WASHINGTON STATE was selected a No. 4 seed in the East Region on NCAA Selection Sunday, making official the second straight year the Cougars head to the Big Dance. The first round opponent for WSU -- in Denver on Thursday -- is No. 13 Winthrop. With the selection, higher than many of the "gurus" had projected, the committee looks to have taken note of WSU's road success.

Winthrop, from South Carolina, is a team built around defense. The Eagles rank ninth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 58.2 ppg. WSU is rated third in the country at 56.5.

Winthrop (22-11) features senior guard Michael Jenkins as their leading scorer (14.3 ppg). Senior forward Taj McCullough averages 11.3 ppg and leads the team in rebounding with 5.7 boards a game. Chris Gaynor's 2.9 steals a game and assist-to-turnover ration (2.46) rate third and twenty-first in the nation, respectively.

Winthrop has a history of outperforming their seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Last year, as a No. 11 seed, they upset No. 6 Notre Dame in the opening round before falling to Oregon in the second. The year before as a No. 15 seed, they gave No. 2 Tennessee a major scare in the opening round, falling 63-61.

The Eagles on Thursday will make their eighth NCAA tournament appearance in the past ten years.

Should the Cougars win their opening round game, they would face the winner of the game between Notre Dame (No. 5, 24-7) and George Mason (No. 12, 23-10).

It would seem a given that the selection committee in slotting the Cougars fourth, and in Denver, took into account Washington State's six Pac-10 road wins, and that nobody in the country besides No. 1 seed, and the top overall seed in the tourney, North Carolina, had more than Wazzu's 15 road and neutral floor wins this season.

Washington State was picked higher and closer to home than where most projected them. The most well-known of the 'bracketologists', Joe Lunardi of ESPN, had Washington State as a No. 7 seed playing in Albuquerque this morning before changing it to a No. 6 seed in Birmingham just before the Selection Sunday broadcast.

Six Pac-10 teams were selected to the tournament in Washington State, Arizona, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and USC, tying the record for the most ever in conference history. Arizona State, who lost a controversial first round game in the Pac-10 tourney to USC, was left out of the tourney despite having a better in-conference record (9-9) and season sweep of Arizona (8-10). ASU also had a lesser non-conference strength of schedule and RPI in comparison to Oregon (9-9 Pac-10) and 'Zona and finished on a downturn, going 5-5 down the stretch and losing 10 of their last 15 games.

Washington State fan Angela Buri, right, of Colfax, and her sons Noah, 3, center, and Isiah, 7, cheer as Washington State's fight song plays Sunday at WSU's Selection Sunday celebration at Bohler Gym.

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