Big Name Teams Win in Conference Tourneys

It was a first for Florida. Not only were the Gators named the top seed in the Midwest regional on Sunday, they also earned the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Defending champion Florida (29-5) received the overall No. 1 for the first time, and it came despite being ranked sixth heading into Sunday's SEC title game. In the ESPN/USA Today poll released after the game, the Gators rose to third.

North Carolina (28-6) is the top seed in the East regional after winning its first ACC tournament title in nine years. The Tar Heels were ranked eighth in the nation going into Sunday's game but rose to fourth.

In the South, Ohio State, the top-ranked team in the nation, earned the No. 1 seed. The Buckeyes (30-3) won the Big Ten regular-season and tourney titles.

Kansas (30-4) earned its seventh top seed in the tournament and will be No. 1 in the West. The Jayhawks beat Texas in overtime Sunday to win their second straight Big 12 tournament. The Jayhaws are a solid No. 2 in the ESPN/USA Today poll.

The 65-team tournament begins Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, with an opening-round game between Florida A&M and Niagara, the two lowest-ranked teams.

Syracuse fans won't be able to pick their team. The Orange, the 2003 champions, were among the more surprising omissions from the field. Drexel, Kansas State, Air Force and West Virginia also were sure to be disappointed after being left out.

"We actually had 104 teams that had won 20 or more games, and that was more than the previous record of 78," NCAA selection chairman Gary Walters said.

A year after George Mason became the nation's favorite underdog, mid-majors won't get a great chance for another run. Only six of them -- down a couple of spots from last season -- were included in a field dominated by the power conferences. George Mason, which lost to Virginia Commonwealth in the Colonial Athletic Association championship, was not among them.

"We still believe we'll have great representation as it relates to mid-majors," Walters said.

He added that the committee chose Old Dominion over Drexel because of the Monarchs had a better inter-conference record by a significant margin. George Mason beat Old Dominion in the Colonial tournament.

The Atlantic Coast Conference sent seven teams in the tournament, up from four last year, highlighted by former national champions Duke, North Carolina and Maryland. The Big East, Big Ten and Pac-10 sent six.

Going by the top seeds, the East is the toughest of the regionals with North Carolina and Georgetown, the regular season and tournament champions of the ACC and Big East, as the top two seeds. Washington State, the regular season runner-up in the Pac-10, is the No. 3 and Texas, which lost to Kansas on Sunday, is the best of the No. 4s.

Joakim Noah and the Gators (29-5) hope to become the first repeat champions since Duke in 1992. Florida, which won the football championship in January, will begin its bid for another basketball title in the Midwest region with a game Friday against 16th-seeded Jackson State in New Orleans.

The Gators, who return all five starters from last season's national championship team, emphatically won the Southeastern Conference tournament, routing Arkansas 77-56, recovering from a late season slump.

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