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Big East sending 11 to the dance

Three more teams in this year's version of March Madness. Three more networks to cover it.

And the Big East will have its hooks in practically every nook and cranny of that new-look NCAA bracket.

The NCAA selection committee released its newfangled, 68-team draw Sunday and included a whopping 11 teams from the deepest conference in the nation.

Leading the way for the Big East was Pittsburgh, seeded first in the Southeast even though it didn't win a game in the conference's postseason tournament.

"It has Hall of Fame coaches, great programs with storied traditions and heritage," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said, a few minutes before his team became the 11th and final squad from the Big East to have its name announced on the selection show. "It has athletic programs that understand the value of investing the dollars that are needed to run a topflight program."

All 68 teams are aiming for one destination - the Final Four in Houston, set for April 2.

Ohio State (32-2) of the Big Ten was the top seed overall, with Kansas (32-2) of the Big 12 next, while defending champion Duke aced out another Big East team, Notre Dame, for the fourth and final top seed. Led by one of the country's best guards, Nolan Smith, the Blue Devils (30-4) are trying to become the first team since Florida in 2006-07 to repeat as national champions.

The tournament got a slight facelift this year, including the addition of three more at-large teams that will open the tournament in what the NCAA is calling the "First Four." Those games - UAB (22-9) vs. Clemson (21-11) and Southern Cal (19-14) vs. Virginia Commonwealth (23-11) - will take place Tuesday and Wednesday.

Those, along with every other game of the entire tournament, will be aired in their entirety on four networks. Before the start of the season, TBS, TNT and TruTV joined CBS in signing a new, 14-year TV contract worth $10.8 billion - the price to be paid to air the games that make up America's biggest office pool.

But more teams and more money don't solve every problem or erase every whiff of controversy.

As is always the case on Selection Sunday, there were plenty of head-scratchers - a list of teams that came out of nowhere to make it and other virtual shoo-ins that didn't.

In the first category: Georgia (21-11), given a surprisingly high No. 10 seed despite losing twice to Alabama, a team that got left out. VCU, UAB and Clemson were considered surprises.

Among those snubbed were Virginia Tech, which has come close but missed for four straight years, and Colorado, which beat tournament teams Texas and Missouri once - and another one, Kansas State, three times.

"I was shocked," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "That's the only word that comes to my mind. Just absolutely shocked we weren't in the field."

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who led the selection committee, said members investigated the resumes of the teams "more than I've ever done in my tenure on this committee."

"Colorado is a good ballclub, and there were many good ballclubs we considered," he said. "They just didn't quite get the votes to get in. That's just the reality."

Those that did make it include nearly three-quarters of the Big East - 11 of 16 teams from a conference that was formed in 1979 and gets credit for helping transform college basketball from something much smaller into a sport that produces the best single American sporting event this side of the Super Bowl.


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