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Reading into tourney teams' fortunes

Ah, brackets. So tempting with all of those empty spaces and the promises of choosing wisely.

So overwhelming when you know absolutely nothing about Albany and Iona other than that they are in the same state.

Consider this your study guide. Now you merely need to parse through it all and figure out which Cinderellas you trust and which would-be princes will be first-round frogs.

Presuming you'll be standing around watercoolers and perhaps watering holes for the next month, I've also included a little factoid so you can amaze your friends with your vast knowledge.

Like, why, for example the urban campus of Temple would choose a forest creature for its nickname.

Enjoy.

East | Midwest | South | West

EAST REGIONAL

Indiana (1)

Write 'em in: When the Hoosiers are clicking offensively, few teams in the country can match them. It's downright pretty to watch, with guys who can score from essentially every position. If Indiana gets in that groove, it won't stop until it cuts down the nets.

Write 'em out: If the Big Handsome is nothing more than a pretty face, the Hoosiers are in trouble. As balanced as they are, they still need Cody Zeller to perform in order to win this thing. Indiana is better when the offense runs through Zeller and when he establishes his position inside. If that doesn't happen, neither will the net cutting in Atlanta.

Write it down: Former vice president and then-Indiana senator Dan Quayle once petitioned the folks at Merriam-Webster to change their definition of the word "Hoosier," which at the time read "unskilled person." Except he spelled it "Hosier."

LIU Brooklyn (16)

Write 'em in: The Blackbirds are unapologetically offense first, second and third. They push the life out of the ball, and with Jason Brickman, one of the more savvy true point guards you'll see in this tournament, they're really good at it. Brickman leads the nation in assists.

Write 'em out: All of that frenetic offensive energy can lead to less-than-positive work on the defensive end. Sometimes LIU simply doesn't get back and gives up as many easy buckets as it tries to make.

Write it down: From 1951 to 1957, there was no basketball program at LIU; it was shut down after a legendary point-shaving scandal at the school.

James Madison (16)

Write 'em in: Pick a guard, any guard; they all can beat you. Coach Matt Brady has four of them at his disposal, all similarly skilled, talented and averaging around the same number of points per game. That means you can't take one guy out and hope to win, which makes James Madison difficult to defend.

Write 'em out: It's always good to have guards who don't play like guards and aren't afraid to get inside and rebound, but at the end of the day, they are who they are. Namely, smaller than forwards. James Madison is in the minus for rebounding margin, and that was in the Colonial Athletic Association. The numbers won't improve much in this tourney.

Write it down: If you're wondering why a university named after a U.S. president is called the Dukes, well, so was I. Turns out the nickname honors one of the school's presidents, Dr. Samuel P. Duke. The first basketball team was formed under his watch, and the players promised to name their team for him in exchange for towels and equipment.


NC State (8)

Write 'em in: The regular season has been something of a disappointment for the Wolfpack, which says just how high people were on NC State early. This is still a team with four upperclassmen in the starting lineup -- and a lot of NBA talent -- a balanced scoring attack, a great perimeter shooter in Scott Wood and tough rebounders, all ingredients for a good run.

Write 'em out: The Wolfpack don't have a terribly effective bench after Rodney Purvis, so foul trouble is a huge issue. Also, if Wood isn't hot from the arc, this team becomes imminently more beatable.

Write it down: On April 4, it will be 30 years since Lorenzo Charles' game-winning put-back off Dereck Whittenburg's air ball and Jim Valvano's mad celebratory dash.

Temple (9)

Write 'em in: Fran Dunphy has an understated and solid rotation here, much more than just Khalif Wyatt. Anthony Lee is undersized for his position, but that has yet to bother him. If Lee, plus frontcourt mate Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, are scoring, Temple is tough to beat.

Write 'em out: Wyatt is so good that sometimes the Owls wait for him to do something extraordinary. He's won games by himself this season, but that's a tall order in this tournament. If he doesn't get help, it will be a harder sell for Temple.

Write it down: There are neither a lot of trees nor a lot of owls on Broad Street in North Philadelphia, but the university's nickname isn't an homage to a native bird. It's about his nocturnal habits, a nod to the number of night students who attended the university when it began.


UNLV (5)

Write 'em in: If Anthony Bennett plays like Anthony Bennett, UNLV is tough to beat. He's arguably one of the top freshmen in the country, even if his numbers didn't always show it. Bennett has the ability to take over a game and carry a team.

Write 'em out: If the Runnin' Rebels continue their annoying tendency to play down to the competition, it could be an early out for them. This is a loaded roster talentwise, but UNLV had some inexplicable regular-season losses and lapses in concentration. One of those here, and the Rebels go home.

Write it down: Plenty still consider the 1991 UNLV team the best team never to win it all. The Runnin' Rebels won every game by double digits except one, marching to what looked like a perfect finish. And then along came Duke in the Final Four.

California (12)

Write 'em in: Count Allen Crabbe among the players who could have a breakout March. Already the Pac-12 player of the year, he's a terrific scorer and has become a very good playmaker. Even though part of the Bears' evolution this season is due to other players' ability to score, it's Crabbe who will determine how long they dance.

Write 'em out: There's a reason Crabbe averages 36 minutes per game -- he has to. Cal simply cannot win without him in the game. Foul trouble is always an issue, then, and the grind of this tourney could be a factor as well.

Write it down: Cal students pulled off an epic prank in 2006, calling and texting a USC guard repeatedly, posing as a UCLA coed named Victoria. Player and girl were supposed to meet postgame; instead the student section chanted "Victoria" every time he touched the ball. He went 3-of-13. Somewhere, Manti Te'o commiserates.


