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Tourney field gets few complaints, few surprises



Published: Mon, March 17, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas earned No. 1 seeds.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- College basketball coaches and players had little to complain about. That doesn't mean it was easy handing out the at-large berths in the NCAA tournament.

Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas earned the top seeds in the 65-team field that begins play Tuesday, with Arizona and Texas among the 34 at-large selections.

"College basketball, because of the parity, is getting tougher and tougher to select the 34 teams," said Jim Livengood, selection committee chairman and athletic director at Arizona. "This group did the very best job it could.

"The hardest thing is when you can select only 34, the committee has a tough, tough job to do, particularly in those last four or five picks."

Minor arguments

While the tournament draw went pretty much as expected, there were some minor arguments.

There were the usual concerns about teams playing close to home, especially second-seeded Florida, which will play in Tampa despite closing the season with three straight losses.

And there were the expected contentions about seeding in an era where parity has made it difficult to separate the best from the rest. The most glaring argument was that of Texas' No. 1 seed, the first in school history.

Some contended the Longhorns were not deserving of a top seed after Friday's exit in the Big 12 quarterfinals, and that Kansas, the conference's regular season champ, should have gotten a No. 1 spot.

Instead, Kansas is seeded second in the West Region and will play at Oklahoma City in the first round.

Livengood acknowledged it was a tough choice.

"Was Kansas a No. 1? Maybe," Livengood said. "But you can only go with four."

The announcement marked the end to a scandal-plagued season in which three schools -- Fresno State, Michigan and Georgia -- removed themselves from consideration because of possible NCAA violations or academic fraud.

St. Bonaventure wasn't allowed to participate in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament because of an ineligible player, and Villanova ended the season with only five scholarship players after 12 were suspended for unauthorized phone calls.

Georgia, a virtual lock for the tournament, pulled out Monday, a decision that likely opened the door for either Brigham Young or Butler. Brigham Young (23-8) and Butler (25-5) were the last two at-large teams selected.

"I don't think you could really say or predict what effect a team not being in the tournament may have had on a team that is in the tournament," Livengood said.

Few surprises

There were few surprises.

Arizona received the top seed in the West, Kentucky in the Midwest, Oklahoma in the East and Texas in the South. It was the fourth straight year that two teams from the same conference -- Oklahoma and Texas both play in the Big 12 -- were top seeds.

Duke was the No. 3 seed in the West, ending a five-year run of earning top seeds.

The Big 12 and Southeastern Conference each sent six teams to the tournament, and Georgia would have given the SEC a seventh. Five teams each from the Big Ten and Pac-10 were selected, while the Atlantic Coast Conference, Conference USA and Big East are sending four each.

"I don't think it ever gets old hat," Wildcats coach Lute Olson said. "When you get to the NCAA playoffs, I think it's the most exciting time in sports."

The tournament begins Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, with the play-in game. Big South champion North Carolina Asheville, at 14-16 the only team in the field with a losing record, will play Texas Southern, the champion of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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