The Kansas Jayhawks began the college basketball season as the team to beat, and now, four months later, with the NCAA Tournament ready to tip off this week, they sit atop the same lofty perch. The Big 12 regular-season and tournament champions, who were the AP preseason No. 1 and held that spot most of the year, received the overall No. 1 seed in the 65-team field that was announced Sunday. "We just felt that Kansas had a fantastic season during the course of the year," NCAA Division I men's basketball committee chairman Dan Guerrero said. "They played a lot of away games in the top 50. They had no losses, obviously, in the top 50 as well. In fact, it's hard to beat the resume that Kansas put together." Kentucky (East), Duke (South) and Syracuse (West) join Kansas (Midwest) as the top seeds and the favorites to reach Indianapolis for the Final Four April 3-5. A No. 1 seed has won the last three championships — Florida, Kansas and North Carolina last year. Speaking of the Gators, they ended a two-year absence from the NCAA field despite losing four of their last five
games, receiving a No. 10 seed in the West region and setting up an opener against No. 7 seed BYU at 12:20 Thursday in Oklahoma City.
Florida State also received one of the 34 at-large bids for a second straight year, earning the No. 9 seed in the West and a date against No. 8 Gonzaga at 7 p.m. Friday in Buffalo.
"To be the overall No. 1, it is good even though it doesn't mean anything," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "It will be a good recruiting mail-out this week. … We are excited, but know that we have a lot of work ahead of us."
Despite his team's record and its run through a Big 12 that sent a league-record seven teams to the field, one fewer than the Big East, some don't believe the Jayhawks are as strong as some recent champs.
"I would certainly make them (the Jayhawks) the clear-cut favorite; now, whether they're the caliber of a North Carolina (last year) or the Florida team that was looking to repeat in 2007, I certainly don't know if they're of that ilk," CBS analyst Clark Kellogg said. "In 2008, we had Kansas and Memphis pretty much on top of the heap basically all year long. No, I don't think they're quite that caliber, but I certainly think Kansas has separated themselves from everybody else, even the other No. 1 seeds."
While the top line was a topic of much conversation by the 10-member selection committee since it convened in Indianapolis on Wednesday, the last few picks generated what Guerrero called a "robust" dialogue.
UTEP and Utah State made it in as No. 12 seeds, two of eight at-large teams from outside the power conferences; that's up from four a year ago and matches the 2006 total. Minnesota, which reached the Big Ten tournament final, eked in as a No. 11.
That left Illinois, Virginia Tech (who had 10 ACC wins under former USF coach Seth Greenberg) and Mississippi State out. For the Hokies and Bulldogs, it came down to weak nonconference schedules.
"Sometimes you have a tendency to want to do some impulse-buying based on a great run in a tournament as Mississippi State just had," Guerrero said. "But in the end, that in and of itself wasn't enough to get them into the field."
The field also was notable for some of the bluebloods left out: North Carolina (16-16), the fourth team since the field expanded in 1985 to win the NCAA title and not make the field the next year; Arizona (16-15), which had made it 25 straight years; UCLA (14-18), which had gone to three straight Final Fours (2006-08); and Connecticut (17-15), one of three No. 1 seeds out of the Big East a year ago.
"It is strange because obviously those are formidable teams, with great traditions," said Guerrero, the athletic director at UCLA. "But I believe it's reflective of the culture of college basketball this year. Believe me, every one of those teams would have loved to have been represented in this tournament, but it didn't happen. As a result of that, there's an opportunity for other teams out there, maybe teams that wouldn't have gotten in if those teams were back in, to create their own great stories."
Or for some, prove their greatness is goal No. 1.