Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina tried to manufacture some chaos before the brackets came out. Like a group of 7-foot forwards roaming the middle, the members of the NCAA selection committee simply swatted all that noise away.
Even though they lost over the weekend, the Wildcats, Orange and Tar Heels turned out to be what they thought they were: top seeds — all armed with a well-timed bit of humble pie as they gear up for a run through the NCAA Tournament they hope will end at the Final Four in New Orleans.
Michigan State earned the last No. 1 seed and was the only one of the four top-billed teams to win its conference tournament. The Spartans defeated Ohio State 68-64 in the Big Ten title game Sunday — a contest widely viewed as the game for the last No. 1 seed, even if selection committee chairman Jeff Hathaway wouldn't quite go there.
"As it turned out, this game put the No. 1 seed into the field," he said.
While No. 2 seeds Kansas, Duke, Missouri and Ohio State wonder whether they could have been rated higher, teams such as Drexel, Seton Hall, Mississippi State and Pac-12 regular-season champion Washington curse what might have been. Those bubble teams were left out, and all will be wondering how Iona, California and South Florida made it.
The Big East led all conferences with nine teams, including defending national champion Connecticut, a dangerous No. 9 seed, conference tournament winner Louisville and, of course, Syracuse, which cruised through most of the season with only one loss.
"I think it's going to help us a little bit," Coach Jim Boeheim said of the second defeat, Friday to Cincinnati in the Big East Tournament. "I think players, when they're winning, they kind of excuse their mistakes. I think we finally got their attention. I think they'll be a better team going forward than they were last week."
There were 11 at-large teams from the so-called mid-major conferences, four more than last year and the most since 2004 when 12 made it. Though the committee claims not to consider a team's conference when it picks the bracket, this was nonetheless a nod to the free-for-all this tournament can be. Last year, 4,000-student Butler finished as national runner-up for the second straight season, while VCU, of the Colonial Athletic Conference, went from one of the last teams in the draw, all the way to the Final Four.
Who might this year's VCU be?
It's the question being asked across the country, as those $10 and $20-a-pop brackets start getting inked in at spring training sites, corporate board rooms and everywhere else across America. The tournament starts Tuesday with first-round games and gets into full swing Thursday and Saturday, with 64 teams in action.
"There were 112 teams with more than 20 wins," Hathaway said. "We talked a lot about parity at the high end of the field and about quality throughout the field. Bottom line, it was about who did you play, where'd you play them and how did you do?"
Some losses, though, were less important than others, and apparently, losing in the conference tournament didn't cost Syracuse, Kentucky or North Carolina. Those losses could have created chaos in the bracket, but the committee had the teams more or less cemented into top spots.
Second-seeded Duke got serious consideration for moving up to a No. 1, but an 18-point loss to North Carolina in the regular-season finale and a loss to Florida State in the ACC Tournament certainly hurt. The Blue Devils are on the same side of the bracket with 11th-seeded Colorado, a team that got snubbed last year but won its way into the bracket this time by taking the Pac-12 Tournament.
The Pac-12 was woefully weak this year, placing only two teams and leaving Washington on the outside. This marked the first time the regular-season champion of a power conference got left out.
"Our guys are very, very disappointed, because I don't think after winning the conference outright they couldn't see any way we would not be in this tournament in their minds," Huskies Coach Lorenzo Romar said.