Another round of upsets capped a wild regular season, casting uncertainty over the coveted top seeds for the NCAA tournament and leaving defending champion Kentucky facing the very real chance of being left out of the 68-team field.
The selection committee was set to unveil its brackets Sunday evening. A year ago, the process was far less complicated, with the Wildcats, North Carolina and Syracuse all clear No. 1s.
Committee chairman Mike Bobinski, the athletic director at Xavier, said a few days ago he considered as many as seven teams to be in the running for the top line of the four regional brackets.
Gonzaga, which is No. 1 in The Associated Press rankings for the first time, will be making its 15th straight NCAA appearance after winning the West Coast Conference. The Zags (30-2) hoped to land the top seed in the West.
The fate of Gonzaga was just one of the mysteries heading into the tournament after a topsy-turvy season in which there was no consensus about the best team. The Zags were the fifth squad to hold the lead spot in the rankings, following Indiana, Duke, Louisville and Michigan.
"As I walk into our process this year, I would tell you I've probably got seven teams in my mind for the first four spots," Bobinksi said last week, as the selection committee was beginning its work. "That will come into focus the next few days, but it's more than four for the top four."
Duke (27-5), the projected leader in the RPI rankings, was upset by Maryland in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Indiana (28-6) lost in the semifinals for the Big Ten tourney. Another possible top seed, Georgetown (25-6), went down in the Big East semis.
Louisville (29-5) made a strong push for a No. 1 with a 10-game winning streak capped by a stunning victory in the Big East title game, coming back from a 16-point deficit early in the second half for a 78-61 rout of Syracuse. Kansas (29-5) was also in the mix after blowing out Kansas State 70-54 in the Big 12 final.
"I think we're deserving to be in the discussion," Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. "I think we'll be for sure one of the five or six most highly ranked teams on the seed line."
Others tried to make a late impression on the committee, which likes to have its major work wrapped up before the final hours, but may not have that luxury this time.
Miami, for instance, won its first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title after holding on for the regular-season crown despite a late slide. The Hurricanes (27-6) knocked off North Carolina 87-77 in Sunday's championship game.
In the Big Ten, Ohio State took on Wisconsin for the tournament championship, with the Buckeyes hoping to wrap up at least a second seed but possibly in the mix for a No. 1.
Another school from the Sunshine State, Florida, missed out on a chance to double up titles in the Southeastern Conference. The Gators (26-7) won the regular-season crown but lost to Mississippi 66-63 in the final of the league tournament Sunday — yet another upset in a season filled with them.
But the SEC's most prominent basketball school was in danger of missing out altogether.
One year after taking its eighth national title — only UCLA has won more — Kentucky's success in restocking each year with the best one-and-done prospects finally hit a roadblock. The Wildcats never meshed as a unit, then lost their best freshmen when Nerlens Noel went down with a season-ending knee injury.
An upset over Florida boosted their stock heading to the SEC tournament. But the Wildcats turned in a miserable performance in Nashville, Tenn., losing to Vanderbilt 64-48 in the quarterfinals, and seemed likely to settle for a bid from the second-tier National Invitation Tournament.
"The good news is everyone seems to be losing," Kentucky coach John Calipari said after falling to the Commodores. "I just hope we're the best of the bad right now. That's what I'm hoping."
The tournament begins Tuesday and Wednesday with the "First Four" games in Dayton, Ohio. The second round starts Thursday.
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