To the obvious choices of Maryland, Duke and Kansas, the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee Sunday rounded out the top seeds in its four regions with Cincinnati.
Oklahoma was the other team that rated consideration for a top seed and appeared to help its case by beating Kansas for the Big 12 Conference title earlier in the day. But selection committee chairman Lee Fowler said his group already had decided Cincinnati was superior no matter what the Sooners did.
"We do look at the total season, from start to finish," said Fowler, athletic director at North Carolina State. "We want to make sure one game doesn't influence too much."
Maryland will be the top seed in the East and play its opening-round game Friday in the District of Columbia's MCI Center against the winner of Tuesday's play-in between Alcorn State and Siena in Dayton, Ohio.
The Terrapins are an illustration of the NCAA's move that allows teams to play as close as possible to their schools in the early rounds. Kansas in St. Louis, Duke in Greenville, S.C., and Pittsburgh, seeded No. 3 in the South but playing in its home town but not on its home court, also are among those reasonably close or very close to home.
Fowler said the committee wanted to make it easier and less expensive for fans and relatives of players.
Fowler said 39 teams will play in their natural region this year, up from 22 last year. Coaches are guarded about the new format.
"I don't see pluses or minuses," said Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. "I just want to see it."
Added Jim O'Brien of Ohio State: "At least they're attempting to look at something different."
Neither Georgetown (19-11) nor Virginia (17-11) made the field and will have to settle for the National Invitation Tournament. "Based on who's in the tournament, I believe we deserved a bid," Georgetown Coach Craig Esherick said. "That's not saying we're not at fault. I told the players we need to remember this feeling and use it to motivate us until this time next March and not be in the same position."
Other schools disappointed at not making the NCAAs are Butler (25-5), Memphis (22-9), Ball State (20-10) and Utah State (23-7). Also, Gonzaga was extremely disappointed at only getting a No. 6 seed in the West.
Fowler said Butler, which lost in the first round of its conference tournament, "definitely was a team that we struggled with."
Of Gonzaga, he said: "We looked at their strength of schedule a little bit (and) they were out around the area where a lot of teams they lost to were behind them" in the Ratings Percentage Index.
Fowler said the committee considered how a team fared over its most recent 10 games as important. It also used as a factor in where teams were seeded the health of significant players, such as Pittsburgh point guard Brandin Knight, who suffered a knee injury late in the Big East Conference tournament's championship game Saturday.
Fowler said the committee checked with Pittsburgh officials and said that Knight, the co-player of the year in the league, should be able to play.
Among teams that barely got in, it appeared, were No. 12 seeds Missouri, Tulsa and Utah and No. 11 seeds Boston College, Southern Illinois and Wyoming. The Big East, Big 12, Pac-10 and Southeastern conferences each have six teams in the tournament.
Bobby Knight returned to the tournament, with a Texas Tech team seeded sixth in the East. North Carolina (8-20) missed the tournament for the first time in 28 seasons. The team with the longest current streak is Arizona, with 17.
An early look at the brackets suggests the West as the toughest region. It has the champions of four major conferences: top-seeded Cincinnati of Conference USA, second seed Oklahoma of the Big 12, third seed Arizona of the Pac-10 and fourth seed Ohio State of the Big 10.
"We weren't ranked anywhere before the season," Cincinnati Coach Bob Huggins said. "This is a totally unbelievable year."
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