Syracuse (4)

Write 'em in: If the Big East tournament Orange show up (at least the one that played until about the 15-minute mark of the final), this is a dangerous team. James Southerland's shooting spreads the floor for C.J. Fair and Michael Carter-Williams, while the zone defense is never fun to prepare for on a quick turnaround.

Write 'em out: If the Orange's offense chooses to go AWOL, they could be bounced. Syracuse has been out of sync and out of sorts at times this season, forcing Carter-Williams to try to carry the offensive load. The Orange are much better when he can drive and kick instead of just score.

Write it down: Jim Boeheim's family owned a funeral home -- The Boeheim Funeral Home -- in Lyons, N.Y. It's too easy of a lob pass, so I will defer the chance at sarcasm.

Montana (13)

Write 'em in: The Grizzlies are a dangerous team, one with back-to-back Big Sky regular-season and conference titles. With three juniors and a senior in the lineup, they aren't going to get rattled. What they can do to beat you is sink 3s. Montana ranks 18th in the nation from behind the arc, and that's a huge advantage against more talented teams.

Write 'em out: Although Montana is balanced, its wish list is to get Kareem Jamar the ball. Take him away, and you make the Grizzlies work harder.

Write it down: Montana actually has a smudging policy, allowing for the ceremonial burning of herbs in deference to Native American cultures, at certain spots on campus.


Butler (6)

Write 'em in: Andrew Smith and Rotnei Clarke are one of the more effective inside-out combos you'll find. Clarke's range is essentially in the gym, and when he gets hot, Butler becomes a very good offensive team. Defensively, the Bulldogs are just like their namesake -- relentless like a dog with a bone. They don't stop coming and have no problem getting physical. Teams that shy away from tough play are in for it.

Write 'em out: The Bulldogs' lack of a true point guard -- walk-on Alex Barlow is really the best option -- can be their undoing. The Bulldogs simply don't have a player who can adequately handle pressure. Just watch the VCU tape.

Write it down: Back-to-back Final Fours. At Butler. Enough said.

Bucknell (11)

Write 'em in: Technically, any wins the Bison get will be upsets, with their seed and Patriot League locale. If you've paid attention, you'll know otherwise. Bucknell is a good basketball team in any league, and Mike Muscala is a great player in any league. The center is the key to everything Bucknell does and wisely so. When the Bison beat Kansas, it was a shocker. Wins this year shouldn't be so stunning.

Write 'em out: This isn't terribly complicated. Much of what the Bison do is predicated on Muscala. Take him out and make him uncomfortable, and this team becomes limited offensively. There are other good players but none as critical as Muscala.

Write it down: In the 1940s, a booster had the brilliant idea to gift a baby bison to the university at homecoming. Stunningly, it didn't live to see another homecoming.


Marquette (3)

Write 'em in: It's hard not to be impressed with the job Buzz Williams has done. A season after losing the Big East player of the year and the league's leading scorer (and they were two different players), he's got the Golden Eagles right back in good shape. This season it's a legit team effort more than an individual one, which in some ways makes Marquette even tougher. Williams isn't afraid of wholesale line changes, which keeps his team fresh and opponents off balance.

Write 'em out: The Golden Eagles quite literally cannot shoot 3-pointers. They average 30 percent from the arc. More, Marquette can be its own worst enemy with turnovers. That knocked the Golden Eagles out of the Big East tournament and could do the same here.

Write it down: Long before adidas redefined ugly in uniforms, Marquette and Al McGuire were making waves and turning heads with its choices. The Golden Eagles' bumblebee uniforms were actually banned by the NCAA for disorienting opponents.

Davidson (14)

Write 'em in: This team is entirely different from the Steph Curry era, with plenty of players who can beat you, not just one. All five starters -- three seniors and two juniors -- average between nine and 14 points per game. The Wildcats, who played New Mexico, Gonzaga and Duke this season, aren't going to be starry-eyed at the tournament. With sound shot selection, they will be a tough team to beat. For bonus points, Davidson is also the nation's best free throw shooting team.

Write 'em out: As sound and smart as the Wildcats are, they aren't terribly quick or strong. Teams able to exploit those weaknesses will win.

Write it down: Bob McKillop was cut by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1972. Until last season, that team earned the distinction as the worst in NBA history, going 9-72.


Illinois (7)

Write 'em in: John Groce has given the green light to his trio of guards -- most notably Brandon Paul -- and they've happily driven right through it. There is not a shot the Illini won't take, and many of them they'll actually make. When they are hot, they are sizzling and can truly beat anyone.

Write 'em out: Who knows which team will show up? The one that started 12-0 or the one that dropped off the cliff at 2-7? The trouble with guys who never saw a shot they didn't like is sometimes those shots don't go in. If that happens early, this will end badly for Illinois.

Write it down: Now with a student section known as the Orange Krush, it's worth noting that for years, Illinois was more like a rainbow. The school color combos included silver and crimson, blue and white, yellow and black, and in an apparent color-blind fit yellow, crimson and olive green. Finally the university formed a commission to settle on one combo for good. Orange and blue won the day.

Colorado (10)

Write 'em in: If Spencer Dinwiddie (first team All-Name, though not necessarily one you'd want to inherit via marriage) gets in the lane, opponents are in for it. He not only can score, he can also get to the free throw line. If that happens, count it -- Dinwiddie hits 83 percent from the charity stripe.

Write 'em out: As balanced as this team is -- four of the five starters average in double figures -- it needs Dinwiddie and, to a lesser extent, Andre Roberson, to score. If either is pushed out of his zone, the Buffaloes will have trouble generating enough offense to stay in a game. Another problem -- a short bench.

