March 11, 2002
When the NCAA announced last summer that it wanted to reduce travel in this year's tournament, some wondered if it would be possible.
On Sunday, the selection committee showed it is not.
The committee, given the freedom to move first- and second-round sites to different regions, proved the new system wasn't perfect.
"We wanted to limit the travel as much as possible, but we knew that in the middle of the bracket, it would be difficult," committee chairman Lee Fowler said after the 65-team field was announced.
Fowler said 39 teams were kept in their own time zones, compared with 22 last year. Another 15 teams were sent one time zone away, and only 11 teams moved two or three time zones. Last year, 20 teams moved at least two time zones.
But the committee's decisions also revealed flaws.
Indiana, the fifth seed in the South, was placed in Sacramento, Calif. North Carolina-Wilimington, the 13th seed in the South, also went to Sacramento, and UCLA, the eighth seed in the West, will open against ninth-seeded Mississippi in Pittsburgh.
Other teams benefitted greatly.
Pittsburgh, for instance, will stay at home even though it is the No. 3 seed in the South, and although Fowler said last week that the committee would try to avoid giving lower-seeded teams what could amount to a homecourt advantage, the committee couldn't prevent it completely.
Charlotte, the ninth seed in the South, plays Notre Dame in nearby Greenville, S.C., while 10th-seeded Pepperdine meets No. 7 Wake Forest in the Midwest at Sacramento. Ivy League champ Pennsylvania, the 11th seed in the South, faces sixth-seeded California in Pittsburgh.
The system also created some anomalies.
Washington and Greenville, S.C., each will play host to a No. 1 and a No. 2 seed. Chicago and Albuquerque, N.M., will be without a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, but will have the attraction of nearby teams.
Illinois, the fourth seed in the Midwest, and Southern Illinois, the 11th seed in the East, both will play at Chicago, while third-seeded Arizona opens play in the West Region at Albuquerque.
Fowler, the athletic director at North Carolina State, acknowledged that the system is really a work in progress.
"We can't avoid all travel because two-thirds of our teams are from east of the Mississippi," Fowler said. "What we're trying to do is develop a system where we can cut down on travel."
Other than geography, much remained the same.
The top four seeds are Duke, Kansas, Maryland and Cincinnati. Duke, which plays in the South, was seeded No. 1 for a record fifth straight year.
Kansas took the top spot in the Midwest, its first No. 1 seed since 1998, and Maryland and Cincinnati earned their first top spots.
"I think it's great," coach Bob Huggins said of the Bearcats, who will be in the West Regional and open play Friday in Pittsburgh. "It's easier for people to get to the game."
Kansas held onto its top spot, despite losing to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game Sunday, while Cincinnati beat out the Sooners for the final top seed. Oklahoma drew the second seed in the West.
As usual, there also were questions about the seeding process and who was left out.
Gonzaga, which was No. 6 in last week's Associated Press poll, drew the sixth seed in the West, where it faces Wyoming.
And Butler, which went 25-5, became the first team with that many wins to not receive a bid after losing in the first round of the Horizon League tournament.
Fowler said to make those determinations, the committee considered things such as a team's RPI rating, strength of schedule, how it fared against the top 50 teams, and how it fared against teams that might be seeded higher than it.
The decisions left some upset.
"I thought our record over four months would speak for itself," Butler coach Todd Lickliter said. "I guess there's a lot more weight on two categories, or whatever, than 10 - the RPI and that we lost in the first game of our tournament by one point."
Butler wasn't the only team left out.
Virginia, which was ranked as high No. 4 this season, finished with nine losses in 12 games and didn't get in. Neither did Tennessee Tech with 24 wins, Utah State with 23 wins, and Memphis with 22.
That's because the "power" conferences again dominated the NCAA landscape.
The Big East, Big 12, Pac-10 and Southeastern each received six bids, while the Big Ten had five and the ACC four.
The lowest-seeded of the 34 at-large selections were Utah, Missouri and Tulsa, all No. 12s.
Maryland - like the other teams grouped in four-team "pods" - opens East Regional play Friday in Washington, D.C., against the winner of Tuesday's opening-round game between Alcorn State of the Southwestern Athletic Conference and Siena of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The other matchup is eighth-seeded Wisconsin against ninth-seeded St. John's.
The other four teams in the East play Thursday in St. Louis, Mo., with fourth-seeded Kentucky playing Valparaiso and fifth-seeded Marquette going against Tulsa.
The lower part of the bracket features second-seeded Connecticut against Hampton in Washington on Friday and seventh-seeded North Carolina State against Michigan State, which has been to the last three Final Fours.
In Chicago on Friday, third-seeded Georgia meets Murray State while Texas Tech and coach Bob Knight meet Southern Illinois.
In the Midwest Regional, Kansas (29-3), which had its 15-game winning streak snapped Sunday, plays Holy Cross on Thursday in St. Louis. The other game pits eighth-seeded Stanford against Western Kentucky.
The other half of the upper bracket has Illinois meeting San Diego State on Friday, while fifth-seeded Florida faces Creighton.
Oregon, the Pac-10 regular-season champion, is seeded second and faces Montana in Sacramento on Thursday. Wake Forest and Pepperdine meet in the other game.
The lower part of the bracket is in Dallas on Friday, with third-seeded Mississippi State against McNeese State, and sixth-seeded Texas facing Boston College.
Duke (29-3) opens defense of its national championship in the South against Winthrop on Thursday in Greenville. Notre Dame and Charlotte meet in the other game.
The other pod is in Sacramento on Thursday and has fourth-seeded Southern California against North Carolina-Wilmington, while fifth-seeded Indiana faces Utah.
Alabama, seeded second in the South, also will play in Greenville, meeting Florida Atlantic, which is making its first tournament appearance. The other game features seventh-seeded Oklahoma State against Kent State.
Pittsburgh, which lost to Connecticut in the Big East championship game, meets Central Connecticut State, which has the nation's longest current winning streak, on Friday.
"We'll have the comforts of home, in a place we've played before," said Brandin Knight, co-player of the year in the Big East. "No long rides on a cramped plane. No bus rides."
The other game features Pennsylvania and California.
Cincinnati (30-3), the only team with 30 wins entering the tournament, opens against Boston University. UCLA meets Mississippi in the other game.
The other part of the bracket will be in Albuquerque, N.M., on Thursday. Fourth-seeded Ohio State, the Big Ten tournament champion, plays Davidson and fifth-seeded Miami faces Missouri.
Oklahoma's first game after upsetting Kansas will be in Dallas on Friday against Illinois-Chicago, with seventh-seeded Xavier facing Hawaii in the other game.
The other pod in the lower half pits Arizona against Cal-Santa Barbara, along with sixth-seeded Gonzaga facing Wyoming in Albuquerque.
Florida Atlantic, the Atlantic Sun conference champions coached by former NBA player Sidney Green, is the only school making its first tournament appearance.
San Diego State, which won the Mountain West title, snapped the longest nonappearance string, making the field for the first time since 1985. The Aztecs are coached by Steve Fisher, whose last NCAA tournament appearance was in 1996 with Michigan. He led the Wolverines to the national championship as an interim coach in 1989 and then to the title game in 1992 and 1993.
Another coach returning to the tournament is Knight, who led Indiana to 24 appearances, winning it all in 1976, 1981 and 1987. He was fired by Indiana in 2000, and returned to coaching with Texas Tech this season, leading the Red Raiders back to the tournament for the first time since 1996.
North Carolina's first 20-loss season ever snapped the Tar Heels' record streak of 27 consecutive appearances. The longest streak now belongs to Arizona, which has been in every tournament since 1985.
By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer