NCAA tourney: Kentucky earns top overall seed
Updated: March 15, 2015, 11:35 PM ET
ESPN.com news services
Bracket TV: Midwest Region Preview
The Kentucky Wildcats ended up where everyone expected them on Selection Sunday: seeded No. 1 on their quest to become the first undefeated team since 1976.
“Everyone is 0-0 right now,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said in an appearance on ESPN. “This is a one-game shot.
“All I want for my team right now is individually to be the best version of yourself.”
Wisconsin secured the first top seed in program history after overcoming an 11-point deficit Sunday against Michigan State to win 80-69 in overtime in the Big Ten championship.
“It felt like everything aligned perfectly,” Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky said. “Just how we played at the end of the game, how we pulled out a come-from-behind victory down 11. … It was just crazy, like it was written in the stars.”
But the Badgers (31-3) must play in the West Region, where second-seeded Arizona is certain to draw more fans.
The other No. 1 seeds were Villanova in the East and Duke in the South. Those were pretty easy picks.
And then there was the total no-brainer — placing Midwest Region 1-seed Kentucky at the very top of the bracket. The Wildcats defeated Arkansas 78-63 on Sunday to improve to 34-0. If they win six more, they will become the first team since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers to go undefeated.
“I think I have the best team and the best players,” said Calipari, trying to lead the Wildcats to their ninth national title. “Does that mean we’ll win? No, it doesn’t.”
The Wildcats are an even-money pick in Las Vegas to win it all, and at least one coach, Bill Self of Kansas, thinks that might be a bargain.
“I shouldn’t be talking about Vegas, but my point is, I think they’re a pretty heavy favorite,” said Self, whose Jayhawks are seeded No. 2 in the Midwest.
Kansas extended its streak of consecutive seasons as a top-three seed to nine, one shy of the longest all time.
Other No. 2 seeds are Gonzaga in the South and Virginia in the East.
Selection committee chairman Scott Barnes said Arizona and Virginia were in the mix for a No. 1 seed. He defended placing Duke there, saying the Blue Devils’ road wins over Virginia, North Carolina and Louisville carried more weight than their lack of a conference title.
“Those strong, very elite wins, wins on the road — and let’s not forget the eye test with Duke — all were considerations,” he said.
There were surprises when the bracket came out too.
Power 5 schools UCLA and Texas made it. Colorado State and Temple did not.
Barnes called the UCLA pick “one of the tougher decisions we had to make.” But he defended putting the Bruins (20-13) in the bracket despite an RPI of 48, which is 18 spots lower than Colorado State.
“We felt they were gaining steam,” Barnes said. “They did have a good strength of schedule. They were playing better against tough competition. An example is the last game against Arizona [a 70-64 loss in the Pac-12 semifinals]. I think the eye test was also a plus in putting them in the field.”
Fans have a few days to fill out their brackets (sorry, no billion-dollar prize available for a perfect one this year), and then the NCAA tournament starts in full Thursday, when Kentucky headlines the action against the winner of a First Four game between No. 16 seeds Manhattan and Hampton. A No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16.
As for those First Four games Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, one of the teams playing is Dayton — a No. 11 seed that will have a distinct home-court advantage against Boise State. Generally, that’s not allowed during the NCAA tournament, but there’s an exception because the committee said the Flyers were the last team in and thus had to play in the opening-round game.
“It falls within our policies and procedures,” Barnes said. “It’s obviously a home-court advantage, but we didn’t waver from that decision.”
Barnes, in an interview with ESPN’s Andy Katz, did say the committee may rethink its selection of the First Four.
The Big Ten and Big 12 led the way by placing seven teams each in the bracket. Indiana and Texas are the states with the most teams in the tournament, with five each.
Other teams that just missed were Old Dominion and Richmond, which lost out to teams like Ole Miss and Texas that have stronger schedules baked into the cake because they play in major conferences.
As is custom, Barnes was short on specifics, though he said Wyoming’s surprise victory in the Mountain West Conference stole away an at-large bid that would have gone to Temple.
Murray State and Colorado State each won 27 games but were denied berths. They finished one win shy of the most wins by a team not to make the tournament since the field expanded in 1985.
The 68-team bracket includes its usual share of quirks and tearjerkers:
• UCLA’s first game is against SMU, coached by Larry Brown, the 74-year-old turnaround artist who is taking his third team to the NCAA tournament. The first team? UCLA, of course.
• Harvard, coached by former Duke star Tommy Amaker, faces his old rival, North Carolina, in the round of 64.
• Georgia State coach Ron Hunter watched the bracket unveiling with his left foot in a cast. He feared that he tore his Achilles tendon while celebrating his program’s first trip to the tournament since 2001. The 14th-seeded Panthers open against Baylor.
• Also seeded No. 14 is Albany, which made the tournament on a 3-pointer with 1 second left by Peter Hooley, whose mother died six weeks ago. Albany opens against Oklahoma.
• Wichita State is in the same region with Kansas, an in-state program that won’t schedule the Shockers, and Kentucky, which ended Wichita State’s undefeated season last year in the round of 32.
This year, it’s Kentucky that comes in with a “0” in the loss column.
The Associated Press and ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.