Write it down: In his senior season, Tad Boyle captained the Kansas Jayhawks. The roster included a freshman by the name of Danny Manning.


Miami (2)

Write 'em in: Combine a brilliant coach with a terrific point guard and two solid (one literally so) big men, and you've got the recipe for a Cinderella season perhaps ending in a dominant NCAA tournament run. The Hurricanes are deep, can beat you from outside with Shane Larkin and Durand Scott and can squash you inside with Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson. Above all else, Jim Larranaga will leave no stone or metric unturned. To beat the Hurricanes, pack all your savvy. You'll need it.

Write 'em out: Let's face it: This is all very new to the Hurricanes, so how they handle the pressure and attention will be critical. Equally important is Miami's energy. Larranaga doesn't have the luxury of a deep bench, so if his team gets worn out -- or is worn out already -- it's a problem.

Write it down: As you might guess, the Miami basketball record books aren't exactly thick. This is quite simply the best the Hurricanes have ever been.

Pacific (15)

Write 'em in: This isn't an easy team to prepare for, with essentially 10 guys who can get into the scoring column and six who can score regularly and ably from long distance. That's really the Tigers' biggest advantage -- keeping opponents on their toes by going with the hot hand, whoever's hand that might be.

Write 'em out: The Tigers' tallest players are listed at 6-foot-8, and that's a problem against bigger schools and bigger men, both when it comes to rebounding and scoring. Miami's Reggie Johnson may literally cast a shadow.

Write it down: Talk about good fortune. The Tigers' best player in program history, Englishman Michael Olowokandi, said he chose Pacific because the college directory he was looking at happened to open to the university's page. He wound up the Clippers' first pick in 1998.

MIDWEST REGIONAL

Louisville (1)

Write 'em in: If the Cardinals can combine smart offense with what has now become the trademark defense of this bunch, they'll be a good pick all the way to the title. Louisville is playing defense like it did a year ago when it was a surprise Final Four entrant, but it's the emergence of Gorgui Dieng's offensive game and the addition of Luke Hancock as an outside threat that really has UL rolling.

Write 'em out: If there is too much general ridiculousness going on. Louisville is still a scary team when the game is on the line, but not always scary in a good way. Russ Smith's and Peyton Siva's propensity to make foolish decisions in the endgame could cost the Cardinals dearly.

Write it down: Darrell Griffith not only had the best nickname -- Dr. Dunkenstein -- but the best team. The high-flying, crowd-pleasing Cardinals topped UCLA for the 1980 national championship.

North Carolina A&T (16)

Write 'em in: If the Aggies can turn their opponent over -- which they are pretty good at -- they can score in transition, which is key for a team that is slightly offensively challenged.

Write 'em out: North Carolina A&T's strength lies in its inside game. Push the Aggies outside, and they'll wilt. They shoot less than 30 percent from beyond the arc.

Write it down: You might think the Aggies don't have much in the way of basketball history. Guess again. The school boasts not one but two 400-game-winning coaches in Cal Irvin and Don Corbett.


Colorado State (8)

Write 'em in: If the senior-laden Rams can win the battle of the boards -- which will be fierce versus Missouri, an equally tough rebounding team. Colorado State, which starts five seniors, is fierce inside with Colton Iverson.

Write 'em out: As tough as Iverson and CSU are on the boards, the Rams struggle from outside. They shoot just 33 percent from the arc, and against a Mizzou team that isn't afraid to score, CSU will be toast if it can't conjure up some outside punch.

Write it down: Forget ancient history; the present is pretty good. In his first season at Colorado State, Larry Eustachy has led the Rams to a school-record 25 wins and second place in the tough Mountain West Conference.

Missouri (9)

Write 'em in: This team is inordinately talented and experienced. If Mizzou suddenly realizes that, the team that earned the distinction of first-round flop last season could reverse its fortunes and then some.

Write 'em out: Does the word implosion mean anything to you? There is not a lead the Tigers cannot blow, an endgame they cannot muss up. They also are playing this game in Lexington, which isn't their home court, and that could be a problem.

Write it down: It's an ignoble distinction, but the Tigers rank second behind BYU as the team with the most NCAA tournament appearances (25) and zero Final Four appearances.


Oklahoma State (5)

Write 'em in: The Cowboys are one of a handful of teams in this tournament with a player who can carry his team on his back. If Marcus Smart takes over, which he can offensively as well as defensively, Travis Ford might have the best ride of his OSU coaching career.

Write 'em out: Oklahoma State tends to lose its focus and lets teams back into the game too often. Sometimes -- usually at home -- the Cowboys can recover, but against a good team, it might send them packing.

Write it down: The Cowboys count one of the game's legends among their former coaches. Hank Iba transformed Oklahoma State (then Oklahoma A&M) into a power, becoming the first team to win back-to-back titles.

Oregon (12)

Write 'em in: Between the chip on their shoulder over their low seed and the return of a healthy Dominic Artis, the Ducks have plenty of motivation. If Oregon channels all that emotion and continues to share the ball as it has all season, the power-six school could become a Cinderella.

Write 'em out: Most of these Ducks are waddling through this tournament thing for the first time. Oregon has eight first-year players on its roster, and if the moment proves too big, they might not stick around long to enjoy it.

Write it down: Oregon has the double-whammy distinction as the first NCAA basketball champion (in 1939) and the pioneer of wacky uniforms.


