The first near-COVID-free, nationwide, fan-friendly NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament since 2019 is on.
A full blown March Madness is back, although Tom Brady stole some of that thunder by choosing Sunday to announce he is not retiring and returning to Tampa Bay.
“With the fans back, this is bigger than ever,” two-time national champion Villanova coach Jay Wright said before the NCAA Selection Show on CBS. The 2021 tournament was played in a limited number of venues to avoid COVID spreads. There was no 2020 tournament because of COVID.
Villanova (26-7) received a No. 2 seed and will play in its ninth straight NCAA Tournament on Friday in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, against No. 15 seed Delaware (22-12).
The Southeastern Conference landed zero No. 1 seeds, but fourth-ranked, SEC regular season champion Auburn (27-5) and fifth-ranked Kentucky (26-7) each received No. 2 seeds.
Auburn will play No. 15 seed Jacksonville State (21-10) of Jacksonville, Alabama, on Friday in Greenville, South Carolina, while Kentucky will play Saint Peter’s (19-11) of Jersey City, New Jersey, on Thursday in Indianapolis, Indiana.
For No. 9-ranked Tennessee (26-7), the news was not so good on the same day it won its first SEC Tournament title since 1979. The Volunteers, who were considered a No. 2 seed on Sunday morning in many circles, were given a No. 3 seed and will play No. 14 seed Longwood (26-6) of Farmville, Virginia, on Thursday in Indianapolis.
The news was much worse for Texas A&M (23-12), which reached the SEC Tournament championship game on Sunday after knocking off Auburn on Friday and No. 15 Arkansas on Saturday. But the Aggies did not make the NCAA Tournament field.
ESPN’s Dick Vitale called Texas A&M not getting in the “snub” of the tournament. The Aggies had a low ranking of 42 by the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET), which weighs strength of schedule and location of games, among other data. The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has also moved away in recent years from the hot factor – the last 10 games of a season.
The Aggies finished 8-2, including a seven-game winning streak before losing the SEC Tournament championship game on Sunday, 65-50, to Tennessee. A win there would have given A&M the automatic bid. The Aggies missed the Big Dance by losing eight straight games in January and February to fall to 15-10 overall and 4-8 in the SEC on Feb. 12.
Vitale also said Tennessee should have been a No. 2 seed.
Texas A&M was later named a No. 1 seed for the National Invitation Tournament and will host Alcorn State (17-16) at 9 p.m. eastern Tuesday on ESPN2.
The other three SEC teams to reach the NCAA Tournament field were No. 4 seed Arkansas (25-8) and No. 6 seeds Alabama (19-13) and LSU (22-11).
Arkansas will play No. 13 seed Vermont (28-5) on Thursday in Buffalo, New York.
Alabama will play on Friday in San Diego, California, against the winner of a First Four, play-in game between Rutgers and Notre Dame on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio.
LSU and interim coach Kevin Nickelberry will play No. 11 seed Iowa State (20-12) on Friday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. LSU fired head coach Will Wade on Saturday after reviewing a Notice of Allegations handed down by the NCAA last week.
The overall No. 1 seed was Gonzaga (26-3), which will play No. 16 seed Georgia State (18-10) on Thursday in Portland, Oregon.
The other three No. 1 seeds were Arizona (31-3), Kansas (28-6) and defending national champion Baylor (26-6).
Arizona plays on Friday in San Diego against the winner of the Wright State-Bryant play-in game on Wednesday.
Kansas plays on Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas, against the winner of the Texas Southern-Texas A&M Corpus Christi play-in game on Tuesday. Another play-in game has Indiana playing Wyoming on Tuesday with the winner playing No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s Thursday in Portland, Oregon.
Retiring Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 36th and last NCAA Tournament with the Blue Devils opens in nearby Greenville, South Carolina, on Friday with Duke as a No. 2 seed. The Blue Devils (28-6) will play No. 15 seed Cal State Fullerton (21-10) as Coach K tries to win his sixth national championship.
The other three SEC teams to reach the NIT were No. 3 seeds Mississippi State and Florida and No. 4 seed Vanderbilt.
The seeded teams host in the NIT, but Mississippi State (18-15) will play at Virginia (19-13) on Wednesday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. eastern) because renovations are scheduled to be underway at the Bulldogs’ Humphrey Coliseum.
Florida (19-13) will host Iona (25-7) on Wednesday (ESPN2, 9 p.m.), and Vanderbilt (17-16) will host Belmont (25-7) on Tuesday (ESPN2, 9 p.m.).