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UConn, Clemson among Tampa's NCAA Tournament teams

No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores vs.

No. 13 Siena Saints

Time: 7:20 p.m. Friday



BY BRIAN LANDMAN | Times Staff Writer

After a wacky weekend of classic showdowns and improbable upsets and an unprecedented situation in the SEC following a horrific storm, Selection Sunday offered relatively few surprises.

Especially at the top.

North Carolina, which spent most of the season atop the polls, earned the No. 1 seed overall in the 65-team tournament and will open East Region play in Raleigh, N.C. Memphis, UCLA and Kansas are the other top seeds. All four won their respective leagues' conference tournaments.

"It was a crazy weekend in a lot of ways," selection committee chairman Tom O'Connor said. "We had eight contingency plans and all of the games (Sunday) had implications. … But we're really satisfied with how it turned out."

While the road to San Antonio and "madness" begins Tuesday in Dayton between Mount St. Mary's and surprise MEAC tournament-winner Coppin State, the first team with 20 losses to make the NCAAs, opening-weekend games also are back in the bay area and the St. Pete Times Forum for the first time since 2003.

No. 4-seeded Connecticut headlines a foursome from

the West Region, while No. 5 Clemson, the ACC tournament runner-up, looms as one of the more dangerous teams in the Midwest foursome that play Friday and Sunday.

For both of those teams, this is familiar territory.

The UConn Huskies, which not only come here to play USF in Big East games, won the 1999 NCAA title in St. Petersburg. The Tigers were in Tampa a year ago at this time for the ACC tournament.

"Returning to the Tampa-St. Pete area certainly brings back fond memories for everyone associated with Connecticut basketball," said coach Jim Calhoun, whose team meets No. 13 San Diego, which upset Gonzaga to win the West Coast Conference tournament. "After several near misses at getting to a Final Four, the 1999 trip not only got us our first Final Four visit, but also our first national championship. Whenever we travel to Florida, we are always warmly greeted, especially by the thousands of UConn faithful who make their home in the area."

The Tigers' trip wasn't as memorable; an opening-day loss to Florida State. Still coach Oliver Purnell likes being fairly close to home as his team makes its first NCAA trip since 1998 and opens with No. 12 Villanova, A bubble team that eked into the field.

"Anytime you go east to west, for example, that's a bit of a hardship," he said. "But this is certainly a good location."

The other teams heading here are, from the Midwest Region, No. 4 Vanderbilt and No. 13 Siena, and from the West, No. 5 Drake, in the NCAAs for the first time since 1971, and No. 12 Western Kentucky.

"You've got some high-octane basketball going on there," CBS analyst Clark Kellogg said. "Drake wants to put it up and entertain. UConn, obviously, is a high-powered team. Vandy is an excellent offensive team. Siena might not be as well known as the others, but is a terrific offensive team; they're excellent off the dribble with Kenny Hasbrouck and Edwin Ubiles and Ronald Moore. … And Clemson, to me, is one of the really interesting teams. They're from a terrific league and they have a playing a style that is difficult to deal with, pressing and trapping and shooting the 3."

As is the case, not everyone got what they wanted or expected.

Neither Florida nor Ohio State, the teams that played for the 2007 NCAA title, received one of the 34 at-large bids. The last time neither finalist made the tournament the next season was 1980 when Michigan State and Indiana State were shut out.

The state of Florida has just one team in the field, Miami, which is back in for the first time since 2002.

Tennessee, which was vying for a No. 1 seed until it lost in the SEC semifinals to Arkansas, fell to a No. 2 seed. If form holds, the Volunteers will spend the second weekend in Charlotte, the closest region site to Knoxville which is why they were put in the East, not because they were the fourth No. 2, O'Connor said. The downside is that's where the Tar Heels figure to be, something coach Roy Williams has consistently downplayed even though that ensures a large UNC crowd.

"I don't look down the line," he said after cutting down the nets in Charlotte on Sunday afternoon. "In '95 (while at Kansas), everybody said the same thing, 'All you have to do is win the first two games and you get back to Kansas City.' We had a pretty doggone good basketball team and got back to Kansas City and got our butts kicked (by Virginia). So since that time, I've never been concerned about where we've played."

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

No. 5 Clemson Tigers vs.

No. 12 Villanova Wildcats

Time: About 9:50 p.m. Friday

(30 minutes following first game)

No. 4 Connecticut Huskies vs.

No. 13 San Diego Toreros

Time: About 3 p.m. Friday (30 minutes following first game)



No. 5 Drake Bulldogs vs.

No. 12 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Time: 12:30 p.m. Friday

>>FAST FACTS

Practice times

The NCAA teams will hold practices open to the public for free on Thursday at the St. Pete Times Forum:

Noon-12:40: Western Kentucky

12:45-1:25: San Diego

1:30-2:10: Drake

2:15-2:55: Connecticut

4:25-5:05: Vanderbilt

5:10-5:50: Clemson

5:55-6:35: Siena

6:40-7:20: Villanova

UConn, Clemson among Tampa's NCAA Tournament teams 03/16/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 18, 2008 1:28pm]

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