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Should be wild time in wide-open NCAA tournament

Published: Monday, March 18, 2013 11:28 a.m. CDT

The beauty of this season may be that there actually is no beauty.

If the NCAA tournament follows the same script as the regular season, expect an unpredictable ride.

Indiana was ranked No. 1 for the first six weeks of the regular season and then ... bedlam. Five teams held the top spot in The Associated Press poll the final nine weeks.

So top seeds, do they matter?

“I don’t think a whole lot of 1 seeds are going to be making the Final Four,” Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz said. “If they do, it’s great, but it’s a wide-open thing and anybody can beat anybody on any night.”

Advancing teams through your bracket based on coin flips or personal rooting interests may not be a bad idea this season. No. 1 seeds went to Louisville, Kansas, Indiana and Gonzaga.

Sure, Louisville is the hot team — for now.

The Cardinals earned the No. 1 overall seed and will play the winner of the first-round game between Liberty and North Carolina A&T. They have a favorable path in the Midwest Region, starting in Lexington, Ky., and a potential Sweet 16 game in nearby Indianapolis.

No. 1 Kansas, playing in the South Region, will be going for a title repeat of the 2008 season. This season’s Jayhawks don’t have their typical stars, but they’ve regrouped from a February funk to finish strong behind Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey.

The Jayhawks could be eyeing a redemption game in the Sweet 16 against No. 5 VCU after the Rams upset them for a Final Four spot in 2011.

Indiana let the overall No. 1 seed slip away by losing to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament semifinals, but the Hoosiers remain a frightening matchup with some of the most dominant and experienced players in the country. They start in Dayton, Ohio, in the East Region against the winner of the first-round game between LIU Brooklyn and James Madison.

Gonzaga’s poor strength of schedule (No. 76, according to CBS Sports and No. 97, according to ESPN) will receive criticism, but the Bulldogs earned a top seed with a 31-2 record and by beating nonconference foes like Kansas State and Oklahoma State.

This is the Zags’ chance to silence doubters, playing in the West Region against No. 16 Southern in Salt Lake City.

Duke, Miami and Michigan were all once in the running for top seeds but slipped. The Blue Devils and Miami slipped to the No. 2 line, while Michigan dropped to a No. 4. Duke and Miami are joined on the No. 2 line by Georgetown and Ohio State.

The Buckeyes and Hurricanes each won their respective tournament championships in the Big Ten and ACC.

The Big Ten, considered the deepest and most skilled conference in the country, saw seven teams earn bids: No. 1 Indiana, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan State, No. 4 Michigan, No. 5 Wisconsin, No. 7 Illinois and No. 11 Minnesota.

The Mountain West was another big winner with five bids going to No. 3 New Mexico, No. 5 UNLV, No. 7 San Diego State, No. 8 Colorado State and No. 13 Boise State.

Of course, every season has its share of snubbed teams. This year Tennessee, Alabama, Iowa and Virginia were teams whose bubbles burst.

Perhaps the most obvious absence is Kentucky, last season’s tournament champion. The Wildcats’ hopes ended with a 16-point loss in the SEC tournament to Vanderbilt.

Teams like La Salle, Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee are breathing sighs of relief after narrowly making the field, which culminates in the Final Four in Atlanta.

Who will be there? This season, there’s no obvious answer.

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©2013 Chicago Tribune

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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