The inexact science of putting together the NCAA tournament bracket turned out to be pretty exact this time around.
No big beefs with the top seeds — North Carolina, Memphis, Kansas and UCLA.
No snubbed bubble teams with shout-it-to-the-mountaintop complaints — even if Arizona State and Virginia Tech do have somewhat compelling arguments.
And no defending champion, either. But not even that was a surprise.
Florida, completely rebuilt after winning two titles in a row, was written off well before Selection Sunday after losing its last four games, including the first round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
So, let March Madness begin, and call the Tar Heels (32-2) favorites if you must. Led by Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina earned the overall top seed in the tournament and won’t have to leave its home state on the road to the Final Four in San Antonio. Carolina’s first two games are scheduled for Raleigh, and its next two would be in Charlotte.
“It’s an advantage if you play well,” said Carolina coach Roy Williams, trying to lead the Tar Heels to their second title in four years. “Just because the crowd’s cheering for you, I’ve never had a crowd win a game. I know it sounds wacko.”
Only four teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference made it, something of a surprise considering it was the top-ranked conference in the all-important RPI.
But what does the RPI really mean these days?
Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg is certainly no fan. His ACC team got snubbed despite being ranked No. 53 on the list.
“We need to get rid of the RPI totally from people’s train of thought,” he said. “Because one second, the head of the committee says the RPI is inconsequential, and the next second, he says they can use the RPI to eliminate a team.”
That might have been the case with Arizona State, which was 83 on that list despite quality victories over third-seeded Stanford and Xavier and two over rival Arizona, which made it off the bubble for its 24th straight NCAA appearance.
But Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek refused to let the snub get the best of him.
“By playing the role of the victim, you let a great opportunity slide by to learn from the experience,” Sendek said.
Arizona State’s spot might have been taken by Georgia, which won four games at the SEC tournament — including two in one day after a tornado ripped past the Georgia Dome — to complete an inspiring run into the tournament with a 17-16 record.
“We found out we had more than we thought we did,” said Georgia coach Dennis Felton, who likely saved his job with this remarkable string. “We kind of persevered.”
Georgia, a 14th seed, opens against third-seeded Xavier in the West region.
The final bubble spots went to Villanova, a 12th seed in the Midwest, and St. Joseph’s, an 11th seed in the East that beat Xavier twice.
Baylor got in as an 11th seed in the West, an impressive rebound for a program that nearly disintegrated after the murder of Patrick Dennehy by a teammate in 2003.
Kentucky made it as a No. 11 seed in the South despite growing pains under coach Billy Gillespie, who’s in his first year at the school.
Kansas State was an 11th-seeded bubble team, and how could the committee resist bringing freshman-of-the-year candidate Michael Beasley into the tournament — then pairing him against another sensational freshman, O.J. Mayo of Southern California? They’ll play Thursday in a first-round Midwest region game.
The top-seeded teams offered no surprises or outrage, the way, say, Washington did three years ago when the Huskies were No. 1 in the West.
UCLA has been a top team all season and won the Pac-10 tournament to get the nod in the West. Kansas beat Texas in the Big 12 final Sunday, in a game almost everyone agreed would be for top seeding in the Midwest. Memphis is from the less-prestigious Conference USA and lost to Tennessee in the regular season, but the Tigers (33-1) won their conference and the Vols (29-4) helped smooth things out by losing in the SEC semifinals.
Maybe Memphis could quibble with a possible game against second-seeded Texas in the South regional final — in Houston. But the Tigers weren’t backing down from Final Four expectations after losing in the regional finals the last two years.
“We created those expectations before the year even started, and that’s what we’re living up to,” guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said. “We’re not taking that back at all. That’s what we want.”
The tournament begins Tuesday when Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Coppin State, the first team to make the tournament with 20 losses, plays Mount St. Mary’s in an opening-round game. The winner gets North Carolina.
With eight teams, the Big East placed the most schools in the tournament. The Pac-10, Big 12 and SEC followed with six each, while the ACC and Big Ten had four apiece.
Selection committee chairman Tom O’Connor called the RPI “a control point” when it comes to picking teams.
“It’s a data point and it’s a starting point, but it’s not an end-all,” he said. “We don’t look at conferences at all.”
Yet later, he cited Arizona State’s bad numbers in the same RPI as a reason for snubbing the Sun Devils, saying they would have been the worst RPI rating of any team to ever make the field.
“While Arizona State is very good, the committee didn’t feel it was one of the best 34 at-large teams in the country,” O’Connor said. “Also, they were 2-4 against the top teams in their conference.”
For the second straight year, only six of those 34 at-large bids went to teams from smaller conferences. That includedSt. Joseph’s, which earned one of the final spots in the bracket, but didn’t include Illinois State. But how to argue against snubbing a team that lost by 30 points its last time out, in the finals of the Missouri Valley Conference against Drake?
Meanwhile, mid-major George Mason, the team that showed what March Madness is really all about with its incredible run to the Final Four two years ago, is back as a 12th seed after winning the Colonial Athletic Association crown.
Last year’s national runner-up, Ohio State, was also left on the bubble, meaning both of the previous season’s finalists will miss the tournament for the first time since the bracket was expanded in 1985.
O’Connor said the selection committee had eight contingency plans based on the possibilities from Sunday’s five conference title games, but the committee had done lots of advance work to make the last-second decisions less difficult.
“We said from the beginning, when you look at what happens in the NCAA tournament, all the publicity, all the hype, the economics ... the real thing is playing the games with the kids on the court,” O’Connor said.
No argument there. And not much with the bracket his committee produced, either.