In a year when so much power is packed at the top, picking out the bottom three or four squads in the 64-team NCAA field was not the major headache it usually is.
Committee chairman Jim Delany said two weeks ago that deciding those last few teams would probably be his panel's toughest assignment. But Delany emerged from a marathon weekend meeting Sunday night with a completed bracket and a new perspective.Naming No. 1 UNLV, the defending champion with a 41-game winning streak, as top seed in the West Regional was easy. But deciding on the top seeds in the other three regionals kept the nine-man committee tossing and turning.
"The toughest job and most obvious issue people are going to be asking questions about are really lines 1 and 2," Delany said of the top two seeds in each regional across the bracket. "It's very clear there was one team on line 1 that has performed over the past two years in a superior way. Then there seemed to us anywhere from five to eight other teams that was very difficult to distinguish among."
After all their deliberations, the committee eventually settled on North Carolina, ranked No. 7 in the Top 25, as top seed in the East, No. 5 Arkansas (31-3) as top seed in the Southeast and No. 2 Ohio State (25-3) as top seed in the Midwest despite losing its last two games.
No. 2 seeds are Syracuse (26-5) in the East, Indiana (27-4) in the Southeast, Duke (26-7) in the Midwest and Arizona (26-6) in the West.
"That was an area the committee spent at least three hours this afternoon on," Delany said. "We looked at late results, drew some conclusions and drew some lines. That was particularly difficult."
It may not prove a day at the beach for college fans, either. The first round, which moves into action Thursday and Friday around the country, is not exactly aglow with inviting matchups. The Runnin' Rebels of Las Vegas, the most highly regarded NCAA entry since unbeaten Houston roared into the 1983 tourney, will face No. 16 Montana in the first round at Tucson. Ohio State's first game in the Midwest pits it against Towson State. Northeastern gets to play North Carolina in the East first round at Syracuse, and Georgia State gets Arkansas in the Southeast.
"We thought there were seven teams, after UNLV, who were first or second seeds," said Tom Frericks, a committee member. "We compared them all, went over it very carefully."
Picking between Big Ten foes Ohio State and Indiana was particularly nettlesome.
"We know Ohio State lost two games this past week," Frericks said. "But they did win two over Indiana in head-to-head competition. It gets downto a hairline decision. It really does. But the two victories (over Indiana) probably were the overriding point that caused it to go Ohio State's way."
One interesting early matchup, however, could come in the West if UNLV meets Georgetown, one of a record-tying seven teams from the Big East, in the second round.
"People have been asking me all week who I feared the most, and Georgetown was one of the two I feared," said UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian. "Georgetown is a dangerous team."
Before the matchup is set, both teams must win their first-round games Friday at the West Regional in Tucson, Ariz. Eighth-seeded Georgetown (18-12) meets No. 9 Vanderbilt (17-12).
Last week, Georgetown was considered a borderline NCAA tournament team. But the Hoyas clinched a berth by making it all the way to the Big East tournament final before losing to Seton Hall on Sunday.
"A few days ago we were on the bubble and today we're the eighth seed in the West," said Georgetown Coach John Thompson. "It's interesting we go from not going (to the tournament) to eighth seed by winning two basketball games."
Ohio State coach Randy Ayers was surprised his team got a top seed. "We didn't think we'd get it after the week we had," Ayers said. "We feel the (selection) committee rewarded us for our consistency earlier in the season."
All the top seeds play their opening games on Friday.
Ohio State (25-3) meets Towson State (19-10) at Dayton, Ohio. North Carolina (25-5), which beat Duke to win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, opens against Northeastern (22-10) at Syracuse, N.Y., and Arkansas (31-3), which topped Texas for the Southwest Conference championship, meets Georgia State (16-14) in Atlanta.
The seven Big East schools in the tournament ties the record set by the Big Ten last year. The conference will be represented by Georgetown, Seton Hall, Villanova, St. John's, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Syracuse. The only Big East teams that didn't make it were Providence (17-12) and Boston College (11-19).
Six ACC schools made the field, while the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference each placed five teams.
The Big Eight had three teams and is the only conference to capture three of the top 12 seedings. Fifteen teams with 20 or more victories were left out of the tournament. They include Fordham (24-7), Siena (23-9), Southwest Missouri State (21-11), Furman (20-8) and Middle Tennessee State (21-9).
Missouri (20-10), Kentucky (22-6) and Illinois (21-10) were ineligible because they're on NCAA probation, which proved especially frustrating to Missouri since the Tigers beat No. 14 Nebraska Sunday in the final of the Big Eight tournament.
UNLV originally was barred from the tournament for recruiting violations, but the NCAA reversed its decision in September after the school appealed. Under the ruling, the Runnin' Rebels will be ineligible for the tournament next season.