INDIANAPOLIS – Top-ranked Illinois heads into the NCAA tournament with one loss and the overall No. 1 seed, while Washington was this year's surprise at the top of the men's bracket. LSU and Tennessee were among the top seeds in the women's tournament bracket.
Joining the Big Ten (search) champion Illini (search) as No. 1s on the men's side Sunday were North Carolina and Duke from the Atlantic Coast Conference and Washington's Huskies of the Pac-10 (search).
Illinois (32-1) was assigned to the Chicago regional, North Carolina (27-4) to Syracuse, Duke (25-5) to Austin and Washington (27-5) to Albuquerque.
The Huskies, ranked 14th in the last Associated Press poll, took advantage of Kentucky's loss Sunday in the Southeastern Conference championship game to move onto the top line. Tournament officials said the Wildcats would have been a No. 1 seed had they won that game.
Selection committee chairman Bob Bowlsby acknowledged that Sunday's matchups caused much consternation; there was even a scenario, he said, where Wake Forest could have earned a top seed.
"It's a big headache," he said. "We had about five or six different scenarios that involved about four teams and a lot were either-or type situations."
It's the sixth time in eight years two teams from the same conference were seeded No. 1. The last time was 2003, when Oklahoma and Texas of the Big 12 (search) were No. 1 seeds.
No conference has ever had three No. 1s.
The Illini won't get any frequent flyer miles in this tournament, with the first and second rounds in Indianapolis, the regional in Chicago and the Final Four April 2 and 4 in St. Louis.
Illinois, which opens play Thursday against Northeast Conference champion Fairleigh Dickinson, was followed in the Chicago regional by second-seeded Oklahoma State, which won the Big 12 tournament; No. 3 Arizona, the regular-season Pac-10 champion, and fourth-seeded Boston College, regular-season co-champion of the Big East.
Two teams went into last year's tournament with just one loss, and neither advanced to the Final Four. Saint Joseph's lost in the regional finals to Oklahoma State, while Stanford lost to Alabama in the second round.
Saint Joe's, despite a 19-11 record, was among those not invited this year, along with DePaul (19-10), Maryland (16-12) and Notre Dame (17-11).
Washington opens play Thursday in Boise against Montana, the Big Sky champion.
"I think Washington demonstrated, not only by who they played and beat in the nonconference, but they played well in the conference and the postseason," Bowlsby said. "I think they were very deserving of a No. 1 seed."
The No. 2 seed in the Albuquerque regional is Wake Forest, a likely No. 1 seed until losing in the ACC tournament quarterfinals to North Carolina State. Gonzaga, the West Coast Conference regular season and tournament champion, was seeded third, and Louisville, which swept the Conference USA titles, was No. 4.
North Carolina, which lost to Georgia Tech in the ACC semifinals, has defending national champion Connecticut as its No. 2 seed. Kansas is No. 3, and Florida, which beat Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference title game, is No. 4.
The Tar Heels will face the winner of Tuesday's play-in game between Oakland, the Mid-Continent Conference tournament winner and the only team in the field with a losing record, and Alabama A&M, the Southwestern Athletic Conference champion, in Dayton.
Duke, which won the ACC tournament Sunday for the sixth time in seven years, has Kentucky as its No. 2 seed, with Oklahoma third and Syracuse, the Big East tournament champion, the fourth seed. Duke will open Friday in Charlotte against Delaware State.
The Big East and Big 12 each has six teams in the field, one short of the record, while the ACC, SEC and Big Ten have five. The other multiple bids leagues were Conference USA and the Pac-10 with four, the Missouri Valley with three and the Big West, Mountain West, West Coast and Western Athletic Conference with two.
The last of the at-large teams were all No. 11 seeds: Alabama-Birmingham (21-10), Northern Iowa (21-10) and UCLA (18-10).
The pod system, intended to keep schools as close to home as possible for the first and second rounds, will have North Carolina and Duke in Charlotte, Illinois and Kentucky in Indianapolis, Oklahoma State in Oklahoma City and Connecticut and Syracuse in Worcester, Mass.
"I think we may have created a little bit of a problem in Charlotte," Bowlsby said. "With two No. 1 seeds there, it will be a prime ticket."
Bowlsby said it was the first time two No. 1 seeds would play in the same city for the first and second round.
Arizona extended the longest consecutive NCAA streak with its 21st straight appearance. Kansas has the second-longest run at 16.
Niagara, the 14th seed in the Austin regional, had the longest run between appearances. The Purple Eagles were last in the tournament in 1970 when Calvin Murphy was their star.
Delaware State, Oakland, Southeastern Louisiana and Alabama A&M are making their first NCAA tournament appearances.
Some of the most intriguing first-round matchups include Pacific, which had its 22-game winning streak snapped in the Big West title game, facing Pittsburgh, possibly the most physical team in the Big East; Texas against Nevada, the Western Athletic Conference regular season champion; and Villanova against New Mexico, which has been much stronger with the return of forward Danny Granger.
After that — if things break right — the regional final in Syracuse could be North Carolina against Kansas, a matchup of Roy Williams' current team against the one he took to the Final Four three times. The Austin regional could end with Duke facing Kentucky — the same regional final matchup that featured Christian Laettner's buzzer-beater in 1992.