Gonzaga University landed the final No. 1 regional seed in the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament after setting a school-record with 31 wins, while the University of Louisville claimed the top overall seed.
The University of Kansas and Indiana University were also named No. 1 seeds for the tournament beginning tomorrow. The 68-team field is spread across four geographic regions who each have a top seed.
Louisville (29-5) is the top seed in a Midwest regional that also includes No. 2 seed Duke University and No. 3 Michigan State, who have a combined 150 NCAA tournament wins and six national championships. Gonzaga (31-2) was picked over the University of Miami as the No. 1 seed in the West regional, becoming the fourth school since 2000 to earn a top seeding while playing outside college basketball’s top six conferences.
“I was just honored to be in the conversation,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, whose Spokane, Washington-based Bulldogs team went undefeated in the West Coast Conference. “When this team plays at its highest level, we can definitely beat anybody.”
The NCAA tournament, which two years ago expanded from 65 teams, starts in Dayton, Ohio, with two games tomorrow and two more on March 20 before full tournament play begins March 21. The championship game is scheduled for April 8 in Atlanta.
Louisville, which has a 10-game winning streak and captured the Big East Conference tournament title for the third time in five years, is listed as a 9-2 favorite to win its third national championship, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book. The Cardinals play North Carolina A&T or Liberty, which made the NCAA tournament with a record-tying 20 losses, in its opening game in Lexington, Kentucky, on March 21.
Indiana, the top seed in the East, has 7-1 odds to capture its sixth national title, followed by Duke, Miami and the University of Florida, which are all 8-1 chances. Florida is the No. 3 seed in the South regional led by Kansas, which is the oddsmakers’ sixth choice at 10-1.
“I don’t think there’s a team that’s distinguished itself as the favorite,” CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg said on a conference call. “Kansas is a No. 1 seed, but there’s not a bunch of distance between them and Georgetown or Florida. I don’t see a clear-cut favorite in any region.”
Gonzaga is next with 12-1 odds, yet the Bulldogs’ record-setting season was enough to earn them a No. 1 seed from the tournament’s selection committee. The only schools in the past 14 years to get a No. 1 regional seed from leagues outside the Big East, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences were Cincinnati in 2002, St. Joseph’s in 2004 and Memphis in 2006 and 2008.
“Gonzaga gets everyone’s best shot when they show up,” Mike Bobinski, chairman of the NCAA tournament selection committee, said in a televised interview. “In our judgment, that is a very complete and very strong basketball team. In our collective estimation, they belong on that one line.”
With 15 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the Bulldogs have the fourth-longest active streak behind Kansas, Duke and Michigan State. Gonzaga plays Southern University in its opening game in Salt Lake City, Utah, on March 21.
Kansas (29-5) faces Western Kentucky in its March 22 opening game in Kansas City, where the Jayhawks two days ago captured their record ninth Big 12 tournament title. Kansas has won 10 of its past 11 games and is a No. 1 seed for the 11th time, tied for the third-most all-time.
The Jayhawks are in the NCAA tournament for the 24th year in a row, college basketball’s longest active streak and the second-longest run in history behind North Carolina’s 27 straight appearances from 1975 through 2001.
Indiana (27-6), which won the Big Ten regular-season title before losing in the semifinals of the conference tournament, will play Long Island University-Brooklyn or James Madison in its first game on March 22 in Dayton.
Since the NCAA tournament started assigning a No. 1 overall seed in 2004, two such teams went on to win the championship -- Florida in 2007 and the University of Kentucky last year. Kentucky was left out of this year’s tournament field with a 21-11 record.
In the past three years, only two No. 1 regional seeds reached the Final Four.
Even with the No. 1 overall seed, Louisville might have the toughest region, said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. The Cardinals could face No. 4 Saint Louis (27-6), the Atlantic 10 Conference champions, in the regional semifinals and then face a potential matchup against Duke (27-5) or Michigan State (25-8) for a trip to the Final Four.
Bilas picked Saint Louis as a team that may knock Louisville out of the tournament.
“They’re an older team that can control the tempo, they take care of the ball, they guard very well,” he said. “Louisville is not a great shooting team.”
Kansas will be challenged in the South by No. 2 seed Georgetown, No. 3 Florida, No. 4 Michigan and fifth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth, which two years ago upset the top-seeded Jayhawks to reach the Final Four.
Gonzaga’s region “is probably the easiest to navigate,” Bilas added. Big Ten tournament champion Ohio State is the No. 2 seed, followed by No. 3 New Mexico, No. 4 Kansas State and fifth-seeded Wisconsin. New Mexico, which won the Mountain West Conference tournament, plays Ivy League-champion Harvard in its opening game.
Automatic bids went to 31 conference champions and the remaining 37 participants received at-large invitations.
Middle Tennessee State (28-5), Saint Mary’s (27-6), La Salle (21-9) and Boise State (21-10) were the last to secure at-large spots in the tournament. Under the 68-team format, those four schools are among those that play in Dayton over the next two days for a seeded spot in the field.
In addition to defending champion Kentucky, schools left out of the field included Southern Mississippi (25-7), Tennessee (20-12), Alabama (21-12) and Virginia (21-11).
“When there are 68 teams and you don’t get in, you only have to look in the mirror,” Turner Sports analyst Steve Kerr said. “You can look at a number of games on the schedule that Kentucky is probably kicking themselves for not winning.”