Three more teams in this year's version of March Madness. Three more networks to cover it. And the Big East will have its hooks in practically...
Three more teams in this year’s version of March Madness. Three more networks to cover it.
And the Big East will have its hooks in practically every nook and cranny of that new-look NCAA bracket.
The NCAA selection committee released its newfangled, 68-team draw Sunday and included a whopping 11 teams from the deepest conference in the nation.
Leading the way for the Big East was Pittsburgh, seeded first in the Southeast even though it didn’t win a game in the conference’s postseason tournament.
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“It has Hall of Fame coaches, great programs with storied traditions and heritage,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said, a few minutes before his team became the 11th and final squad from the Big East to have its name announced on the selection show.
All 68 teams are aiming for one destination — the Final Four in Houston, set for April 2.
Ohio State (32-2) of the Big Ten was the top seed overall, with Kansas (32-2) of the Big 12 next, while defending champion Duke aced out another Big East team, Notre Dame, for the fourth and final top seed. Led by one of the country’s best guards, Nolan Smith, the Blue Devils (30-4) are trying to become the first team since Florida in 2006-07 to repeat as national champions.
The tournament got a slight facelift this year, including the addition of three more at-large teams that will open the tournament in what the NCAA is calling the “First Four.” Those games — including UAB (22-9) vs. Clemson (21-11) and USC (19-14) vs. Virginia Commonwealth (23-11) — will take place Tuesday and Wednesday.
Those, along with every other game of the entire tournament, will be aired in their entirety on four networks. Before the start of the season, TBS, TNT and TruTV joined CBS in signing a new, 14-year TV contract worth $10.8 billion — the price to be paid to air the games that make up America’s biggest office pool.
But more teams and more money don’t solve every problem or erase every whiff of controversy.
As is always the case on Selection Sunday, there were plenty of head-scratchers — a list of teams that came out of nowhere to make it and other virtual shoo-ins that didn’t.
In the first category: Georgia (21-11), given a surprisingly high No. 10 seed despite losing twice to Alabama, a team that got left out. VCU, UAB and Clemson were considered surprises.
Among those snubbed were Virginia Tech, which has come close but missed for four straight years, and Colorado, which beat tournament teams Texas and Missouri once — and another one, Kansas State, three times.
“Colorado is a good ballclub, and there were many good ballclubs we considered,” said Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who led the selection committee. “They just didn’t quite get the votes to get in. That’s just the reality.”
Those that did make it include nearly three-quarters of the Big East.
The Big Ten placed seven teams, including a pair — Penn State and Michigan State — with 14 losses each. The Big 12 and Southeastern Conference got five teams each, while the Atlantic Coast only got four — a list that included the usuals, Duke and North Carolina, along with Clemson, but not Boston College, which finished 20-12.
Of the 37 at-large teams, 30 came from the top six conferences and seven came from the so-called mid-majors — the conferences that supply the underdogs and unknowns that have turned the NCAA tournament into what it is. The seven were one fewer than last year, even though there were three more spots available.
“It was more difficult, it really was, because there was so many good teams out there,” Smith said.
This year marks the return of UCLA, Arizona and North Carolina, a trio of perennials that missed the tournament last year and led many experts to call the 2010 field one of the weakest of all time.
This year, some pundits are saying the same thing. They’re pointing to five at-large teams with 14 losses (Marquette, USC, Penn State, Michigan State, Tennessee), which is one fewer than in the history of the entire tournament, dating to 1985 when it was expanded to 64 teams.
Other surprising snubs went to Saint Mary’s (25-8, but lost to Gonzaga in final of the West Coast Conference tournament), Alabama (won the SEC West and beat Georgia twice) and Harvard (beat Colorado, lost to Princeton by one in the Ivy League tiebreaker game and ranked 32 in the RPI ratings that are used as a guideline).
“There are some people on the committee who don’t know if the ball’s round,” said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. “These are bad decisions.”