A day after suffering its first loss of the season, the University of San Francisco basketball team was dealt another blow yesterday. The Dons drew the nation's highest rated independent, Nevada-Las Vegas, as its first-round opponent in the NCAA Tournament.
San Francisco and Las Vegas will meet Saturday in Tuscon, Ariz., in one of two blockbuster West Regional openers. The other pairs UCLA against Metro Seven member Louisville in Pocatella, Idaho.
ACC champion North Carolina, probably without two starters, will meet Big 10 representative Purdue in Raleigh. Wake Forest, loser in the first round of the ACC Tournament, received an NCAA bid and will play Conference Champion Arkansas in a Midwest Regional opener.
Michigan, which most likely will be rated No. 1 this week, meets Holy Cross in a Mideast Regional game in Bloomington, Ind., Sunday.
Wake's selection was one of several surprises by the NCAA Basketball Tournament Committee. The committee did not pick an at-large team from the Pacific Coast or the Southwest conferences but did take Purdue, third in the Big 10. Big 10 runner-up Minnesota was ineligible for the tournament.
The committee also bypassed independents Craighton, Oral Roberts and Indiana State and selected North Carolina-Charlotte, last year NIT runner-up, and an extra team from the East, Providence. The East automatically is represented by the three ECAC Tournament winners, Holy Cross, Syracuse and St. John's.
But none of those Eastern teams were placed in the East Regional. St. John's goes to the West, to play Utah; Holy Cross (against Michigan) and Syracuse (against the Southeastern Conference champ, probably Tennsesee) go to the Mideast, and Providence (against Kansas State) goes to the Mid west.
Besides the four Eastern teams, N.C.-Charlotte and Purdue, the other at large schools selected included Detroit, Marquette, Notre Dame, Arizona, Wake, the SEC runner-up (probably Kentucky), Louisville and Las Vegas.
The selection committee decided not to seed teams within each region, which it could have done for the first time this year.
"The committee decided that there were so many strong teams there was no need to seed anyone," said NCAA spokesman Dave Cawood. "Instead, they followed normal procedure. Once the various teams were placed in the four regions, pairings were determined by drawing teams out of a hat."
The committee had been given the authority to seed schools in order to avoid pairing two highly rated teams in the first round, as happened last year with Alabama and North Carolina.
By not exercising the seeding power, the tournament has such first-round matchups as San Francisco-Las Vegas, Tennessee-Syracuse, Cincinnati-Marquette and North Carolina-Charlotte plays the MId-American champion, Utah meets John's and Detroit plays Middle Tennessee.
"There are going to be a lot of complaints, I'm sure," said North Carolina coach Dean Smith. "I know I'd as soon try my luck against Arkansas (Wake Forest's first opponent) than against Purdue."
Smith probably will have to take on the Boilermakers without both Walter Davis (broken finger) and Tom LaGarde (bad knee), although LeGarde might be able to play.
NBC will televise two first-round games on Saturday (most likely North Carolina-Purdue and Las Vegas-San Francisco) and two on Sunday (most likely Tennessee-Syracuse and Michigan-Holy Cross).
The West is the most talented region. It contains three of the nation's top five teams in last week's Associated Press poll - San Francisco, UCLA and Las Vegas. Louisville has been among the top 10 most of the year until a late-season slump and Utah came on strong in February to win the tough Western Athletic Conference.
UCLA probably will be favored to advance to the Final Four in Atlanta, March 26 and 28.
Michigan's strongest challenge in the Mideast will be SEC champ Tennessee - assuming the Vols beat Vanderbilt tonight to wrap up the conference bid. The Wolverines would benefit from the fact that Kentucky, which will host the regional in Lexington , is a likely SEC runner-up and would play in the East.
Kentucky's presence in the East, coupled with North Carolina's injury problems, makes the Wildcats that region's strongest entry. Notre Dame, coming off its upset over San Francisco, also will challenge, provided the Irish get by East Coast Conference champ Hofstra in the opening round.
The Midwest is perhaps the most wide open. Any of seven teams appear to have the talent to win it, with only Southern Illinois not a factor. Arkansas, loser only once in 27 games, will be a shaky favorite, but will be pushed by improving Marquette, Providence and Arizona.
Conference tournaments eliminated two regular-season champions from the NCAA playoffs. Rutgers lost in the opening round of the Eastern Eight playoff and the league will be represented by Duquesne (15-14), which beat Massachusetts in the final. Austin Peay lost to Middle Tennessee (19-8) in the final of the Ohio Valley Conference for the second straight year.
Beside the SEC, the only other conference still to decide its champion is the Mid-American. Miami of Ohio and Central Michigan are tied for first but Central Michigan can go to the tournament by beating Ohio tonight.
Michigan coach Johnny Orr was anxious to take on the tournament favorite's role after the Wolverines beat Marquette yesterday.
"There shouldn't be any question in anyone's mind now," he said. "We should be No. 1 going into the tournament. It was our third game in four days an we've been on the road for days."
Utah wrapped up the WAC title Saturday night by beating Brigham Young, 57-54, and Arizona was upset in overtime, 95-89, by Arizona State. Mark Landsberger had 17 points an 22 rebounds to lead State. Utah got 18 points from guard Jeff Jonas.