Top-ranked and undefeated Indiana State, Notre Dame, UCLA and North Carolina were seeded No. 1 in their respective regions yesterday as the NCAA announced the pairings for its National Collegiate Basketball Championship tournament.
The tournament committee had the flexibility this year to spread the strength equally among the regionals and then seed the teams in each regional to make sure that, barring upsets, the seeded teams will play each other at the right time.
If it is balance the NCAA is looking for, it looks as if it struck gold.
Duke and Georgetown are with Carolina in the East, Michigan State and LSU are with Notre Dame in the Mideast, DePaul and Marquette are with UCLA in the West and Louisville, Arkansas and Texas are in the Midwest with Indiana State.
"Throughout our history, the Mideast has traditionally been one of our strongest brackets," said Wayne Duke, the chairman of the basketball committee. "In fact, nine of the top 20 teams are listed in the Mideast. We felt the Western Regional needed some strength so we sent DePaul and Marquette out there."
There were no real surprises in the announcements. The only top 20 teams not invited were Ohio State and Purdue, and that was because the Big Ten already had two representatives, conference champion Michigan State and runner-up Iowa.
Purdue did, in fact, finish in a three-way tie with Michigan State and Iowa for the championship. Michigan State was declared the champion because of its superior record against the other two. Iowa, which beat Purdue twice during the regular season, was given the at-large bid.
No conference may send more than two teams to the national tournament.
This is the first year for a 40-team tournament. The NCAA sent 10 teams to each region and then seeded them 1 to 10. The first six seeds received byes in the first round, while the last four seeds must play first-round games against each other Friday.
Indiana State enters the tournament as the only undefeated team. Alcorn State also finished its regular season with a perfect record, but is ineligible for NCAA tournament play because it is in the process of conforming to academic eligibility requirements
The Sycamores finally get their chance to play some ranked teams and All-America Larry Bird, who broke his left thumb in Indiana State's 69-59 victory over New Mexico State Saturday in the Missouri Valley Conference championship game, says he can't wait.
"A lot of people questioned us being ranked No. 1 because of our schedule," he said, "but we're not concerned about the pressure in the NCAA. We've been under pressure most of the season and, anyway, we're even with everybody else now.
"I'll tell you one thing," Bird said. "The team does beat us is going to pay for it."
Bird, who was second in the nation in scoring with a 29.3 average and fourth in rebounding, averaging 15 a game, broke his thumb while trying to block a pass.
"We don't play until next Sunday so I don't know how it will be by then. I can promise you I'll play, regardless," Bird said.
"I realize I may not be as effective with this thumb as I might be otherwise, but anyone who thinks Indiana State is a one-man team is going to be in for a surprise. We had several games this season where we were tied or behind and I fouled out and we still went on to win."
One team that might face the Sycamores early is Virginia Tech.
The Gobblers (21-8) got an automatic tournament bid by winning the Metro Conference tournament this year.
Louisville got that conference's bye in the first round and Tech is seeded eighth. The Gobblers play ninthseeded Jacksonville in Lawrence, Kan., Friday. The winner will play Indiana State in the second round Sunday at the same site.
A team from each of the 16 conferences with the best tournament records over the last five years received a first round bye. Those were the Atlantic Coast, Pacific 10, Big Ten, Southeastern, Sun Belt, Eastern Athletic, Big Eight. Western Athletic, Southwest, Mid-American, West Coast, Metro, Southern, Big Sky, East Coast Athletic Conference -- New England and Missouri Valley.
Eight more first round byes were given to at-large teams.
Last year's defending national champion, Kentucky, just missed a chance to defend its title when it lost to Tennessee in the SEC tournament final Saturday. Kentucky accepted a National Invitation Tournament bid.
Louisiana State, the SEC's regular season champion, was given an atlarge bid, seeded third in the Mideast and given a first round bye. Tennessee is the eighth seed in that same region.
The second round games will be played Saturday and Sunday with the winners advancing to the regional semifinals the next weekend.
The national semifinals and final are March 24 and 26 at Salt Lake City.
The only spot still to be determined is the Mid-American Conference representative Toledo and Central Michigan will play for the title Tuesday. The winner will go to the Mideast regional and will get a first round bye.