Saint Louis (4)

Write 'em in: The Billikens are the It team of this tourney, a hot pick by many to go far. If Saint Louis can control the tempo, feed Dwayne Evans inside and impose its will, it will live up to the billing.

Write 'em out: As good as Saint Louis is defensively, the Billikens can struggle to score. They especially need Cody Ellis on his A-game, or the It team might be bounced early.

Write it down: The Billikens own the best Selection Sunday story in history. Stuck in traffic trying to get to the airport after winning the Atlantic 10 tournament, Saint Louis' team bus pulled into a nearby Best Buy to hear its name called for the tourney.

New Mexico State (13)

Write 'em in: The Aggies' inside game is strong -- they're tough on the boards and are good at getting to the free throw line. If they meet a team that can be overpowered, they'll win.

Write 'em out: As tough as the Aggies are inside, they are not so strong in the backcourt. If New Mexico State faces a team with strong, good guards (like Saint Louis, perhaps), this will be another quick trip to the Dance.

Write it down: Before he donned an orange blazer at Illinois, Lou Henson and the Lou-Do prowled the sidelines at Henson's alma mater. Henson took NMSU to the Final Four in 1970.


Memphis (6)

Write 'em in: There is plenty of talent -- three McDonald's All-Americans and arguably one of the nation's top sixth men in Chris Crawford -- on this Tigers roster, enough for a deep run. If Memphis puts it all together, it could get coach Josh Pastner a lot more than just his first NCAA tournament win.

Write 'em out: If the Tigers are careless with the ball -- which they are prone to be, averaging 15 turnovers per game -- or, worse, are forced to win the game at the line, it will be over early. Memphis shoots a woeful 67 percent from the uncharitable stripe.

Write it down: The late Larry Finch, a beloved local star, took the Tigers as a player to their first Final Four in 1973 and then spent 11 seasons on the sidelines as Memphis' coach. All told, Finch was part of more than 500 games.

Saint Mary's (11)

Write 'em in: The Gaels have a star in Matthew Dellavedova, who can shoot, defend and distribute. And he can win games by himself.

Write 'em out: The already short-benched Gaels may be without Jorden Page, who injured his knee in the West Coast Conference tournament. Foul trouble would be a disaster, and fatigue could be a problem, too.

Write it down: Dellavedova is a big deal in his hometown of Maryborough, Australia. Last summer he became the town's first Olympian.


Michigan State (3)

Write 'em in: This team is central-casting Tom Izzo -- well-coached, well-traveled, tough and defensive-minded. If the Spartans play the way they want to, they might be playing all the way to Atlanta.

Write 'em out: There's not a lot of wiggle room after the starters -- Michigan State has a pretty slim bench. If anyone, but especially Derrick Nix, gets in foul trouble, it could be curtains.

Write it down: Three words: Magic versus Bird.

Valparaiso (14)

Write 'em in: This is Valpo's first trip to the Dance since 2004, but don't expect the Crusaders to be overwhelmed. The roster boasts a silly 11 juniors and seniors. Valparaiso is extremely efficient offensively, with good shooters at virtually every spot.

Write 'em out: There isn't a lot of athleticism or a lot of brawn, and if the Crusaders run into a team that can run past them or push them around (Michigan State?), then Bryce Drew won't have a coaching Cinderella moment.

Write it down: Pacer, that's the name of the play that Homer Drew called for his son, Bryce, in the 1998 first-round game against 4-seed Mississippi. Jamie Sykes, Bill Jenkins and Bryce Drew executed it to perfection, pulling off a buzzer-beater that still makes the highlight cut.


Creighton (7)

Write 'em in: This isn't terribly complicated. If Doug McDermott channels his inner Steph Curry, the Bluejays could go on a serious run. McDermott can and has carried Creighton on his back.

Write 'em out: If the Bluejays get caught in a slow-down, defensive struggle (like Cincinnati will try to hand them) and an opponent can neutralize McDermott, forget about it. Creighton simply doesn't have the defense to win that kind of game.

Write it down: What McDermott is doing to the scoring record books, Paul Silas did to the rebounding ledger. Silas averaged 21.3 boards per game for his career, wrapping up 1,751 rebounds in his three-year career. That still puts him first for three-year players.

Cincinnati (10)

Write 'em in: The Bearcats are ferocious on defense. You know that's going to be there. The question is the offense. Cincinnati is incredibly streaky, especially from the arc. If Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick get going, it would spell good news for Mick Cronin.

Write 'em out: So what happens if they can't score? Well, it won't be pretty. The Bearcats scored only 43 points in a humbling loss to Georgetown in the Big East tournament, and that's hardly unusual. In eight of 10 Big East losses (including the tourney loss to the Hoyas), Cincinnati failed to score 60 points.

Write it down: Oscar Robertson is considered one of the greatest NBA players of all time. He was so good in college that the USBWA named its national player of the year award after him, and he was so instrumental off the court that the landmark lawsuit that allowed for unrestricted free agency in the NBA is known as the Oscar Robertson Rule.


Duke (2)

Write 'em in: With double-figure scorers at every position and a healthy Ryan Kelly, there's good reason that the Blue Devils are among the favorites to win the whole thing. Mike Krzyzewski has a smart, veteran team that knows how to play the game and play it together.

Write 'em out: There aren't a lot of weaknesses on the Blue Devils' roster, but if there is an Achilles' heel, it is on the boards. If Mason Plumlee gets in foul trouble, that could spell real trouble for Duke.

Write it down: Duke likes Philadelphia, site of its early-round games. It was there -- in the now torn-down Spectrum -- that Christian Laettner hit the most memorable shot in NCAA tournament history.

