Defending champ UConn is No. 1 overall seed for NCAA Tournament

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Defending national champion UConn earned the No. 1 overall seed for the 2024 NCAA Tournament.

The Huskies excelled again this season and bring a 31-3 record into this year’s version of March Madness.

UConn opens its defense against 16th-seeded Stetson (22-12) on Friday at the Brooklyn Nets’ home in New York.

“It’s just a great accomplishment,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “It’s a real clean sheet for us. At the nonconference, we performed at the best level. Regular season in the Big East, we were dominant, and we won the toughest and most exciting conference tournament.

“We earned what we got today. But we’re not going to be able to use that to win any of these games moving forward. These games truly now become survive and advance.”

Also earning No. 1 seeds were Houston (30-4) in the South, Purdue (29-4) in the Midwest and North Carolina (27-7) in the West.

The No. 2 seeds are Iowa State (27-7) in the East, Marquette (25-9) in the South, Tennessee (24-8) in the Midwest and Arizona (25-8) in the West.

Earning No. 3 seeds were Illinois (26-8) in the East, Kentucky (23-9) in the South, Creighton (23-9) in the Midwest and Baylor (23-10) in the West.

While there was speculation on the outside that Iowa State might have pushed North Carolina for the final No. 1 seed, committee chairman Charles McClelland said Tennessee is the highest-seeded No. 2 and that Iowa State was graded down due to its soft nonconference schedule.

“There was a lot of discussion,” McClelland said of the final No. 1 seed. “Overall, North Carolina had a magnificent season. They did what they were supposed to do in the regular season and fell a little short in the (ACC) tournament. …”

“We felt Iowa State was appropriately seeded on the No. 2 line.”

Three of last season’s Final Four teams are in the East region.

San Diego State (24-10), which lost to UConn in the 2023 title game, is the No. 5 seed and will play UAB (23-11) in the first round on Friday in Spokane, Wash.

Florida Atlantic (25-8), which lost to San Diego State in the Final Four, landed the No. 8 seed in the East. The Owls will face ninth-seeded Northwestern (21-11) on Friday in Brooklyn.

Miami, the other Final Four team from last season, isn’t part of this year’s field.

The Big 12 and Southeastern Conference have the most teams in the field with eight apiece. The Big Ten has six. So does the Mountain West, which marks its highest number of bids ever. The Atlantic Coast Conference has five teams and the Pac-12 has four in its final season as a bona fide league.

Colorado State of the Mountain West was the last team to get into the 68-team field.

The first four out were Oklahoma, Seton Hall, Indiana State and Pitt.

McClelland outlined that the process of deciding who were the final teams in the field was made tougher by five surprise teams earning bids by winning their conference tournament.

So a team like Indiana State (28-6) of the Missouri Valley Conference, which had a NET ranking of 29, would have made the cut in other years, but not this time around. The Sycamores were doomed as soon as they lost to Drake in the MVC tournament title game March 10.

“They had great metrics but when you look at their nonconference (schedule) and the games they played outside of the conference, that was something we had to take a look at,” said McClelland, who is commissioner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

“Again, under normal circumstances, they would have been in.”

In the Midwest, Tennessee opens against 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s on Thursday in Charlotte. The Peacocks (19-13) tore up brackets in the 2022 tournament while reaching the Elite Eight.

Another intriguing No. 15 seed is Long Beach State (21-14), which faces Arizona on Thursday in Salt Lake City in the West region. The school and 17-year coach Dan Monson announced a mutual separation after the regular season before the Beach went on a run and won the Big West tournament to claim the NCAA berth.

The tournament begins with the First Four in Dayton, Ohio. Colorado State faces Virginia and Wagner plays Howard on Tuesday. One day later, Colorado faces Boise State and Grambling plays Montana State.