Georgetown's quest to become the first team to win back-to-back NCAA basketball championships since the glory days of UCLA in 1972-73 begins Thursday afternoon in the first round of the East Regional against Lehigh, the only school in the 64-team field with a losing record.
Georgetown, the No. 1-ranked team in the country, is seeded first in the tournament and will play its first game at 12:07 p.m. in the Hartford (Conn.) Civic Center. But the Hoyas' path to a third championship game in center Patrick Ewing's four years has pitfalls from the second round on, with Georgia Tech, Illinois, Loyola (Chicago), Southern Methodist, Georgia and Syracuse perhaps standing in the way in the East, as well as a possible fourth game this season against St. John's in the national semifinals March 30 at Lexington, Ky.
Second-ranked St. John's, which has lost twice to Georgetown in the past 12 days, was seeded first in the West Regional. Third-ranked Michigan, the Big Ten champion, was top-seeded in the Southeast Regional, and No. 4 Oklahoma, winner of the Big Eight Conference, was seeded No. 1 in the Midwest.
Maryland and Navy, the other Washington-area schools in the tournament, were bracketed in the same quarter of the Southeast Regional. Maryland, seeded fifth, plays Miami of Ohio; Navy, seeded 13th, tries to upset Louisiana State, seeded fourth in the regional. Both games are Friday at Dayton, the Midshipmen playing at 12:07 p.m. and the Terrapins competing at 2:37 p.m. The winners meet Sunday.
Virginia, one of five recent powers that did not make the NCAA field, was among the early teams receiving bids to the 32-team National Invitation Tournament. The Cavaliers will play at West Virginia Thursday night.
The expansion of the NCAA field from 53 to 64 teams -- thus creating an additional 11 at-large bids -- resulted in the Big East and Big Ten conferences receiving a record six bids each, one more than any conference had received. The Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences each received five bids and the Pacific-10, despite continued mediocrity, got four.
The parity of college basketball was evident in this field with such recent perennial powers as UCLA, Louisville, Indiana and Houston failing to earn a bid. Those four schools and Virginia represent half the appearances, and two championships, in the past five Final Fours.
Vic Bubas, commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference and chairman of the men's Division I basketball committee, said in Kansas City, Mo., that strength of schedule was the major factor in determining the final at-large bids. According to the seedings, the final teams to get in were Iowa State, Kentucky and Pittsburgh. Kentucky, whose athletic director had verbally bullied the selection committee last week, had the worst record of any at-large entry, 16-12.
Four regular-season conference champions that won at least 20 games, including West Virginia of the Atlantic 10, failed to make the NCAA field after losing in conference tournaments. The Mountaineers (20-8) were 1-5 against nonconference teams that are in the tournament.
Other regular-season conference champions to lose out were Tennessee-Chattanooga (22-7, Southern), Alcorn State (23-6, Southwestern Athletic) and Georgia Southern (24-5, Trans America).
The inclusion of Boston College, seeded 11th in the Midwest Regional, seemed indicative of the way the tournament committee considered strength of schedule and comparable results.
The Eagles (18-10) finished sixth in the Big East with a 7-9 record, including a one-point loss to Syracuse in the first round of the conference tournament. But they won all their nonconference games, beating NCAA tournament teams Northeastern and Michigan State. In addition, Boston College played Georgetown and St. John's very close, taking Georgetown into overtime at Capital Centre and losing by two to St. John's in New York.
Three schools will have home-court advantages in the first and second rounds -- Georgia Tech, playing in Atlanta; Notre Dame, playing Oregon State in South Bend with the winner likely facing North Carolina, and Dayton, facing Villanova in the first round with the winner likely to be playing Michigan. The NCAA committee decided not to allow the home-court advantage to teams after the opening rounds.
Georgetown, of course, will be an overwhelming favorite against Lehigh, whose 12-18 record includes three straight victories in the East Coast Conference tournament that gained that league's automatic bid. When Lehigh Coach Tom Schneider was asked if he had seen the Hoyas play this season, he said, "I've watched enough of them maybe not to watch any more."
Schneider, who grew up in the Washington area and was an assistant coach at American and George Washington, figured his team, as the 64th and final seed, would play the winner of Saturday night's St. John's-Georgetown Big East tournament final. He even missed the game on television, instead watching his daughter perform in a high school play.
Thompson immediately rejected the notion that it's impossible for his team to lose to Lehigh or anybody else in the tournament. "As I've always said, you can't underestimate anybody in a tournament situation." Thompson said after learning of his team's first-round opponent. "I don't have any information on Lehigh yet. Certainly, we will be heavy favorites. But it always bothers me when somebody says it's impossible for a team to do anything."
Georgetown's second-round opponent would be Temple or Virginia Tech. Then, in the regional semifinals, the Hoyas could face Loyola (25-5) or SMU, which came within two points of beating Georgetown in a 1984 second-round game.
In the other half of the East bracket is Georgia Tech, which would have to beat either Syracuse or De Paul merely to get to the regional semifinals, where its likely opponent is Georgia or Illinois.
Thompson said he was just beginning to digest his bracket -- "trying to get a feel for it" -- and added, "The worst thing to do is speculate on which regional is easier and which is tougher. All these people did something to get into the tournament. It's the tournament of champions, so you've got to be careful."
Navy probably would like to switch first-round opponents with Georgetown. The Midshipmen, making their first NCAA tournament appearance in 25 years, will play one of the most talented teams in the nation in LSU. Navy will be a big underdog, but that did not seem to bother Coach Paul Evans.
"The way it is," he said, "almost any team you play will be a good, quality team. If there's anything good about playing them, it's that they didn't win their conference tournament (Southeastern) and they're probably not playing their best ball of the season right now."
If Navy could pull an upset, it would probably play Maryland, which has to be a heavy favorite to beat Miami of Ohio of the Mid-America Conference. Maryland has won its opening game the last two years, and the Terrapins will try to regroup from an opening-round loss in the ACC tournament to make it three straight. Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell said, "I'm just happy to be in the tournament; I don't care who we play."