By Eddie Pells
AP National Writer
Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh and defending champion Duke have been awarded the top seeds in this year’s NCAA tournament, an expanded version of March Madness that will include 68 teams.
The Buckeyes defeated Penn State 71-60 in the Big Ten tournament final on Sunday and were named the top seed in the entire field. They’ll play in the East region.
The tournament – and America’s most-celebrated office pool – starts Tuesday with the first of four first-round games – the “First Four,” as it’s being called by the NCAA. Two of those games will pit the last of 37 at-large teams to make it into the field, an increase of three teams over years past.
Kansas is the Big 12 champion and will play in the Southwest, while Pitt earned a top seed despite losing in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament and will play in the Southeast.
Duke beat North Carolina to win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and edge out Notre Dame for the last No. 1 seed. The Blue Devils, seeking to become the first repeat champion since Florida in 2006-07, will have to travel West to make the Final Four; that regional is set for Anaheim, Calif.
The tournament concludes with the Final Four in Houston on April 2 and 4.
In the East region, Ohio State will open against the winner of an opening-round game between 16th seeds Texas-San Antonio and Alabama State. No. 8 George Mason will play No. 9 Villanova. No. 4 Kentucky will play No. 13 Princeton and No. 5 West Virginia will play the winner of a First Four matchup between No. 12 seeds UAB and Clemson.
No. 2 North Carolina will play No. 15 Long Island and No. 7 Washington will play No. 10 Georgia, a bubble team. No. 3 Syracuse will play Larry Bird’s alma mater, No. 14 Indiana State and No. 6 Xavier will play No. 11 Marquette, one of four Big East teams in the East region.
In the West, Duke will start its journey near home in Charlotte, with a second-round game against No. 16 Hampton, while No. 8 Michigan will play No. 9 Tennessee. No. 5 Arizona will play No. 12 Memphis, the Conference USA champion, and No. 4 Texas plays No. 13 Oakland.
No. 2 San Diego State plays No. 15 Northern Colorado and No. 7 Temple meets No. 10 Penn State, which made the tournament despite 14 losses. Rounding out that part of the bracket, No. 3 Connecticut, the Big East tournament champion, plays No. 14 Bucknell and No. 6 Cincinnati plays No. 11 Missouri.
In the Southwest, No. 1 Kansas will open play against No. 16 Boston University and Lon Kruger will lead No. 8 UNLV against a team he used to coach, No. 9 Illinois. No. 5 Vanderbilt will play No. 12 Richmond and No. 4 Louisville will play No. 13 Morehead State.
Second-seeded Notre Dame will play 15th-seeded Akron and No. 7 Texas A&M faces No. 10 Florida State; No. 3 Purdue, winner of 10 of its last 12 games, will play the 14th-seeded St. Peter’s Peacocks, while No. 6 Georgetown will play the winner of a First Four matchup between 11th-seeded Southern Cal and Virginia Commonwealth.
In the Southeast, No. 1 Pittsburgh plays the winner of 16th-seeded UNC-Ashville and Arkansas-Little Rock and last year’s runner-up, No. 8 Butler, plays No. 9 Old Dominion. No. 5 Kansas State plays No. 12 Utah State and No. 4 Wisconsin plays No. 13 Belmont.
The second-seeded Florida Gators play No. 15 UC-Santa Barbara and No. 7 UCLA returns to the tournament to play No. 10 Michigan State. No. 3 Brigham Young plays No. 14 Wofford, while No. 11 Gonzaga plays No. 6 St. John’s – the 11th team from the Big East placed in the bracket.
The Big Ten was next with seven teams, while the Big 12 and SEC had five each. There were seven at-large teams from the so-called mid-majors – one fewer than last year, even though there were three more spots to dole out.
Among those who couldn’t make it despite the bigger field were Harvard, St. Mary’s, Alabama, perennial bubble team Virginia Tech and Colorado, which beat Kansas State for a third time this season en route to its first trip to the Big 12 semifinals.