Four different channels will televise the expanded NCAA tournament this year. Just think of them collectively as the Big East Network.
Basketball's deepest conference shattered its own record for tournament participation by sending 11 teams, or nearly one-sixth of the 68-team field, into the sport's expanded championship drama, which gets under way with a pair of first-round games Tuesday night in Dayton.
All those Big East teams -- three more than the league's previous record of eight invitees -- obscured a strong showing by the Big Ten, which arguably had its most successful Selection Sunday ever. Seven Big Ten schools will take part, the sixth time the conference has reached that number, but this septet includes the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, 32-2 Ohio State.
Not since 2007, Greg Oden's lone season with the Buckeyes, has a Big Ten team received a No. 1 seed.
Big East regular season champion Pittsburgh also was given a No. 1 seed in the Southeast, despite failing to win a game in the conference tournament. Kansas won the Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles to claim No. 1 in the Southwest region, and defending national champion Duke -- runner-up to North Carolina in the ACC, but winner of the league tournament in a blowout over the Tar Heels on Sunday -- is the top seed in the West.
For the first time, the tournament selection committee -- coincidentally headed by Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who recused himself by leaving the room each time the Buckeyes were discussed and voted on -- chose 37 at-large teams to the new 68-team field, and relegated eight teams to first-round games in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday and Wednesday. That's an addition of three teams, which made the committee's work ... harder?
Definitely, Smith said. "It was the toughest job" in his four years on the committee, he said. "The last teams in -- when we were looking at those teams, there were a number of quality teams on the board and we just didn't have enough slots for them all."
That's a group that included Colorado, Alabama, St. Mary's and Virginia Tech, all of which felt confident about their résumés but were shocked to be left out. Colorado had beaten tournament teams Texas, Missouri and Kansas State, the latter three times, yet was snubbed. Alabama defeated Georgia twice, but the Bulldogs got a 10th seed and the Crimson Tide got an NIT berth.
"We had a lot more teams that we were scrubbing [or analyzing]. We scrubbed on Saturday, and we did a lot more Sunday," Smith said. "Comparing the last seven or eight was [difficult], because there were quite a few teams that were very good teams."
None better than the Buckeyes, who coasted to the conference regular- season title behind freshman Jared Sullinger, then defended its league tournament title by holding off Penn State 71-60. The victory gave Ohio State an automatic invitation, but just getting to the title game likely put the Nittany Lions over the top; Penn State was handed a 10th seed and a matchup with Temple.
Also representing the Big Ten: third-seeded Purdue, which will take on St. Peter's; fourth seed Wisconsin, assigned a game with Belmont; eighth-seeded Michigan, which will face Tennessee; ninth-seeded Illinois, which will face UNLV; and 10th seed Michigan State, which gets 11-time champion UCLA.
Ohio State's opponent won't be known until Wednesday, when the first round is concluded. The Buckeyes face the survivor of a game between Texas-San Antonio and Alabama State, then will set their eyes on the Final Four in Houston on April 2-4.
Those four first-round games in Dayton make this tournament different from those before it, since it includes three teams -- Alabama-Birmingham, Clemson and USC -- who would not have received invitations had the field remained at 65. Virginia Commonwealth, which faces USC with an 11th seed (and second-round game against Georgetown) at stake Wednesday, would have been the final team to make the field under the old format, Smith said.
Would he like even more room in the tournament? "Not at all. I'm real comfortable with the size of the field we're blessed to have," Smith said. "I do not anticipate [further expansion] will be something that will happen in the near future."
Guess the Big East will have to find some other way to get its remaining five teams into the field. For now, the league will be ubiquitous in the tournament, which gave the selection committee fits in setting up the bracket. In general, the tournament tries to avoid matching up conference members before the regional final, but that's not possible with 11 teams.
The committee finally settled on a layout that keeps Big East teams that have already played twice from meeting any sooner; there was no way to avoid potentially matching teams that had faced each other once. "It was challenging, without a doubt," Smith said of wrestling with the brackets, which wound up with potential UConn-Cincinnati and Syracuse-Marquette matchups this weekend.
Including so many teams from one conference doesn't mean the champion inevitably comes from there. Though the Big East consistently garners more invites than other conferences, its last champion was Connecticut in 2004, and only three winners have come from that league in the past quarter-century.
"What makes the Big East great is not the top, but the totality. It's just so deep -- but that's what sets them up to be disappointing when they get into the tournament, because people expect those teams to overwhelm you," said CBS analyst Greg Anthony. "They are not those types of teams. They are just very consistent, and they play a very competitive schedule."