Albany (15)

Write 'em in: The Great Danes' three guards -- Mike Black, Jacob Iati and Peter Hooley -- are very good. Not just America East good. If they can get going -- and all three are capable -- they could make things interesting against Duke.

Write 'em out: The trouble with such concentration on backcourt play -- it's usually because there's not a lot inside. And there's not for Albany. A team with a good interior (à la Mason Plumlee) will make life miserable for the Great Danes.

Write it down: The Great Danes like Philly, too. It's where they almost had their Cinderella moment, jumping ahead by 12 points over top-seeded Connecticut in the 2006 first round. Albany ended up losing by 13, but not before capturing the nation's attention.

SOUTH REGIONAL

Kansas (1)

Write 'em in: Do you really want to bet against Bill Self? Every time KU is written off, it seems to wind up in the Final Four. This group has the makeup to do it again, with a transcendent player in Ben McLemore and a tough interior presence in the form of Jeff Withey.

Write 'em out: Self's piñata this season has been Elijah Johnson, and not without reason. The point guard is the one shaky piece of this puzzle. If he goes toe to toe with a more aggressive counterpart, the Jayhawks could struggle. Another note to remember: As good as Kansas has been, it lost to TCU. Anything can happen.

Write it down: Phog Allen Fieldhouse sits on Naismith Drive. That ought to say it all.

Western Kentucky (16)

Write 'em in: Western Kentucky has a nice inside-outside mix with guards T.J. Price and Jamal Crook matching up with George Fant in the low post. If they can keep a balanced scoring attack, the Hilltoppers can at least make it interesting.

Write 'em out: A year after facing Kentucky, the Hilltoppers don't exactly get a break in their first-round matchup. They'll need their A-plus game to keep up with Kansas, especially because the Jayhawks can score and Western Kentucky struggles.

Write it down: The Hilltoppers used the basketball equivalent of football's Statue of Liberty play to upset Jacksonville and Artis Gilmore in 1971. With four seconds left and the game tied, Clarence Glover bent down to tie his shoelaces. Or so the Dolphins thought. Instead Glover popped up, took a pass and scored the game winner.


North Carolina (8)

Write 'em in: The Tar Heels have finally found their groove, going with a four-guard lineup. What once looked like a bubble team now could win a game in the NCAA tournament. That may be small bananas by UNC standards, but it's a big improvement for this bunch.

Write 'em out: While James Michael McAdoo is a terrific matchup nightmare for teams with a more traditional big man, he's not terribly big. That could be trouble for the Heels if they square up with a team with some post heft.

Write it down: Woollen Gym, the onetime basketball gym, served as living quarters for the likes of Ted Williams, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush while they attended preflight training school during World War II.

Villanova (9)

Write 'em in: This is a team more to Jay Wright's liking -- blue-collar, feisty and scrappy. The Wildcats live to keep teams off-balance with pressure defense and are plucky enough to stay in most games.

Write 'em out: The Wildcats taketh, but they also giveth away. Villanova averages 16 turnovers per game, a gigantic number that can spell immediate doom against the wrong foe.

Write it down: The Wildcats remain the lowest-seeded team (a No. 8) to win a national championship, and their upset of heavily favored Georgetown remains the Cinderella story for the ages.


VCU (5)

Write 'em in: If the Rams are creating havoc, watch out. Their defensive moniker is much more than a nickname; it's a way of life. When VCU gets going, swatting and trapping all over the court, even smart, savvy teams look like elementary school bench players.

Write 'em out: If the Rams can't score, they can't create havoc. It's a simple equation. VCU absolutely has to score -- and it prefers to score from long distance -- to set up its defense. Without the scoring, without the defense, VCU is in a very precarious spot.

Write it down: If the players aren't creating havoc for VCU, the band -- the Peppas -- are. One of the more entertaining pep bands in the country, they play perhaps the most intimidating fight song in the country -- the War Song. Lyrics: You don't want to go to war with Rams/Don't start no stuff won't be no stuff.

Akron (12)

Write 'em in: Zeke Marshall anchors a pretty solidly sized lineup for a mid-major, and that's a bonus in this tournament when strength and power usually go to the big schools. Partnered with Demetrius Treadwell, the two can anchor a frontcourt against the best of them.

Write 'em out: Freshman Carmelo Betancourt hasn't hurt the Zips since being pressed into service after starter Alex Abreu was suspended following an arrest for marijuana trafficking. But Betancourt isn't Abreu, and the difference could be felt most keenly in this tournament, not the MAC tournament.

Write it down: What's a Zip? Well, originally Akron was called the Zippers, named in honor of galoshes developed by Akron's B.F. Goodrich Co that included a unique design -- metal teeth on the side that, when pulled back, opened up the shoe. No, the Kangaroo mascot doesn't make sense.


Michigan (4)

Write 'em in: Although Trey Burke has garnered most of the attention, the Wolverines have a ton of scoring weapons -- Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III, the elevated play of Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas. If Michigan gets cooking, step out of the way.

Write 'em out: Michigan remains a young team and has a tendency to fall in a hole or fall asleep at the wheel. If the Wolverines finds themselves playing catch-up, eventually it might catch up with them.

Write it down: Rumeal Robinson was just a 67 percent free throw shooter when he stepped to the line with three seconds left and a one-point deficit. He sunk both, and the Wolverines topped Seton Hall for the 1989 national title.

South Dakota State (13)

Write 'em in: The Jackrabbits have a player who has the stuff to become a March star. Nate Wolters can score, but he's smart enough not to do everything on his own. In the Summit League semis and finals, yes, he scored 45 points, but he also dished 18 assists. If he's not slowed down, SDSU could be the latest Cinderella.

