Indianapolis In a season full of scandal, the NCAA Tournament selection committee restored some order to college basketball.
Kentucky, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma received the top spots on a Selection Sunday that offered very little controversy, from what teams got in to where they have to travel.
Sure, Florida received a No. 2 seed despite losing three straight games, and Boston College (18-11) was left out even though it won its Big East division.
For the most part, however, coaches and players had little to complain about. That doesn't mean it was easy handing out the at-large berths.
"College basketball, because of the parity, is getting tougher and tougher to select the 34 teams," said Jim Livengood, selection committee chairman and athletic director at Arizona. "This group did the very best job it could."
Texas will play in the South region, Oklahoma in the East, Arizona out West and Kentucky in the Midwest, all vying for a chance to reach the Final Four, April 5 and 7 in New Orleans.
There also still were questions about the effect a war would have on the tournament.
NCAA officials were busy making contingency plans for security and possible postponements, but the event would not be canceled, tournament managing director Greg Shaheen said.
"Our objective is to honor and respect the times we're living in, but to understand that life must go on," he said.
CBS has said it might switch some games to ESPN if there is a war with Iraq. It could also shift the games to another of the networks owned by CBS' parent company, Viacom, such as MTV, UPN, BET or TNN.
In this season of parity on the court and troubles off it, Duke, the No. 3 seed in the West, ended its run of five straight years as a top seed.
Georgia, expected to be a highly seeded team, Michigan and Fresno State declared themselves ineligible for the tournament because of possible NCAA violations or academic fraud.
The Big 12 and Southeastern Conference are sending six teams each to the tournament, and Georgia would have given the SEC a seventh. Five teams each from the Big Ten and Pac-10 were selected, while the Atlantic Coast Conference, Conference USA and Big East are sending four each.
Boston College isn't one of them. As the brackets were being announced on television, the Eagles grew more nervous.
"Everyone felt a little bit uncomfortable," coach Al Skinner said. "But we didn't think, until they announced the last game, that we wouldn't be up there."
UCLA (10-19) ended its string of 14 straight appearances, third on the current list behind Arizona's 19 and Indiana's 18.
"I don't think it ever gets old hat," Wildcats coach Lute Olson said.
"When you get to the NCAA playoffs, I think it's the most exciting time in sports."
Bob Knight's streak of 16 straight trips to the tournament also ended. He made it from 1986 to 2000 at Indiana, and last year with Texas Tech. He didn't coach in 2001.
North Carolina holds the record with 27 straight appearances, but the Tar Heels are not in the field for the second straight season.
The tournament begins Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, with the play-in game, the start of a basketball odyssey that will also go through regional sites Minneapolis, Anaheim, Calif., San Antonio, and Albany, N.Y., before reaching New Orleans.
Big South champion North Carolina Asheville, at 14-16 the only team in the field with a losing record, will play Texas Southern, the champion of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
The winner will play Texas on Friday in Birmingham, Ala., and No. 8 LSU will face No. 9 Purdue.
"It's part of Texas history and we're glad to be a part of it," Longhorns guard T.J. Ford said. "It means a lot. If we don't do anything else, we're going to be in that book in ink."
In Spokane, Wash., on Thursday, No. 5 Connecticut plays No. 12 Brigham Young and No. 4 Stanford faces No. 13 San Diego.
The rest of the teams in the South will play Friday, with No. 6 Maryland, the defending national champion, against No. 11 North Carolina-Wilmington at Nashville, Tenn., along with No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 14 Troy State. Also, No. 7 Michigan State plays No. 10 Colorado, and Florida faces No. 15 Sam Houston State in Tampa, Fla.
"Everyone talks about the last five, six games of the year," Gators coach Billy Donovan said, referring to his team's recent struggles. "You can't forget about what happened in November. Sometimes we put too much stock in what happened the last few games."
Oklahoma probably helped itself move into a top spot by winning the Big 12 tournament Sunday. It got the biggest break from the "pod" system, which keeps the better teams as close to home as possible.
The Sooners will play South Carolina State on Thursday in Oklahoma City, a 20-minute ride from their Norman campus, while No. 8 California faces No. 9 North Carolina State.
"We were trying to make sure that the teams on the top five lines were not put at a disadvantage," Livengood said.
In the other games in Birmingham, No. 5 Mississippi State plays No. 12 Butler, and No. 4 Louisville faces Austin Peay.
In Boston on Friday, No. 3 Syracuse plays No. 14 Manhattan in a matchup of New York schools, and No. 6 Oklahoma State faces No. 11 Penn.
Wake Forest, the No. 2 seed after winning the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title, plays No. 15 East Tennessee State, and No. 7 Saint Joseph's faces Auburn in Tampa.
Kentucky, unbeaten in the Southeastern Conference and winner of the league tournament, enters the NCAAs on a 23-game winning streak. It will play No. 16 IUPUI, one of seven schools making their first NCAA appearance, in Nashville, while No. 8 Oregon faces No. 9 Utah.
In Spokane, No. 4 Dayton, which won the Atlantic 10 tournament on its campus, plays No. 13 Tulsa, and No. 5 Wisconsin plays No. 12 Weber State.
On Thursday in Indianapolis, No. 3 Marquette plays No. 14 Holy Cross, and No. 6 Missouri faces No. 11 Southern Illinois.
The final Midwest group will be at Boston, with No. 2 Pittsburgh, the Big East tournament champion, against No. 15 Wagner; and No. 7 Indiana, last year's runner-up, against No. 10 Alabama, a top-ranked team in late December that dropped to 17-11, 7-9 in the Southeastern Conference.
Arizona opens against No. 16 Vermont on Thursday in Salt Lake City. Also, No. 8 Cincinnati plays No. 9 Gonzaga; No. 3 Duke, which won its fifth straight ACC tournament on Sunday, faces No. 14 Colorado State; and No. 6 Creighton plays No. 11 Central Michigan.
Notre Dame, despite being a No. 5 seed, gets a chance to play close to home, facing No. 12 Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Indianapolis. Also, No. 4 Illinois, which won the Big Ten on Sunday, plays No. 13 Western Kentucky.
The last West group will be at Oklahoma City: No. 2 Kansas plays No. 15 Utah State and No. 7 Memphis faces No. 10 Arizona State.