PHILADELPHIA — Since the NCAA men's basketball tournament expanded to a 64-team field in 1985, never have all of the No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four. That could change in the next few hours as play begins in the "Sweet 16."
Thursday at the East Regional, it will be a battle involving three basketball titans and an upstart from the West Coast. Top-seeded Duke (31-4), the ACC champion, is favored to advance, but first the Blue Devils must beat another tradition-laden program in fourth-seeded UCLA (23-8). The winner will get the survivor of the early game between SEC champion Kentucky (24-9) and sixth-seeded Southern California (23-9).
Should Kentucky and Duke win, they would meet in an NCAA regional title game for the third time since 1992.
Play will also be held Thursday in the West Regional, where top-seeded Stanford (30-2), which has been ranked No. 1 most of the season, is expected to advance to the Final Four for the second time since 1998. The Cardinals will take on surprising Cincinnati (25-9) at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, Calif. The early game in the West is more intriguing, however, as Washington, D.C. neighbors Maryland (23-10) and Georgetown (25-6) square off. A win would give Maryland coach Gary Williams his first-ever trip to the Elite Eight. The Sweet 16 continues on Friday with play at the South Regional at the Georgia Dome and the Midwest Regional in San Antonio.
Top-seeded Michigan State, the defending national champion, should be a heavy favorite in the South as it will be joined by No. 7 Penn State, No. 11 Temple, and No. 12 Gonzaga. The Spartans take on Gonzaga on Friday.
The regional that could break ranks is the Midwest, where top-seeded Illinois will face a tough battle with fourth-seeded Kansas on Friday. Should the Illini survive, they will face the winner of No. 2 Arizona and No. 3 Ole Miss for a spot in the Final Four.