since Kansas in 1989.
Getting back to teams actually in the field, one of the most intriguing first-round games features No. 6 seed USC and No. 11 seed Kansas State. That's a matchup of former Rivals.com five-star freshmen O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley, who lead their respective teams in scoring. The last time they played against each other was the 2007 McDonald's All-American game. Beasley dominated with 23 points and 12 rebounds and was named the MVP; Mayo shot 4-of-17 and finished with 12 points.
The toughest region is the South. Memphis is looking at No. 2 seed Texas, which tied for the Big 12 regular-season title but lost in the championship game to Kansas. Also in the region is No. 3 seed Stanford, which finished second to UCLA in the Pac-10 regular season and tournament. If that weren't enough, Pittsburgh – winner of the Big East Tournament – is the No. 4 seed in the South. The Tigers could get No. 8 seed Mississippi State in the second round, and the Bulldogs were the champs of the SEC West.
"There's no way they're going to throw a bracket together where it's like, we walk to a Final Four and a national championship," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "If you're Memphis, you want it no other way. Make it as hard as you can make it.
"Every player, every coach, it has been our life, so why change now? I'm not upset and I don't think my team is. The funny thing about this tournament is you start worrying about people, and then you turn around and they're not even playing anymore. That's what one-and-done does. It's an exciting time."