PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Nine BIG EAST teams will be among the 68 that will compete for college basketball's most coveted prize this season as the NCAA announced the bracket for the 2012 Men's Basketball Championship.
The nine selections from the BIG EAST mark the second-highest haul from one conference in the tournament's history, trailing only the BIG EAST's 11 teams that reached last year's field. That group produced the conference's fifth NCAA champion when Connecticut completed a remarkable run through the postseason.
The BIG EAST contingent features a number of intriguing storylines, including perennial contenders that are looking to add to their legacies and a welcome return to the NCAA field following a lengthy absence.
Syracuse, which won the BIG EAST regular-season title and enters the tournament with a 31-2 record following a loss to Cincinnati in the BIG EAST Championship semifinals. The Orange, who earned the No. 1 seed in the East Region, will face No. 16-seeded UNC-Asheville ThurSday at the CONSOL Engery Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.
The BIG EAST has two teams on the No. 3-seed line. Marquette, which was second to Syraucse in the regular-season standings, will face either Brigham Young or Iona in the West Region second round Thursday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. Georgetown, meanwhile, takes on Belmont in the second round of the Midwest Region Thursday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Louisville, which won its second BIG EAST tournament title in four years last night in New York, is the No. 4 seed in the West Region. That sets up a second-round game against Southern Conference champion Davidson Thursday at the Rose Garden in Portland, Ore.
Notre Dame, which reached the semifinal round of the BIG EAST Championshp, earned the No. 7 seed in the South Region, putting the Irish against Xavier in the second round. That game will take place Friday at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C.
Connecticut will join Marquette in Louisville as the Huskies begin formal defense of their title Thursday against Iowa State. Connecticut is the No. 9 seed in the South Region and would face a potential third-round matchup against top-seeded Kentucky if the Huskies get past the Cyclones.
Cincinnati, which fell to Louisville in the BIG EAST Championship final, is the No. 6 seed in the East Region, which pairs the Bearcats against Texas in the second round. That game will take place Friday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
West Virginia enters its second-round game against Gonzaga as the lower-seeded team in the East Region. But the 10th-seeded Mountaineers will only have to make a short road trip as WVU plays Thursday in Pittsburgh.
USF has reached the field of 68 for the first time as a BIG EAST member - and the first time since 1992 - as the Bulls received a No. 12 seed. USF will face California Wednesday as part of the First Four in Dayton, Ohio. The winner will move on to face Temple Friday in Nashville.