Write 'em out: You have to make someone other than Wolters beat you. The danger is if you concentrate too much on him, he'll find that other person to beat you.

Write it down: The Jackrabbits made the transition from Division I to Division II in only 2004 and already have two NCAA tournament berths to show for it. Or two more than Northwestern.


UCLA (6)

Write 'em in: If the Bruins play to their talent, be very, very careful. For all the roller-coaster mayhem of this season, UCLA is still loaded. Shabazz Muhammad can take over any game he wants to, and coach Ben Howland is finally content to let his team just play.

Write 'em out: Losing Jordan Adams is a huge blow to the Bruins. It puts more pressure and more attention on Muhammad. But UCLA's biggest enemy is itself. The Bruins have a slim margin of error thanks largely in part to a complete inability to rebound and defend well.

Write home about: John Wooden. A few national championship banners. Lew Alcindor. Bill Walton. Pick one.

Minnesota (11)

Write 'em in: As awful as Minnesota has been down the stretch, Tubby Smith still has pieces plenty of coaches would envy. Trevor Mbakwe, Austin Hollins and Rodney Williams are superior talents, and if they opt to actually play that way, the Gophers could be very dangerous.

Write 'em out: Feel free to question Middle Tennessee making the field. I'm more perplexed about the Gophers, who spent the better part of February trying to prove they didn't belong. Minnesota went from a 15-1 start to a 20-12 finish. Pick the Gophers at your own peril.

Write it down: From 1950 to 1971, Minnesota's Williams Arena (known as the Barn) boasted the largest capacity of any gym in the country, home to 18,025 fannies.


Florida (3)

Write 'em in: All the pieces are here for the Gators -- talent, firepower, experience -- and if they can finally put that simple equation together, they are an extremely dangerous team. Remember that up until a month ago, Florida was steamrolling through the SEC as though its opponents were CYO squads. That ability is still there.

Write 'em out: Kenny Boynton is like the Gators' version of Russ Smith, electrically good when he wants to be and maddeningly foolish at times, too. If Boynton starts taking bad shots or turning it over, especially in the endgame, Florida will unravel.

Write 'em out: The so-called football school is also the last basketball school to win back-to-back national championships.

Northwestern State (14)

Write 'em in: The Demons win by simply wearing out the opposition. The highest-scoring team in the nation, Northwestern State is perfectly content scoring 90 points a game -- and can because it has so many players. Mike McConathy has a rotation that goes a legit 10 deep.

Write 'em out: The Demons can be equally quick on defense, swapping steals, but this isn't a team looking to play disciplined hoops. Slow them down, take them out of their rhythm and win the game.

Write it down: McConathy is the eldest son of Northwestern State's best player, Johnny McConathy. The father is something of a local legend. He hitchhiked the 60 miles to the campus after everyone stopped recruiting him when he broke his ankle in his senior season of high school. Johnny McConathy then went on to score more than 1,000 points in his career.


San Diego State (7)

Write 'em in: San Diego State's calling card is its work ethic, which isn't necessarily a number that shows up in the box score. If they get their swagger back, the Aztecs will be a tough out, especially if Jamaal Franklin is leading them. He's the king of tough.

Write 'em out: The Aztecs limp into the NCAA tournament, unable to score a win late against any of the top teams in the Mountain West. If this team gets down, will it have the mental toughness to rebound?

Write it down: Baseball star Tony Gwynn actually arrived on campus as a highly recruited point guard. He didn't even play baseball as a freshman, and his name still appears in the basketball record books. Gwynn holds the marks for most assists in a game, season and career.

Oklahoma (10)

Write 'em in: There is nothing flashy or wild about the Sooners, which is exactly how Lon Kruger wins games. What Oklahoma is, is solid. The key for the Sooners is scoring in the low post. Romero Osby, a Mississippi State transfer whom Rick Ray would have love to have available, is a beast inside.

Write 'em out: The Sooners' margin for error is pretty slim, and if they aren't focused, they can be beaten. Equally important, they need Steven Pledger to hit 3s to open up things inside for Osby. If he's not, it's a tougher sledding for OU.

Write it down: The Sooners' most beloved coach, Billy Tubbs, was as colorful as Kruger is dry. Often accused of running up the score, he never apologized for his Sooners' dominance or style of play.


Georgetown (2)

Write 'em in: John Thompson III's version of Georgetown is defending in a way his papa would approve, smothering teams with its zone and mixing up full-court pressure to keep opponents on their toes. It could equate to a very, very deep run for the Hoyas.

Write 'em out: If the Hoyas become too Otto-centric. Georgetown has been pretty good about sharing the wealth -- Markel Starks and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera are more than capable scorers -- but it hasn't been a steady offensive machine. If Porter can't score and no one else fills the void, it could spell trouble.

Write it down: Along with being the most dominant player of his generation, Patrick Ewing was an unintentional fashionista. The Hoyas played in a lot of East Coast arenas that doubled as hockey rinks for NHL teams and, tired of being cold from the ice beneath the floor, Ewing put a gray T-shirt under his jersey. Adidas ought to pay him residuals.

Florida Gulf Coast (15)

Write 'em in: The Eagles beat Miami, so anyone who thinks this is your average walkover win hasn't been paying attention. Florida Gulf Coast has quick players and a lot of them, a huge luxury for a low-major team in this tournament. The Eagles use a pressure defense to cause turnovers and jump-start their offense.

