- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

Let the madness begin.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I men's basketball tournament, aka March Madness, announced its 65 teams and first-round pairings last night. The Maryland Terrapins, the 2002 national champion, will begin defense of their title Friday in Nashville, Tenn., when they face the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.
The Terps, who have advanced to the Final Four the past two seasons, earned the sixth seed in the South region. For the second consecutive season, Maryland was the only Washington-area program to receive an invitation to college basketball's ultimate tournament. However, the Terps enter the postseason with a two-game losing streak after falling to Virginia in the regular-season finale and bowing to the University of North Carolina in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament Friday.
"Six seed is fine," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "You can't complain. To make 10 straight NCAA tournaments you're not going to be the No.1 seed every year. Nashville is fine. Our fans can get there."
The tournament is divided into four regions, and the winner of each will send one team to the Final Four in New Orleans. The top seeds in the regions are Arizona (West), Kentucky (Midwest), Texas (South) and Oklahoma (East). The tournament will begin tomorrow night when the University of North Carolina-Asheville meets Texas Southern in Dayton, Ohio. The tournament will conclude with the national championship game April 7 in the New Orleans Superdome.
The field is made up of 31 conference champions, who earned automatic bids by winning their conference titles. The remaining 34 teams received at-large bids for the tournament. The tournament continues Thursday with 16 first-round games at eight sites across the country. The rest of the first round will be completed Friday. The second-round games are scheduled for the weekend, and the 16 survivors advance to next week's regionals, known as the Sweet 16. Minneapolis (Midwest), Anaheim, Calif. (West), San Antonio (South) and Albany, N.Y. (East) will play host to the respective regionals.
Maryland, which has a 19-9 record and will play in its 10th consecutive NCAA tournament, is the only school in the country to reach at least the round of eight the past two seasons. The Terps were the No.1 seed in the East region last season but lost four of five starters from the title team. Maryland has reached the Sweet 16 six times in the past nine seasons.
"It gave me tingles just looking at highlights of us [on TV] last year," said Maryland guard Drew Nicholas, one of five seniors on the Terps. "It's a refreshing thought because nothing really matters anymore. Our record doesn't matter anymore. We're a No. 6 seed, but once you get into the NCAA you have to win six games" to win the championship.
If the Terps beat 11th-seed UNC-Wilmington, they will face the winner of the Xavier (Ohio) and Troy (Alabama) State on Sunday in Nashville.
"We have a lot of confidence," said Terps point guard Steve Blake, the team's lone returning starter. "No bracket is easy, but I like the teams that are in" ours.
The NCAA tournament is also one of nation's biggest gambling opportunities. The three-week tournament is expected to rival the Super Bowl for bets placed and to draw $80 million in wagers to Las Vegas. Illegal gambling is estimated to run into the billions. The tournament also causes a stir in offices nationwide. Office pools include college basketball fans, some of whom are educated in the game and many who are not, trying to fill out their brackets and predict the winner of the 64 games in the tournament.
The tournament comes against a backdrop of scandals in college basketball.
The University of Georgia, which was all but assured of making the NCAA field, withdrew from the Southeastern Conference tournament and NCAA consideration after an internal investigation showed that three players committed academic fraud in a class taught by Jim Harrick Jr., son of coach Jim Harrick. St. Bonaventure , in New York, chose not to play its final two games of the season, and the university president resigned after the Atlantic 10 Conference banned it from the league tournament for using an illegal player. Fresno State, in California, is under investigation for academic fraud under former coach Jerry Tarkanian, and Villanova, in Pennsylvania, had 12 players suspended for making unauthorized long-distance telephone calls.

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