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NCAA tournament preview: Virginia finally seizes top of East bracket

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The NCAA tournament bracket had one big question mark before Selection Sunday on March 16. For days and weeks, it looked like no one wanted the last No. 1 seed on the East bracket, as the race came down to the final games. But after the Michigan Wolverines were the final team to lose their shot, it left the ACC champion Virginia Cavaliers as the only team left to round out the NCAA tournament top line.

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Despite being the ACC regular season champions, the Cavaliers were the least likely team to take the No. 1 seed going into the weekend. Yet after the Villanova Wildcats, Kansas Jayhawks, Wisconsin Badgers, Wolverines and Duke Blue Devils all lost -- with the Blue Devils going down to the Cavaliers in the ACC final -- Virginia was the last choice available.

This is largely uncharted territory for the Cavaliers, yet they were rewarded by being in an East bracket with several conference tournament champions. The ones that made the biggest impact over the final weekend were the Big 12 champion Iowa State Cyclones, and the Big Ten champion Michigan State Spartans. In fact, the Spartans may be the favorites in the East -- if not the entire NCAA tournament -- after blowing by the Badgers and Wolverines to take the Big Ten.

The Wildcats are still seeded above the Cyclones and Spartans, despite their upset loss in the Big East tournament. If they hadn't lost at the buzzer to the Seton Hall Pirates on March 13, the long debate over the last No. 1 seed would have ended long ago. Nevertheless, the Cavaliers were the only team over the next several days to fully take advantage -- although they stand to be underdogs if they meet the Spartans in the Sweet 16.

Villanova also has a lot to prove despite having the next best seed in the East. The Wildcats might also need to prove they are the best team in their own city, as they face a potential third round battle against the A-10 champion St. Joseph's Hawks. The alternative is a match up with former Big East rival Connecticut, with Iowa State, North Carolina or Big East champion Providence looming after that.

It took a lot for the NCAA tournament committee to find top seeds in the East. The accompanying slideshow lists the leading teams who finally made it through.