Write 'em out: The Eagles just don't have the size that the big boys do and could get beat up on the boards. Mix in some frenetic offense -- they turn it more than 15 times per game -- and you've got the recipe for a quick visit to their first NCAA tournament.

Write it down: Win or lose the game, coach Andy Enfield wins the day by plenty of people's estimation. His wife, Amanda Marcum, is a former model whose portfolio includes covers from Elle and Maxim magazines.


WEST REGIONAL

Gonzaga (1)

Write 'em in: Kelly Olynyk is among the player-of-the-year candidates nationally; he'd be a lock for the country's most improved player. Olynyk is a matchup nightmare, able to drain 3s and, thanks to a year off, post up inside. He's a tough draw for just about any traditional team.

Write 'em out: The big question is how the Zags can handle physical play. That's part of what allowed Butler to stay in it -- and win on a miracle. Plenty of naysayers who don't believe Gonzaga deserves a No. 1 want to see it go toe-to-toe with a tough team.

Write it down: Gonzaga is the highest-seeded of the four Jesuit schools (Marquette, Georgetown and Saint Louis are the others) in the field. The Vatican just tabbed its first Jesuit pope. Coincidence?

Southern (16)

Write 'em in: The long-shot hope is that Malcolm Miller, the Jaguars' sixth-man extraordinaire, comes off the bench, scores like a maniac and catches Southern's opponent off-guard.

Write 'em out: The Jaguars owned the SWAC but pretty much played nobody. This tournament could be a very rude awakening for a team that is offensively-challenged on a good day.

Write it down: The Jaguars ought go to the film room and unearth the 1993 tourney game against Georgia Tech. Then a No. 13 seed, Southern stunned the Yellow Jackets in the first round.


Pittsburgh (8)

Write 'em in: The Panthers are right out of central casting Jamie Dixon-style, a gritty and tough defensive team that can give people fits. If it dictates the tempo and especially if it gets a team that isn't terribly fond of physical play, Pitt will advance.

Write 'em out: Steven Adams looked like a boy among men against Syracuse in the Big East tournament, and if the highly touted freshman has an equally tough time here, the Panthers won't be long for March.

Write it down: Send it in, Jerome.

Wichita State (9)

Write 'em in: Between their crafty defensive schemes and their 10-man rotation, the Shockers can absolutely wear a team out. Anyone with a short bench or a lack of intestinal fortitude is going to struggle.

Write 'em out: That hockey-line shift approach is terrific in some ways, but it also means that Wichita State doesn't have a go-to guy when the game is on the line. If the Shockers are in a tight spot or in need of quick offense, there are no obvious choices.

Write it down: Wichita State lays claim to one of the better PR campaigns. When Lynbert "Cheese" Johnson played for the Shockers in the 1970s, the school suggested, "When you come to Wichita, just bring the wine. We already have the 'Cheese.' "


Wisconsin (5)

Write 'em in: No truth to the rumor that the Badgers simply lull teams to sleep with their methodical play, but if you let Wisconsin dictate tempo, you might as well take the nap. An undisciplined, frantic team or player (hello, Marshall Henderson on Line 1) is not going to fare well against Wisconsin.

Write 'em out: Wisconsin isn't going to beat itself, but a big deficit can be a big problem for a program not engineered to score quickly or frequently. Similarly, the Badgers' tendencies to keep the scores low put them in danger of losing on a buzzer-beater.

Write it down: An assistant attorney general in 1973 suggested that Wisconsin change its mascot to Henrietta Holstein, arguing that "kids love cows." I have no idea what that means.

Ole Miss (12)

Write 'em in: Yes, Marshall Henderson can go bananas, for better or worse, but this team's success is all about the play of Murphy Holloway. He, not Henderson, beat Florida in the SEC tournament, and if he can establish position and play aggressively, the Rebels are a different team.

Write 'em out: The tournament is a marathon-and-sprint combo, and if Henderson loses his cool, the Rebels will be sprinting back to Dixie. Keeping Henderson focused can be a full-time job. He can't be that demanding with so much on the line.

Write it down: Someone has to be the goat in one of the greatest moments in college hoops history. Ole Miss gets the honors, the victims of Bryce Drew's impossible buzzer-beater in 1998.


Kansas State (4)

Write 'em in: What the Wildcats lack in flair, they make up for in doggedness and efficiency. They are not going to blow anyone away, but they can wear down a team and aren't going to back down from anyone. Opponents not interested in a grind-it-out game need not apply.

Write 'em out: This is not a team that is going to generate a lot of offense on its own. K-State has a terrific player in Rodney McGruder, but the Wildcats are offensively "eh" and can get beaten if they don't do well defensively.

Write it down: Before he was labeled the mastermind of the triangle offense, Tex Winter was just another coach trying to hold on to his job. In his first two seasons after succeeding Jack Gardner, Winter went 22-20, prompting clever fans to put up signs that read, "Spring is here. Winter must go."

Boise State (13)

Write 'em in: The Broncos are among the few teams in this bracket who actually not only like offense, they're pretty good at it. Boise averages 73 points per game and pretty much scores from anywhere. If the Broncos get hot, they get dangerous.

Write 'em out: Boise essentially goes with a four-guard lineup, which is great for offense but can be a defensive liability. A team that can get the ball inside can beat the Broncos.

Write it down: No, the home court is not blue, but it is called Taco Bell Arena. Burritos for the Broncos.

La Salle (13)

Write 'em in: The Explorers' five-guard rotation is quick, lethal and highly effective offensively. All five can score and like to -- La Salle averages nearly 73 points per game. The NCAA tourney has a habit of favoring good guard play, which fits in the Explorers' wheelhouse.

