Sunday, March 11, 2001

Men's Tournament Preview

Kentucky-Duke looms anew

By Mike Lopresti
Gannett News Service

        INDIANAPOLIS — Consider the possibilities. Duke vs. Kentucky for the East Regional final in Philadelphia, just as they did in an immortal game in 1992.

        Maryland having a second-round date in the West with Georgia State ... and Lefty Driesell, the coach it once fired.

        Illinois and Arizona, 2,000 miles apart but together in the Midwest bracket, somehow playing for the third time this season, with a Final Four berth on the table.

        The NCAA Tournament got its marching orders Sunday, with the usual promise of intrigue. And when pondering the brackets, notice the loss totals for some of the highest seeded teams.

        They show what kind of tumultuous college basketball season it has been, as hot teams turned cold and cold teams turned hot.

        No. 1 seeds went to Duke, Stanford, Illinois and defending champion Michigan State, for the third straight year. Illinois is 24-7, tying Michigan State's 2000 record for most losses ever by a No. 1.

        Joining North Carolina, Arizona and Iowa State at No. 2 is surging 22-9 Kentucky. No second seed has ever had nine defeats before.

        No. 3? Boston College, Florida, Mississippi ... and 21-10 Maryland. Second highest loss figure for a No. 3 in history.

        At No. 4 are UCLA, Oklahoma, Kansas ... and 21-12 Indiana, which stormed to the Big Ten title game. Most losses ever for a No. 4.

        And so it went Sunday in a sport of growing parity that will crown a champion April 2 in Minneapolis.

        The NCAA selection committee sent two unmistakable messages.

        One is how it loves tough schedules. Which is why Georgia got in with a 16-14 record, and Alabama did not at 21-10.

        Secondly is how it adores the major conferences. The six megaleagues — ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC — put in 35 of the 65 teams, led by the Big Ten's seven.

        Committee chairman Mike Tranghese, commissioner of the Big East, mentioned four vexing problems as the weekend went on.

        • Deciding whether Illinois or Michigan State would stay in its home region in the Midwest. Illinois got the nod by virtue of beating Michigan State during the season and going further in the conference tournament.

        • Deciding four No. 1 seeds. North Carolina was the team left out, mostly because of a 4-4 finish.

        • Georgia's fate, with a 16-14 record, built against the nation's toughest schedule. The Bulldogs played 16 different teams in the top 100 of the RPI computer rankings.

        “Our committee feels very strongly about nonconference play,” Tranghese said. “If we had said to Georgia we're going to penalize you, what kind of message is it?”

        • Who got it in, who was left out. Alabama was doomed by a 1-5 finish and so-so nonconference schedule. Mississippi State by a borderline 16-12 record and quick exit from the SEC tournament.

        Richmond, at 21-6, may have been the toughest call. The Spiders fell away, Tranghese said, because three of their losses came against teams ranked 180 or worse on the RPI list. tournament coverage

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