NCAAs: Wichita, Virginia get No. 1 seeds; Florida top seed overall
Forget Tournament time. It’s feeling like title time in Florida.
The Gators earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in school history. The other time they took it? 2007, when they won the national championship.
The selection committee released its pairings Sunday, not long after the Gators defeated Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference tournament final to bring their winning streak to 26 games.
”It’s kind of what we expected,” said guard Scottie Wilbekin, the SEC’s player of the year and tournament MVP. ”It feels good. Obviously, it doesn’t matter when the games start playing.”
Florida (32-2) will open tournament play Thursday in Orlando, Fla., in the South Region. The Gators will face the winner of Albany (18-14) and Mount St. Mary’s (16-16), two 16 seeds that play Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
”We’ve got to stay locked in and not let it get to our heads,” Wilbekin added.
Florida’s road to Dallas could get considerably tougher after that, with No. 2 seed Kansas, No. 3 seed Syracuse and No. 4 seed UCLA all in the South. The Jayhawks, Orange and Bruins have a combined 15 national titles and plenty of experience on college basketball’s biggest stage.
”Anybody in the country can come out and win it,” Florida center Patric Young said.
The top seed in the Midwest is a Shocker: Wichita State finally got the nod after finishing No. 2 in the AP poll. The Shockers will play the winner of the play-in game between Big West tournament winner Cal Poly and Texas Southern. Michigan was seeded second and the defending-champion Louisville Cardinals were fourth.
Arizona got top billing in the West despite losing to UCLA in the Pac-12 final Saturday. The Wildcats will open Friday against Weber State.
Upstart Virginia earned the top seed in the East after beating Duke to win the ACC tournament title for the first time since 1976. The Cavaliers will face Coastal Carolina.
”You have to be faithful to what brought you to this point, which is you play the kind of basketball we’ve been playing and continue to have that drive and have that hunger to play well because of the way the tournament is,” coach Tony Bennett said. ”Every team you play is so solid. This will be another challenge that way to be ready to go.”
The Cavaliers face a rugged path if they want to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1984: Big East regular-season champion Villanova is the No. 2 seed, Big 12 tournament champion Iowa State is No. 3, Big 10 tournament champ Michigan State is No. 4.
Last year’s national champion, Louisville, was seeded fourth in the Midwest despite playing well enough to be considered a No. 1 by many.
And speaking of that Midwest region — Wichita State and Michigan are there, as well, making it three of last year’s Final Four participants all vying for one spot this year.
SMU, the team led on a renaissance by coaching lifer Larry Brown — nowhere to be found. And Michigan State, the team that geared things up in time to win the Big Ten tournament, is only a No. 4 seed.
The tournament begins Tuesday with a pair of First Four games, and things get going in earnest Thursday when 32 of the 64 teams in the main draw take to the floor.
In the end, the individual matchups mean much more than the numbers by a team’s name. Still, some of the numbers the selection committee came up with this year were head-scratchers — yet another reason Warren Buffet felt perfectly comfortable fronting the insurance money to pay a $1 billion prize to anyone who can fill out a perfect bracket.
Wichita State still had something to be angry about on Selection Sunday.
The second-ranked Shockers landed the first No. 1 seed in school history and will start their pursuit of a second straight Final Four on Friday in St. Louis, where they ran their record to 34-0 by winning the Missouri Valley tournament last weekend.
That’s where the reward for their record-setting season ended, though. They were placed in a loaded region that includes second-seeded Michigan, third-seeded Duke and fourth-seeded Louisville, which beat the Shockers en route to last year’s national championship.
Relying on their motto of ”play angry,” Wichita State became the first school to reach the NCAA tournament unbeaten since UNLV in 1991. Gregg Marshall’s team will open against the winner of a First Four game between Big West champion Cal Poly and SWAC champion Texas Southern.
If the Shockers advance, they would face the No. 8 seed Kentucky or No. 9 seed Kansas State, which rarely plays Wichita State despite being just a few hours away.
The region includes two other First Four games involving bubble teams: No. 12 seeds North Carolina State and Xavier will play for the right to face No. 5 seed Saint Louis, and No. 11 seeds Iowa and Tennessee will meet in Dayton, Ohio, for a shot at No. 6 seed Massachusetts.
In other games, Michigan will open against No. 15 seed Wofford, Duke will face No. 14 seed Mercer and seventh-seeded Texas will face No. 10 seed Arizona State.
The Wolverines lost to Louisville in last year’s national championship game.
The seeding of the Cardinals (29-5) may have been the biggest surprise of the bracket. Many thought they would be a second or third seed, and coach Rick Pitino — admittedly biased — said that he thought his team had done enough to warrant the fourth No. 1 seed after winning five straight and 12 of their last 13 games, including the inaugural American Athletic Conference title.
The NCAA selection committee thought differently.
”You look at the number four line and we have some great teams,” said committee chairman Ron Wellman. ”We look at the total resume, though. Right now, if you ask anybody, Louisville is playing as well as anyone, and the committee certainly agrees with that. However, we look at the total body of work, comparing everything they did from November through March.”
The Final Four starts April 5 in Arlington, Texas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.