Write 'em out: The counterpunch to a great group of guards is an exposed interior, which is exactly what La Salle has. A team with a good post presence will take out the Explorers.

Write it down: The two best players to come out of La Salle are Tom Gola and Lionel Simmons. The most entertaining? That would be Bill Raftery.


Arizona (6)

Write 'em in: How the Wildcats perform here will come down to how Mark Lyons plays. That's a hefty burden, but the cold hard truth. If Lyons plays like a smart point guard, deftly distributing the ball and scoring it, Arizona may finally realize its potential.

Write 'em out: The flip side for the Wildcats, then, is obvious. If Lyons struggles and turns it over, Arizona's NCAA trip will be short-lived.

Write it down: John "Button" Salmon is known for coming up with the Wildcats' "Bear Down" slogan. It was Salmon's message to his teammates as he lay dying in a hospital room following a car crash. More entertaining was the daring Salmon's nickname: the Leaping Tuna.

Belmont (11)

Write 'em in: If Ian Clark channels his inner Steph Curry, the Bruins could become Cinderella darlings. The senior has the ability. He averages 18 points per game and three times has scored 30 or more.

Write 'em out: If the Bruins are taken out of their offensive rhythm, they're done. This team likes to score and is very good at it -- Belmont averages 77.2 points per game and is fifth overall in field goal percentage, shooting nearly 50 percent. But in four of their six losses, the Bruins couldn't reach 70 points.

Write home about: Coach Rick Byrd is especially tolerant of the media. His father, Ben, was a longtime sportswriter in Knoxville. Both, in fact, are in the city's Hall of Fame.


New Mexico (3)

Write 'em in: It shouldn't be a surprise that a team coached by a Bob Knight protégé is not flashy, just merely good. The Lobos don't have stats that jump out at you -- no one averages a bundle of points -- but they are smart and very comfortable playing their own game. That sense of self makes New Mexico a very dangerous team.

Write 'em out: Ironically, a Steve Alford-coached team isn't terribly effective from long range. That hasn't hurt the Lobos much this season but rare is the NCAA team that doesn't need some semblance of a 3-point game to go deep.

Write it down: To outsiders, Albuquerque and basketball may not seem synonymous or even connected. Go to The Pit. You'll change your mind.

Harvard (14)

Write 'em in: Finally a team that can shoot from the arc. In fact, that's the Crimson's sweet spot. NCAA history tells us that underdogs that knock down 3s can pull off an upset because, as basic math tells us, three is more than two.

Write 'em out: If this team had Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, it would be a legit threat for a deep run. As currently constructed, the Crimson is good but not great. Stronger teams will win.

Write it down: In 1964, Harvard did what was seemingly impossible at the time -- beat Princeton and Bill Bradley. How? Keith Sedlacek and Merle McClung combined for 61 points.


Notre Dame (7)

Write 'em in: Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins are as athletic as any guard tandem in the country, giving the Irish plenty of offensive oomph, so their slow-ball tendencies are somewhat misleading. Notre Dame can and will get out and run, but is perfectly content frustrating a team with methodical play, too.

Write 'em out: The inside group of Jack Cooley and Garrick Sherman is effective but thoroughly unathletic. If pushed against a stronger, quicker inside game, the two will struggle.

Write it down: The Irish always will hold a place in college basketball record books. They, after all, were the ones who halted UCLA's 88-game (and likely never to be matched) winning streak.

Iowa State (10)

Write 'em in: The Cyclones are cut of their coach's cloth, a 3-point shooting, high-scoring bunch, which is how Fred Hoiberg became "The Mayor" in Ames. If you're not ready to keep up, you're not ready for Iowa State.

Write 'em out: If the defense was even moderately close to the offense, the Cyclones would be impossible to beat. It is not. Iowa State can more closely resemble a sieve than a basketball team, so if an opponent's shots are falling and Iowa State's are not, it's a mess.

Write it down: The Cyclones remain the Ellis Island of college basketball, with Korie Lucious (Michigan State), Will Clyburn (Utah) and Chris Babb (Penn State) making key contributions for Iowa State.


Ohio State (2)

Write 'em in: Aaron Craft has found his offensive touch just in the nick of time, giving Deshaun Thomas a terrific -- and much-needed -- sidekick. Mix in Craft's dogged defense and Thad Matta's uncharacteristic willingness to turn more to his bench now (usually he's holding on tight to his starters by March) and you've got the recipe for an extremely dangerous Buckeyes team.

Write 'em out: Thomas has been terrific being part of the offense instead of trying to be the offense, but if he tries to do too much -- or worse, if his teammates wait on him to do everything -- Ohio State will fall back into a one-dimensional and beatable team.

Write it down: Bob Knight cut his coaching and disciplinary teeth at Ohio State as an undergraduate. He credits his coach, Fred Taylor, for teaching him a lot of both.

Iona (15)

Write 'em in: Believe it or not, there are teams in this bracket that like to score, and Iona is one of them. That seemingly unique trait for 2012-13 makes the Gaels dangerous, as does the high-scoring abilities (23 points per game) of Lamont "Momo" Jones.

Write 'em out: So it's one thing to outscore teams in the MAAC; it's another when the opponent is a Top-25 team. Iona can't change its style now, so it will live and -- perhaps -- die by simply trying to outscore everyone who gets in the way.

Write it down: He made his name and his legend at NC State, but Jim Valvano began his career at Iona. The coach who vowed to never give up when he had cancer used the same approach with the Gaels, attracting top-level talent to the New Rochelle, N.Y., school and winning 84 games in four years.