- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS — Saint Joseph’s hoped a 27-1 record and strong schedule would quiet the critics.

Not a chance.

Despite a 20-point loss to end their regular season, the Hawks grabbed a No.1 seed in the NCAA tournament yesterday to join Kentucky, Duke and Stanford atop the brackets.

“The body of work was honored,” Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said.

Martelli lashed out at CBS commentator Billy Packer for questioning whether the Hawks deserved to be a top-seeded team.

“He called us out on national TV,” Martelli said. “That committee goes into a room and studies it, and he’s smarter than the committee?”

Packer responded by saying he helped Wake Forest beat Saint Joseph’s in the 1962 tournament. “He needs to learn a little history about the school where he coaches,” Packer said.

The NCAA selection committee gave the overall top spot to Kentucky in the St. Louis Regional, followed by Duke in Atlanta, Stanford in Phoenix and Saint Joseph’s in East Rutherford, N.J.

The St. Louis and East Rutherford regional winners will meet in the national semifinals.

Committee chairman Bob Bowlsby said Saint Joseph’s earned a No.1 seed because it played the nation’s toughest nonconference schedule.

“They didn’t just play a good schedule, but the No.1 schedule, and I think that’s worth something,” he said.

Still, there were questions.

Bowlsby acknowledged the committee debated the effect of the Hawks’ blowout loss to Xavier in the Atlantic 10 tournament before deciding to keep them as a top seed. He said as many as nine teams were being considered as No.1s.

Oklahoma State was one team that could have replaced Saint Joseph’s, but the Cowboys’ Big 12 championship game yesterday, a victory over Texas, began too late to be a factor in the selection.

“People are going to say what they want to say,” Hawks guard Jameer Nelson said. “We believe in ourselves. No one else has to believe. Who cares? Let’s play.”

The tournament begins tomorrow night with the play-in game in Dayton, Ohio, between Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Florida A&M; (14-16) and Patriot League champion Lehigh (20-10). That winner will play on Friday in Columbus, Ohio, against Kentucky (26-4), the Southeastern Conference champion and a No.1 seed for the second straight year.

The other top seeds in Kentucky’s regional are Gonzaga, Georgia Tech and Kansas.

Martelli, who earlier this season called a fan a “nitwit” and a “moron” during a game, takes Saint Joseph’s to Buffalo, N.Y., to play its opener against Liberty on Thursday.

The other top seeds in the regional are Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest.

Saint Joseph’s will play the winner of Texas Tech-Charlotte on Saturday, a game that sends Red Raiders coach Bob Knight back to Buffalo, the site of his final game as Indiana’s coach in the 2000 tournament.

Duke (27-5) is a No.1 seed for the sixth time in seven years. The Blue Devils had been the overall No.1 until losing to Maryland in overtime in the ACC championship game, Bowlsby said.

Duke opens against Alabama State on Thursday in Raleigh, N.C. The No.2 seed in the Atlanta regional is Mississippi State followed by Texas and Cincinnati.

Pac-10 champion Stanford (29-1) meets Texas-San Antonio on Thursday in Seattle. The Cardinal are a No.1 seed for the third time in five years.

“We’re not Duke-ish, but kids who play basketball have seen our name at the top of the list for many years,” Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said.

The other top seeds in the regional are Connecticut, N.C. State and Maryland.

Maryland, the 2002 NCAA champion, didn’t look like a tournament team two weeks ago, but the Terrapins’ run through the Nos.3, 2 and 1 seeds in the ACC moved them to a No.4 seed.

“The ACC is one of the top conferences in the country, and when you’re playing as well as Maryland is, it does impress you,” Bowlsby said.

Syracuse, the defending national champion, is the No.5 seed in the Phoenix regional.

Kansas, the No.4 seed in the St. Louis regional, will have the same advantage Syracuse did last year, playing games close to home until the Final Four. The Jayhawks open against Illinois-Chicago in Kansas City, about an hour from their Lawrence campus, while St. Louis is about 4 hours away.

Syracuse was a No.3 seed last year and won its first two games in Boston and then won the regional in Albany, N.Y., about two hours from campus.

Pittsburgh seemed to get a bad break from the “pod” system. The Panthers open against Central Florida but then could face sixth-seeded Wisconsin, the Big Ten champion, in the second round in Milwaukee, about an hour from the Badgers’ Madison campus.

Arizona continues the longest current appearance streak. The Wildcats have been in every NCAA tournament since 1985. Indiana had the second-longest streak — since 1986 — but that’s over.

The Hoosiers were joined by college basketball powers Georgetown, UCLA and St. John’s on the sideline this year.

The ACC, Big East, Conference USA and Southeastern Conference each got six teams into the tournament. The Atlantic 10 and Big 12 each had four chosen.

The Big Ten, Mountain West and Pac-10 received three bids each, and the only other conferences with multiple bids were the Western Athletic and Missouri Valley, with two each.

Only one team — Eastern Washington, the Big Sky tournament champion — is making its first appearance in the tournament.

Air Force, the Mountain West regular-season champion, had the longest drought among teams that had played in the tournament, making the field for the first time since 1962. Nevada is in the field for the first time since 1985 and Lehigh is in for the first time since 1988.

The 11th-seeded Falcons also got a break — playing in Denver against sixth-seeded North Carolina. The committee is supposed to keep the top five seeds in each bracket from playing lower-seeded teams with a potential home-crowd advantage.

Texas-El Paso, the 13th seed in the Phoenix regional, was the last at-large team selected. It is making its first tournament appearance since 1992.

Other potential tournament teams that didn’t make the field included Colorado, Missouri, Florida State and Utah State.

Florida A&M; is the only sub-.500 team in the field. The Rattlers were 12-18 in their only other NCAA appearance in 1999.

The regionals are March 25-28 and the Final Four is in San Antonio on April 3 and 5.

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