The power of 68
Favorites for Houston emerge: Your first look at the NCAA Tournament bracket
Houston was just one of the 14 dots on the map shown in the CBS NCAA Tournament Selection Show, but it's the one that matters most of all. For the unveiling of the new 68-team field for the Big Dance is all about which powerhouses (or surprises) will eventually end up on H-Town for the city's first Final Four in 40 years.
And some favorites have already clearly emerged.
Ohio State received the No. 1 overall seed and a road to Houston through the East Regional, which also has North Carolina and a surging Kentucky team in it. Kansas (Southwest, the San Antonio regional), Pittsburgh (Southeast, New Orleans regional) and Duke (West, Anaheim regional) were the other No. 1s.
North Carolina, Notre Dame, San Diego State and Florida are the No. 2s.
Texas — which was 23-3, third ranked in the entire country and staring down a No. 1 seed of its own not so long ago — settled for a surprisingly-low No. 4 seed in the West Regional after its late season stumbles. The Longhorns will play 13 seed Oakland University in its opening game Friday in Tulsa, Okla.
While some are already seeing an upset possibility in this matchup, Charles Barkley argued that the Southwest Region is wide open for either Texas and Arizona to make a surprise run to Houston.
Arguably the most intriguing question of the selection process centered on where the committee would put BYU (30-4) and scoring icon Jimmer Fredette in the wake of the suspension of the Cougars' best post player Brandon Davies for having premarital sex in violation of the university's honor code. Jimmer's headed to Denver as a No. 3 seed, set to play Wofford and then a possible second-game meeting with St. John's from the selection-committee-adored Big East. The Johnnies are one of 11 Big East teams in the field.
Texas A&M is the No. 7 seed in the Southeast and will open up against Florida State in Chicago.
With the field expanded to 68 teams this year, creating a First Four that will start Tuesday night in Dayton and include essentially two play-in games between major conference teams, the bubble was wider than ever and the moaning about which teams were snubbed was expected to be noticeably subdued. Instead Colorado's exclusion from the field in particular created a firestorm.
Still, it's more about which teams will be strolling into Reliant for the free open practices on Friday April 1, the first time most Houstonians will have the chance to see the teams live.
"Once Selection Sunday is here, it drives the excitement to a whole different level," said Doug Hall, vice president game, facility and LOC management for the 2011 Houston Final Four Local Organizing Committee. "Fans can start thinking about who they might see in Houston. There's nothing abstract about it any more."