- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2010

Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Syracuse earned top billing and the No. 1 seeds for the NCAA tournament Sunday, with the Jayhawks named the top seed overall for the 2010 version of March Madness.

With all the conference tournaments complete, the NCAA selection committee rolled out its 65-team bracket, setting it up for millions of fans to start making their picks for what is annually America’s largest, three-week office pool.

Play starts Tuesday with an opening-round game, and the tournament goes into full swing Thursday.

Syracuse was ranked fourth of the top seeds and sent to the West Region. That was a surprise for the Big East regular-season champions, who were considered a lock for a top spot, while Duke was expected to vie with West Virginia for the final No. 1 seed. Duke was ranked third and will play in the South region.

According to the committee, Kansas (32-2) is the favorite to win its second national title in three years.

Leading the Jayhawks in the Midwest Region are Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, two key pieces in the team’s 2008 title run. The Jayhawks earned the overall No. 1 seed based on an 18-1 record against Big 12 foes, which includes three wins over Kansas State, a team in the mix for a top seed until falling to KU in the conference final Saturday.

Kansas opens Thursday against No. 16 Lehigh in the Midwest regional. No. 1 seeds are undefeated in the first round since 1985, when the field first was expanded to 64 teams.

Other first-round games in the Midwest are: No. 8 UNLV vs. No. 9 Northern Iowa; No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 12 New Mexico State; No. 4 Maryland vs. No. 13 Houston; No. 2 Ohio State against No. 15 UC-Santa Barbara; No. 7 Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 Georgia Tech; No. 3 Georgetown vs. No. 14 Ohio and No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 11 San Diego State.

In shaping the bracket, the selection committee didn’t include teams’ performances in their last 12 games — a longtime staple of its expansive criteria that was deemed as carrying too much weight.

But Syracuse (28-4) still took a bit of a hit, ranked fourth among the top seeds, behind Duke, and was sent to the West region. The Orangemen closed out the season on their first two-game losing streak and lost center Arinze Onuaku in a loss to Georgetown in the Big East quarterfinals. Onuaku is expected back for his team’s opener Friday against No. 16 Vermont.

Other West region games include No. 8 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Florida State, No. 4 Vanderbilt against No. 13 Murray State and No. 5 Butler against No. 12 UTEP, one of the bubble teams. The other side of the bracket pits No. 2 Kansas State against No. 15 North Texas, No. 7 BYU against No. 10 Florida, No. 3 Pittsburgh against No. 14 Oakland and No. 6 Xavier against No. 11 Minnesota.

Along with UTEP, Minnesota and Florida were considered among the bubble teams most at-risk.

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