Super seed No. 1 and then some, UNLV plants nothing but repeat confidence

Waking up today as a member of the Montana men' basketball team is the rough equivalent of having a time-share condo overlooking the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii.

Sure, the view is great, but you probably won't be around long enough to appreciate it.


The Grizzlies (23-7), the Big Sky Conference champions, got the "thanks, but no thanks" award of facing defending champion Nevada-Las Vegas (30-0) in the opening round of this year's NCAA tournament, which begins this Thursday and Friday.

"I certainly didn't expect to draw Vegas," said Montana coach Stew Morrill. "I didn't think that we would warrant a 16th seed. It's disappointing for our league as far as not getting much respect. Needless to say, it's going to be quite a challenge for us."


Montana, the 16th seed in the West Region, is making its first tournament appearance since 1975. It joins Northeastern, Georgia State and Towson State as the sacrificial lambs in the 63-game, three-week festival that seems predestined to re-crown the Runnin' Rebels as titlists before they get carted off to the NCAA woodshed next season.

There are a few outrages here and there across the field of 64, and a few seedings that cause one to scratch the pate, but, by and large, the tournament selection committee has done a decent job.

There is one universally acknowledged truth in the pairings: The Rebels are the team to beat.

"UNLV is clearly in a class by itself," said Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, chairman of the tournament selection committee. "After that, there's a lot of parity."

UNLV was originally to join Maryland, Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri in the NCAA sanctions big house this season, but the Rebels, winners of 41 straight games over two seasons, got a one-year reprieve from their punishment.

Their reward for putting off the sanctions was to head what is the toughest of the four regions, as they will likely have to maneuver through a minefield of second seed Arizona, the Pac-10 champion; Seton Hall, the third seed and Big East tournament winner; eighth-ranked Utah, the region's fourth seed; and sixth-seed New Mexico State, the last team to beat UNLV.

But Delany said the selection committee did not weight the West to slow down the Rebels, the 17th team in NCAA history to hit the tournament undefeated. In fact, he said their very presence makes the region so ferocious.

"If you pulled UNLV out of that region and put it in any of the other regions, that region would be the strongest," said Delany.


The rich continued to get richer as the Big East powered seven of its schools into the tournament, while the ACC received six bids, the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten got five each and the Pac-10 got four.

Among the more controversial committee decisions include the choice of Villanova (16-14), which finished eighth in the Big East, as a ninth seed in the East, to the exclusion of Fordham (24-7), which won the Patriot League but found itself out in the cold and eventually,in the NIT.

North Carolina, which drubbed Duke in the ACC championship game yesterday, got the top seed in the East over the Blue Devils, despite losing twice to Duke, including last week in Chapel Hill.

Ohio State, which meets Towson State in Dayton on Friday, was awarded the top seed in the Midwest over Indiana, which was shipped out to the Southeast as the second seed, though the teams shared the Big Ten title. Delany said the Buckeyes got the top seed because they had beaten the Hoosiers twice during the regular season.

Georgetown, thought to be in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1978 because of a 14-12 record against Division I opponents, not only made the field, but copped an eighth seed in the West. The Hoyas' probable reward: a second-round game against UNLV.

At first glance, the Midwest Region, with Ohio State, Duke, Nebraska and St. John's at the top of the bracket, appears to be the weakest of the four. The Buckeyes dropped their last two games of the season, and Duke, Nebraska and St. John's all were unceremoniously bounced from their conference tournaments.


If Shaquille O'Neal's injured leg is sufficiently healed, sixth seed Louisiana State could be a sleeper from the Midwest, though the Tigers will play in the tournament's most intriguing opening game, against 11th seed Connecticut on Thursday.

The Southeast, topped by Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas and Alabama, is slightly tougher than the Midwest, because there are teams at the top of the draw, namely the Crimson Tide and Pittsburgh, that have underachieved all season. Then there are schools at the bottom of the draw, namely Murray State with the vastly underrated Ronald "Popeye" Jones, and New Orleans that are capable of upsets.

The East also could find some surprises, as each of the top four seeds -- North Carolina, Syracuse, Oklahoma State and UCLA -- have teetered in recent weeks.

Princeton, the first team to qualify for the tournament, could be the mystery team of the East, with an eighth seed. The Tigers go against Villanova and then look to a possible second-round meeting with the Tar Heels.

The other half of the East draw will be in College Park, with games at Cole Field House expected to start around noon on Thursday. It will be N.C. State vs. Southern Mississippi, Oklahoma State vs. New Mexico, Purdue vs. Temple and Syracuse vs. Richmond.