Florida Gets Top Billing In NCAA Repeat Bid

Sunday, March 11th 2007, 4:30 pm

By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Defending champion Florida, Ohio State, Kansas and North Carolina drew No. 1 seeds in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, earning their spots Sunday by winning their conference championships.

The 65-team tournament begins Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, with a play-in game between Florida A&M and Niagara, the two lowest-ranked teams.

Starting Thursday afternoon, it's wall-to-wall action on the court -- and in the nation's biggest office pool.

Joakim Noah and the Gators (29-5) hope to become the first repeat champions since Duke in 1992. Florida, which won the football championship in January, will begin its bid for another basketball title in the Midwest region with a game Friday against 16th-seeded Jackson State in New Orleans.

The Gators, who return all five starters from last season's national championship team, emphatically won the Southeastern Conference tournament, routing Arkansas 77-56, recovering from a late season slump.

Wisconsin got the No. 2 seed in the Midwest and will play No. 15 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Other games in the region are: No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 14 Miami of Ohio, No. 4 Maryland vs. Davidson, No. 5 Butler vs. No. 12 Old Dominion and No. 6 Notre Dame vs. No. 11 Winthrop, which has an 18-game winning streak and No. 7 UNLV vs. No. 10 Georgia Tech, and No. 8 Arizona vs. No. 9 Purdue.

In the West, Big 12 champion Kansas (30-4) opens against the play-in winner Friday in Chicago.

UCLA, with the most NCAA men's basketball titles in history, became a No. 2 seed after losing its first game in the Pac-10 tournament to California. The Bruins, who reached the title game last season, were ranked No. 1 for six weeks this season, more than any other team. UCLA (26-5), coming off consecutive losses to Washington and Cal, will play Weber State.

Also in the West bracket, it will be: No. 3 Pittsburgh vs. No. 14 Wright State, No. 4 Southern Illinois vs. No. 13 Holy Cross and No. 5 Virginia Tech vs. No. 12 Illinois.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Duke got the No. 6 seed after losing to North Carolina State in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. The Blue Devils will play No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth. No. 7 Indiana plays No. 10 Gonzaga, and No. 8 Kentucky faces No. 9 Villanova.

North Carolina (28-6) drew the top seed in the East by defeating N.C. State for the ACC title. Coach Roy Williams, mask-wearing center Tyler Hansbrough and the Tar Heels, a deep young team that plays at a fast pace, will make the short trip to Winston-Salem to play Eastern Kentucky on Thursday.

Big East champion Georgetown, with John Thompson III as its coach and Patrick Ewing Jr. coming off the bench, is the No. 2 seed and takes on No. 15 Belmont. Also in the East, it's No. 3 Washington State vs. No. 14 Oral Roberts; No. 4 Texas and star Kevin Durant against No. 12 New Mexico State; No. 5 Southern California vs. No. 12 Arkansas; No. 6 Vanderbilt vs. No. 11 George Washington, No. 7 Boston College vs. coach Bobby Knight's 10th-seeded Texas Tech, and No. 8 Marquette vs. No. 9 Michigan State.

Ohio State (30-3) beat Wisconsin to win the Big 10 tournament and its No. 1 seed in the South. The Buckeyes play No. 16 Central Connecticut State on Thursday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.

Ohio State's only losses were on the road to North Carolina, Florida and Wisconsin. Star freshman Greg Oden missed the first seven games of the season recovering from offseason wrist surgery, but he has been one of the most dominant players in the country since.

Other games in the South include coach John Calipari and No. 2 Memphis against No. 15 North Texas, making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1988; No. 3 Texas A&M vs. No. 14 Pennsylvania; No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 13 Albany, N.Y.; No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 12 Long Beach State; No. 6 Louisville and NCAA perennial Rick Pitino vs. No. 11 Stanford; No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 10 Creighton and No. 8 BYU vs. No. 9 Xavier.

Among the teams left out were Syracuse, Drexel, Air Force, Missouri State, West Virginia and Florida State.

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