Indiana's selection was the only surprise when the NCAA announced yesterday the 11 at-large teams to complete its 32-team championship tournament field. Half of the draw is topheavy with nine of the nation's top 10 ranked teams.
Upsets in conference tournaments and the NCAA's new seeding system resulted in some blockbusting possibilities in the early rounds of the tournament.
A possible showdown between No. 1-ranked Kentucky and defending champion and No. 3-ranked Marquette in the round of 16 in the Mideast Regional.
A first-round matchup in the West Regional between No. 2-ranked UCLA and No. 5-ranked Kansas with the winner likely to play No. 4-ranked Arkansas in the next round.
No. 8-ranked New Mexico and No. 10 North Carolina could also meet in the round of 16 in the West Regional if North Carolina gets past San Francisco in the first round.
First-round play begins Saturday at eight sites. Sixteen teams will advance from there to the four regional tournaments the following week, the East at Providence, R.I., the Midwest at Lawrence, Kan., the Mideast at Dayton, Ohio, and the West at Albuquerque, N.M.
One survivor from each of the regionals will go to St. Louis for the national semifinals and final March 25 and 27.
In addition to Indiana, the at-large teams picked by the six-man selection committee were Marquette, Syracuse, Providence, Florida State, North Carolina, Arkansas, Kansas, DePaul, Notre Dame and Utah.
Five other teams, St. John's, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, La Salle and Fullerton State were automatic qualifiers of winning their conference titles, but were seeded as at-large teams because their regional placemens had not been predetermined.
Indiana got its bid over Detroit, Georgetown and Illinois State, all with better records. But the Hoosiers won nine in a row at the end of the season and the selection committee, chaired by Wayne Duke, who is also the Big Ten commissioner, felt they deserved the selection based on the strength of their schedule.
The semifinal pairings this season bracket the East against the Midwest and the West against the Mideast.
Atlantic Coast Conference champion Duke is expected to coast through the East Regional and DePaul is the only top-10 ranked team in the entire East-Midwest half of the bracket.
Four regular-season conference champions, Arkansas in the Southwest (cochampion with Texas), North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast, Florida State in the Metro Seven and Kansas in the Big Eight, lost their conference tournaments and the automatic bids to the tournament. They received at-large bids.
According to the NCAA rules, they had to be placed in a region where they couldn't face their respective conference tournament champion until the NCAA final.
That is what caused Kansas, North Carolina and Arkansas to be bunched in the West region, while the Midwest, for instance, gets Houston, the SWC tourney winner, and Missouri, the Big Eight champion.
The teams that get automatic bids in each region are seeded by the comference's record in NCAA play over the past five years.
The at-large teams are seeded on the basis of their competitive records this season. So Marquette was seeded No. 1 at large in its region (Mideast). In the draw, the No. 1 at-large team is bracketed to play the second-seeded conference team in the round of 16. As it turns out this year, the second-seeded conference team in the Mideast this year is No. 1-ranked Kentucky, setting up that possible early showdown between the wildcats and Marquette.
That doesn't sit too well with Marquette Coach Hank Raymonds.
"Common sense has to come into this," he said. "When you seed, you supposedly do it so the so-called powers do not each other off early in the tournament and not make it to the finals. It is not fair to us and it is not fair to Kentucky."
Duke said that the selection of the at-large teams and the placing of them in the various regionals "was a difficult decision. You can ask why did this team make it or why didn't that team. It was the selective judgment of the committee," he said.
Only one spot in the 32-team field has yet to be filled and that is the Mid-American Conference winner, which will play Marquette in a first-round game in the Mideast.
That representative, depending on the outcome of two games tonight, will be Miami Of Ohio, Toledo or Central Michigan.
Missouri is the only team in the tournament with a below .500 record at 14-15 and Georgtown, Texas, Detroit and Illinois State were the only top 20 teams not selected.