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Utes off to Boise as 3 seed in West

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While there was little doubt about the No. 1 seeds for the NCAA tournament - North Carolina, Duke, Kansas and Arizona - the field of 64 still offered some surprises.

The top seeds were considered the four best teams in the country for most of the season, but a few of the 34 at-large teams didn't know their fate until Sunday.Among the surprise picks were Florida State, which lost seven of its last 10 games, including the play-in game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament; Western Michigan, which had an RPI ranking of 59; and Miami, which split its last 10 games and had an RPI ranking of 48.

"You have beauty marks and warts on all of those teams," Selection Committee chairman C.M. Newton said of the schools that were considered for the final at-large berths.

He cited the strength of schedule and quality wins for Florida State and Miami. Florida State beat Arizona and Connecticut, while Miami also beat Connecticut.

The teams that certainly merited some attention from the nine-member selection committee but were not picked included Arizona State, Wake Forest, Hawaii and Vanderbilt.

Five conferences are sending five teams each to the tournament - Atlantic Coast Conference, Atlantic 10, Big East, Big Ten and Southeastern Conference - while three are sending four each: Big 12, Pac-10 and Western Athletic Conference. The Midwestern Collegiate Conference and Conference USA each had three.

Four schools - Illinois-Chicago, Prairie View, Northern Arizona and Radford - are making their first tournament appearances. Prairie View, which is 263rd of 306 Division I schools according to the RPI ratings, has the lowest ranking of any team ever to make the NCAA tournament.

Miami hasn't been to the NCAAs since 1960, but the 38-year absence includes 15 years - 1971-85 - when the school didn't have a team.

North Carolina, which won its rubber game with top-ranked Duke in Sunday's ACC championship, was given the top seed in the East region. The Tar Heels would play the regional semifinals and finals in Greensboro, N.C., if they win their first two games.

Arizona (27-4), which has the top eight players back from last year's championship team, will play 16th-seeded Nicholls State on Thursday in Sacramento, Calif. The other matchups are: No. 8 Tennessee against No. 9 Illinois State; No. 5 Illinois, which tied Michigan State for the Big Ten regular-season title, against No. 12 South Alabama; and No. 4 Maryland against No. 13 Utah State.

In the West's other opening-round games, in Boise, Idaho, on Thursday, second-seeded Cincinnati faces No. 15 Northern Arizona. Sixth-seeded Arkansas will play No. 11 Nebraska, No. 3 Utah faces No. 14 San Francisco, and seventh-seeded Temple plays No. 10 West Virginia.

North Carolina (30-3) will open against Patriot League champion Navy on Thursday in Hartford, Conn. The other games at that site are: eighth-seeded North Carolina Charlotte against ninth-seeded Illinois-Chicago; fifth-seeded Princeton will play 12th-seeded UNLV, which won the Western Athletic Conference tournament; and fourth-seeded Michigan State, the regular-season co-champions of the Big Ten, will face 13th-seeded Eastern Michigan.

In the other East opening rounds, to be played in Washington, D.C., second-seeded Connecticut, the Big East regular-season and tournament champions, plays 15th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson. The other games at the MCI Center feature third-seeded South Carolina against No. 14 Richmond; No. 6 Xavier against No. 11 Washington; and No. 7 Indiana, looking to break a three-year first-round losing streak, against No. 10 Oklahoma.

Kansas (34-3) opens in Oklahoma City on Friday against 16th-seeded Prairie View, the Southwestern Athletic Conference champions and at 13-16 the only sub-.500 in the tournament.

In the other games in Oklahoma City, No. 8 Rhode Island plays No. 9 Murray State; No. 5 Texas Christian faces No. 12 Florida State, the lowest seeded of the 34 at-large teams; and No. 4 Mississippi plays No. 13 Valparaiso.

The Midwest's other first- and second-round games will be Friday and Sunday at Chicago's United Center. Second-seeded Purdue faces No. 15 Delaware; No. 6 Clemson plays No. 11 Western Michigan; No. 3 Stanford faces No. 14 College of Charleston; and No. 7 St. John's goes up against No. 10 Detroit.

Duke (29-3) heads the South region and will open against No. 16 Radford in Lexington, Ky., on Friday. The other games at Rupp Arena feature No. 8 Oklahoma State against No. 9 George Washington; No. 5 Syracuse against No. 12 Iona in an all-New York state matchup; and No. 4 New Mexico against No. 13 Butler.

Games Friday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta feature No. 2 Kentucky against No. 15 South Carolina State; No. 6 UCLA against No. 11 Miami; No. 3 Michigan, which won the inaugural Big Ten tournament on Sunday, against No. 14 Davidson; and No. 7 Massachusetts against No. 10 Saint Louis.