The NCAA selection committee has put the pieces to the bracket puzzle in place and Kentucky, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma will lead the way as the top seeds in the four tournament regions.
A total of 65 teams comprise the field for the tournament. Thirty-one gained an invite by virtue of winning their conference championships and 34 teams were extended at large berths.
Brackets: Viewable Printable
They are all playing for the right to head to New Orleans for the Final Four and championship games, to be held April 5 and 7.
On the heels of a roller coaster regular season, the tournament promises perhaps even more of the upsets and fantastic finishes than fans have grown accustomed to.
"Today was an example of where college basketball is," said CBS Sports Analyst Billy Packer. "I think it has become much more exciting with all the parity."
And more difficult for the selection committee it appears, as well.
"College basketball, because of the parity, is getting tougher and tougher to select the 34 teams," said Jim Livengood, selection committee chairman and athletic director at Arizona. "This group did the very best job it could."
Play in the tournament will begin on Tuesday with the play-in game between the 64th and 65th seeds, as determined by the committee. Big South champion North Carolina Asheville, at 14-16 the only team in the field with a losing record, will play Texas Southern, the champion of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. That game will be played in Dayton, Ohio.
The true "Madness" of "March Madness" begins in earnest Thursday when 16 games tip off around the country. The remainder of the field takes the floor Friday for 16 more games.
Locations dot the map around the U.S. from Boston to Spokane, Wash.
The winners advance to the weekend, while the losers return to their campuses in the single-elimination tournament.
For the fourth straight year two schools from the same conference earned a top spot.
Texas, No. 1 in the South, and Oklahoma, the top seed in the East, are both from the Big 12.
Arizona of the Pac-10 was seeded No. 1 in the West. Kentucky, unbeaten in the Southeastern Conference and winner of the league tournament, was given the top spot in the Midwest.
"I don't think it ever gets old hat," Arizona coach Lute Olson said.
"When you get to the NCAA playoffs, I think it's the most exciting time in sports."
Duke's run of five straight years as a No. 1 seed ended in a season of parity on the court and troubles off it.
Georgia, expected to be a highly seeded team, Michigan and Fresno State all declared themselves ineligible for the tournament over possible NCAA violations or academic fraud.
The Big 12 and Southeastern Conference each had six teams selected and Georgia would have given the SEC a seventh.
The Big Ten and Pac-10 had five teams each, while the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East and Conference USA had four each.
Stories of note created by this year's bracket include the end of Bob Knight's streak of 16 straight trips to the tournament with Texas Tech's omission. He made it from 1986 to 2000 at Indiana, and last year with the Red Raiders. He didn't coach in 2001.
Knight made news last week when he renounced his paycheck for the year, citing his poor performance as coach.
Among the teams expected to get one of the 34 at-large but didn't were Boston College, Tennessee and Seton Hall.
The winner of the aforementioned play-in game on Tuesday will play Texas on Friday in Birmingham, Ala., and No. 8 LSU will face No. 9 Purdue.
In Spokane, Wash., on Thursday, No. 5 Connecticut plays No. 12 Brigham Young and No. 4 Stanford faces No. 13 San Diego.
The rest of the South will be on Friday with No. 6 Maryland, the defending national champion, against No. 11 North Carolina-Wilimington; and No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 14 Troy State at Nashville, Tenn. Also, No. 7 Michigan State plays No. 10 Colorado; and No. 2 Florida, a high seed despite losing its last three games, faces No. 15 Sam Houston State in Tampa, Fla.
Oklahoma perhaps helped itself move into a top spot by winning the Big 12 tournament Sunday. It got the biggest break from the "pod" system, which keeps the better teams as close to home as possible.
The Sooners will play South Carolina State on Thursday in Oklahoma City, a 20-minute ride from their Norman campus, while No. 8 California faces No. 9 North Carolina State.
In Birmingham, No. 5 Mississippi State plays No. 12 Butler, and No. 4 Louisville faces Austin Peay.
In Boston on Friday, No. 3 Syracuse goes against No. 14 Manhattan in a matchup of New York schools, and No. 6 Oklahoma State faces No. 11 Penn.
Wake Forest, the No. 2 seed after winning the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title, plays No. 15 East Tennessee State, and No. 7 Saint Joseph's faces Auburn in Tampa.
Kentucky enters the tournament on a 23-game winning streak. It will play No. 16 IUPUI, one of seven schools making their first NCAA appearance, in Nashville, while No. 8 Oregon faces No. 9 Utah.
In Spokane, No. 4 Dayton, which won the Atlantic 10 tournament on its campus, plays No. 13 Tulsa, and No. 5 Wisconsin goes against No. 12 Weber State.
On Thursday in Indianapolis, No. 3 Marquette plays No. 14 Holy Cross, and No. 6 Missouri faces No. 11 Southern Illinois.
The final Midwest group will be at Boston, with No. 2 Pittsburgh, the Big East tournament champion, against No. 15 Wagner; and No. 7 Indiana, last year's runner-up, against No. 10 Alabama, the top-ranked team in late December that dropped to 17-11, 7-9 in the Southeastern Conference.
Arizona opens against No. 16 Vermont on Thursday in Salt Lake City. Also, No. 8 Cincinnati plays No. 9 Gonzaga; No. 3 Duke, which won its fifth straight ACC tournament on Sunday, faces No. 14 Colorado State; and No. 6 Creighton plays No. 11 Central Michigan.
Notre Dame, despite being a No. 5 seed, gets a chance to play close to home, facing No. 12 Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Indianapolis. Also, No. 4 Illinois, which won the Big Ten on Sunday, plays No. 13 Western Kentucky.
The last West group will be at Oklahoma City: No. 2 Kansas plays No. 15 Utah State and No. 7 Memphis faces No. 10 Arizona State.
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