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`WILD' NCAA TOURNEY OFF TO POLITE START

The NCAA tournament that everybody says could be history's wildest is off to a quiet, almost polite beginning.

Howls of outrage that normally accompany the bracket announcement seem to have choked on their own echo.There are complaints, to be sure. Among the 20-game winners left out, Wisconsin-Green Bay (25-4) has perhaps the biggest beef (see story on page D3). And, as usual, some teams are grumbling about moving out of their natural regions.

But not many.

By and large, the 64-team bracket unveiled Sunday night by chairman Roy Kramer seems about as non-controversial and universally accepted as any the NCAA ever produced.

The biggest potential controversy was headed off earlier in the week by a Nevada judge who denied a move by UNLV players to get their team eligible. So the fireworks won't start this time until the games do - at first-round sites around the country Thursday and Friday.

"This is the result of an exhaustive 40-45 hours of very diligent discussion by our nine-man committee over the past three days," Kramer said when the field was unveiled. "We probably looked at approximately 90 teams, including the automatic qualifiers. Unquestionably, there is more parity in college basketball this year than in the history of the game."

The Big Eight vindicated its boast as the toughest conference by landing six teams, more than any other league. The Big East, Big Ten and ACC have five each.

Big Eight entries include three of the top 16 seeds and Iowa State, whose 5-9 conference record is the worst among at-large teams in tournament history. No team whose conference losses exceeded its victories by more than two had ever been included among the 34 at-large picks.

The committee, swayed by several late games on Sunday, gave No. 1 seeds to Kansas in the Midwest, Ohio State in the Southeast, UCLA in the West and top-ranked and defending champion Duke in the East.

NCAA officials, citing the weekly rash of upsets among Top 25 teams, have predicted this could be the most wide-open tournament ever. However, there is nothing in the first-round matches to indicate 1992 will be the year a No. 16 seed breaks through and beats a No. 1.

After the first- and second-round games this weekend, the 16 survivors move into regional competition the following weekend and the Final Four teams will gather the weekend after that in Minneapolis.

Duke, which beat Kansas for last year's title and seeks to be the first repeat champion since UCLA in 1973, drew a tournament newcomer and a friendly site for its opener. Ohio State, in the meantime, got a mixed reward for winning the Big Ten title.

Duke will meet Big South champion Campbell (19-11) Thursday in the East Regional at Greensboro, N.C. It appears to be a good matchup for the top-ranked Blue Devils (28-2) because they will be playing close to their Durham campus and facing a team making its first appearance in the tournament.

"We have to be ready to go," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Campbell's had a great year and I know they're very excited."

Campbell, a North Carolina school known as the Fighting Camels, joins Delaware (27-3), Eastern Illinois (17-13) and Tulane (21-8) as tournament first-timers.

Fifth-ranked Ohio State (23-5) gained the top seed in the Southeast and a first-round game in its home state after fourth-ranked Indiana (23-6) lost to Purdue 61-59 Sunday and blew a chance to tie the Buckeyes for the Big Ten championship. However, Ohio State ended upin the toughest regional, one that features seven teams in the Top 25.

"I don't think you can worry about who you play," Ohio State coach Randy Ayers said. "You just have to go out and play well. I think at this point they're all good teams."

The Buckeyes face Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Mississippi Valley State (16-13) on Thursday at Cincinnati. Indiana is seeded second in the West and will play Eastern Illinois on Thursday in the first round at Boise, Idaho.

Along with Ohio State, the Southeast Regional features Top 25 teams Oklahoma State (26-7), Arizona (24-6), North Carolina (21-9), Alabama (25-8), Michigan (20-8) and St. John's (19-10). North Carolina will be making its 18th consecutive appearance in the tournament, the longest active streak.

Eighth-ranked UCLA (25-4) will meet Northeast Conference champion Robert Morris (19-11) on Friday in Tempe, Ariz., while third-ranked Kansas (26-4) plays Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference winner Howard (17-13) at Dayton, Ohio.

Arizona, which started the week ranked second in the nation, ended up seeded third in the Southeast after losing its last two games to Southern Cal and UCLA. The Wildcats will play Southern Conference champion East Tennessee State in Atlanta on Friday.

Some surprise seedings include No. 2 Southern Cal (23-5) in the Midwest, No. 2 Oklahoma State in the Southeast, No. 3 Massachusetts (28-4) in the East and No. 4 Oklahoma (21-8) in the West. All were expected to be seeded lower.

Kramer admitted Indiana's loss Sunday cost the Hoosiers dearly in the eyes of the committee.

"Ohio State and Indiana were considered almost equal, and today's game obviously had a major impact on the way we seeded Ohio State," said Kramer, who was appointed to the committee chair after Tom Frericks of Dayton University died last month.

Kramer cited the parity as a major reason for letting most teams stick close to home. In the past, many more teams were shipped out of their natural geographic areas.

"Significantly, the committee was able to honor geographical locations better than we have in the past," Kramer said. "This is not to say we didn't move anybody out of their region. The primary goal of the committee is to make the road to Minneapolis as difficult from Tempe, Ariz., as it is from Worcester, Mass. There are times when a team has to be moved geographically to structure the bracket."

Kramer said the panel was not worried that taking Iowa State (20-12) would set a bad precedent.

"I don't believe the committee has ever looked at precedent," Kramer said. "Our goal is to pick the 34 best teams. Iowa State with the same record in another year might not get into this tournament because the strength of the conference might not be comparable."