It was a first for Florida. Not only were the Gators named the top seed in the Midwest regional on Sunday, they also earned the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Defending champion Florida received the overall No. 1 for the first time, and it came despite being ranked sixth heading into Sunday's SEC title game. In the ESPN/USA Today poll released after the game, the Gators rose to third.
"It's a compliment to our season as a body of work," said
Florida coach Billy Donovan, whose team rebounded to finish 29-5
after losing three games at the end of the regular season.
Still, it's hardly a guarantee the Gators will be in Atlanta for
the Final Four on March 31. Last season, they won it all as a No. 3
seed, and not a single top-seeded school made it to the Final Four
for the first time since 1980.
North Carolina (28-6) is the top seed in the East regional after winning its first ACC tournament title in nine years. The Tar Heels were ranked eighth in the nation going into Sunday's game but rose to fourth.
In the South, Ohio State, the top-ranked team in the nation, earned the No. 1 seed. The Buckeyes (30-3) won the Big Ten regular-season and tourney titles.
Kansas (30-4) earned its seventh top seed in the tournament and will be No. 1 in the West. The Jayhawks beat Texas in overtime on Sunday to win their second straight Big 12 tournament. The Jayhaws are a solid No. 2 in the ESPN/USA Today poll.
Falling to a No. 2 seed was last year's national runner-up, UCLA,
which looked headed for a No. 1 seed until losing its last two
games, including the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 tournament.
But the real surprise came in the meager number of at-large bids
handed out to mid-major teams. Only six of 34 spots went to the
little guys, down from eight last year and 12 in 2004.
It means fewer opportunities for a repeat of last year, when
11th-seeded George Mason -- the commuter college in Virginia --
struck a blow for the underdog in a stirring trip to the Final
"Last year, the impression was that the tournament committee
had gone overboard in selecting mid-majors," selection committee
chairman Gary Walters said. "But when we start the process, we
throw conference affiliation out the window and it shakes out
where it shakes out."
While their sheer quantity wasn't impressive, some mid-majors
thrived in other ways. Southern Illinois earned a fourth seed and
Butler a fifth. Meanwhile, Big South champion Winthrop and America
East champion Albany were seeded unusually high at 11th and 13th,
Parity reigned this year with a record 104 teams winning 20
games or more and a record 48 teams appearing in The Associated
Press Top 25, raising the possibility of a mid-major revolution
when the brackets came out.
It wasn't to be. Instead, the final five bubble spots went to
Arkansas, Illinois, Stanford, Purdue and Texas Tech -- all from
The Atlantic Coast Conference placed the most teams in the
tournament with seven, while the Big East, Pac-10 and Big Ten had
six each, the SEC five and the Big 12 four. No mid-major had more
Old Dominion of the Colonial Athletic Conference did get an
at-large bid, but Missouri State (0-5 against the top two teams in
its league), Air Force (season-ending four-game losing streak) and,
maybe most stunningly, Drexel (finished behind Old Dominion and
Hofstra in the CAA), were left out.
"It's very disappointing, not just that you didn't get in, but
when you look at some of the teams that did," said coach Bruiser
Flint of Drexel, which went 23-8 with 13 road wins.
Little guys weren't the only ones disappointed.
Kansas State looked safe in Bob Huggins' first year as coach but
didn't make it. Neither did Florida State. And the biggest surprise
of all might have been to bypass Syracuse, 22-10 and winner of
seven of its last 10.
"I have no way of understanding why we're not in the
tournament," coach Jim Boeheim said. "You look at the numbers and
it's hard to believe. But it's done. There's no use in talking
Other notables from Selection Sunday included:
• Lute Olson of Arizona making his 23rd straight appearance in
the tournament, tying the record held by Dean Smith at North
• Louisville getting a nice break, earning only a sixth seed,
but having to travel only an hour down Interstate 64 to play in
Lexington's Rupp Arena, home of rival Kentucky.
• A very angry Niagara team, relegated to Tuesday night's
play-in game against Florida A&M despite a 22-11 record that
included an 11-game winning streak.
"Nothing makes sense to me," coach Joe Mihalich said. "Let me
be diplomatic here -- I'm confused."
• A first-round matchup between Marquette and Michigan State
pitting former Spartans assistant Tom Crean against his old boss,
Tom Izzo. A possible second-round matchup between Illinois coach
Bruce Weber and his former assistant at Southern Illinois, Chris
Lowery, who moved into Weber's spot a year after he left.
"I don't think it's a coincidence, no," Weber said.
• A possible Pittsburgh-UCLA matchup in the West Regional that
would match Bruins coach Ben Howland against the team he left.
UCLA's first-round matchup is against Weber State, Howland's alma
• Top-seeded Florida, best team in the South, moved to the
Midwest Regional, where it would have to play in St. Louis; Ohio
State, best team in the Midwest, placed in the South Regional,
where it would have to go through San Antonio.
"When we looked at the mileage, it was a little bit of a
push," Walters said. "St. Louis seemed like a more natural area
for Florida to go."
The Gators defeated Ohio State 86-60 back in December, but that
was before sensational freshman, Greg Oden, was a factor for the
Buckeyes; he was just coming back from a broken wrist. Walters said
it wasn't so much that victory, as Florida's overall performance
this season, that led the committee to list the Gators as the top
"That was a decisive victory," Walters said. "But one has to
acknowledge that Ohio State was, at that time, just getting Oden
into the mix. I think Billy Donovan would be the first to concede
that Ohio State is a very worthy first-line team."
At first glance, the East Regional seems to be the toughest.
There, North Carolina earned its record 11th top seed, but
second-seeded Georgetown has won 15 of 16 and fourth-seeded Texas
is led by freshman Kevin Durant, who might be the best player in
"We should have some confidence from winning the ACC
tournament, but as I've always said, you build your momentum in the
NCAA Tournament," Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said.
The easiest path? Maybe its Florida in the Midwest, though
nobody would relish that possible second-round matchup against
Olson and Arizona.
All that's debatable, as was the committee's decision to offer
so few spots to the underdog teams that have put so much of the
madness into Marches past.
"It would be the height of arrogance to say we get everything
100 percent right all the time," Walters said. "I'm not
suggesting that not selecting Drexel isn't the right decision. But
I am suggesting if you put 10 people around a table, one could come
up with different results."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.