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March Madness: Kentucky Not In; Louisville Overall No. 1

pitinoA year later, Kentucky was not good enough to defend its national championship, which made fans in Louisville doubly ecstatic.

You see, the teams are bitter rivals, and the Wildcats were left out of the NCAA Tournament field. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are the overall No. 1 seed, playing in the Midwest Region, which competes in, of all places, Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky, home of the NIT-bound Kentucky.

The Cardinals will face either Liberty or North Carolina State in a second-round game Thursday. Kentucky plays an NIT game Tuesday — on the road because Rupp is taken for the NCAAs — at Robert Morris.

The selection committee had tough decisions after five teams swapped the top ranking in The Associated Press poll, capped by West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga (30-2) moving to the lead spot for the first time in school history. Bobinski said six teams were in the running for No. 1 seeds on the final weekend, the result of a season in which no school established itself as a clear-cut favorite.

In the end the four were filled by Louisville, Gonzaga, Kansas and Indiana. Cases for No. 1 were made by Georgetown and Duke, too, both of whom are No. 2 seedss.

The Cardinals have ripped off 10 straight wins since a three-game slide, capped by a stunning turnaround in the championship game of the Big East tournament. They trailed Syracuse by 16 points early in the second half, but put on the full-court pressure and won in a romp, 78-61.

The Big East, in its final year before the basketball-only schools break away to form their own league, led the way with eight teams in the NCAA field.

“We are ecstatic to be the No. 1 seed, particularly after finishing off one of the greatest conferences in the history of college basketball with a Big East championship,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “Our players showed incredible grit to come back from 16 points down. We know we will be challenged right away in one of the toughest brackets that I’ve seen in quite some time. I think our guys are up for the challenge.”

No. 7 Kansas (29-5) moved up to take the second overall seed after an impressive run through the Big 12 tournament, punctuated by a 70-54 victory over rival Kansas State in the title game. No. 3 Indiana (28-6) is third overall despite falling to Wisconsin in the Big Ten semifinals. The Zags claimed the last of the coveted No. 1 seeds, edging out Atlantic Coast Conference champion Miami.

The top spots are significant in at least one respect: A No. 1 has never lost to a 16th-seeded team. . . Let the madness begin.

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