5:30 AM PDT, March 12, 2012
This is the time of the year when everyone can channel their inner Dick Vitale. Just make sure not to startle your co-workers if you start yelling, "Awesome, baby!"
Everyone in the entire country, starting on Selection Sunday when the NCAA Tournament brackets are revealed, becomes a college basketball expert. From President Obama to that annoying woman in accounting who lets her corgie make the picks (and still somehow wins the office pool), we're all about to pretend we know more about Cinderella than the prince himself.
So if you're just now beginning to pay attention, here is an A-to-Z primer of what you're going to find in your brackets.
A is for Antonio, which is the real first name for dynamic Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine. He averages 4.9 assists for the Orange, which went 30-1 in the regular season to become one of the favorites this month.
B is for Bourbon Street, which is where a few thousand fans will converge during the Final Four (the games are March 31 and April 2). This is the fifth time New Orleans has hosted the event, and if you believe geography has anything to do with a team's success, you might pick North Carolina (the winners there in 1982 and 1993), Indiana (1987) or Syracuse (2003).
C is for Connecticut, the defending national champions who have had anything but a smooth season wearing the crown. The Huskies underachieved to start the season, then watched their iconic head coach, Jim Calhoun, sidelined with back problems. But now Calhoun is back, and there's no doubting his team has talent. "It's been a different kind of season," he said at the Big East Tournament. "But through it all, somewhat by separation, I realized how much I care about these kids."
D is for Draymond, and if you like watching college basketball to see a player develop, you like Draymond Green. The forward averaged just 3.3 points and 3.3 rebounds as a freshman at Michigan State, but four years later, he was named Big Ten Player of the Year in leading the Spartans to a share of the league title.
E is for emergency room, which is where Seton Hall center Herb Pope was rushed on April 28, 2010, after his heart stopped. His condition was so serious the school prepared a press release to announce his death, but two years later with Pope as the key player up front, the Pirates are potentially one of 10 Big East teams that could make the tournament field.
F is for Frank Haith, the head coach at Missouri. You want a successful first season on the job? Try Haith leading the Tigers to a 27-4 record in the regular season. But now comes the real goal: Getting Missouri, which will be making its 25th NCAA Tournament appearance, into its first Final Four.
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G is for Gaels, the nickname for West Coast Conference champion St. Mary's. If you're from Down Under (or just enjoy Foster's beer), you'll like the Gaels: They've built their program on a pipeline from Australia that now includes conference player of the year Matthew Dellavedova. As fans chant during their games, "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!"
H is for Harvard, which is getting as much attention for its basketball team these days as its business school. Not only are the Crimson back in the tournament for the first time since the Truman administration (that's 1946), but their former star Jeremy Lin has quickly become a worldwide superstar for his surprising play for the Knicks.
I is for Indiana, back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. If that doesn't seem like a long drought, consider: The Hoosiers were a tournament fixture every year from 1986 to 2003 and have won five titles (1940, 1953, 1976, 1981 and 1987).
J is for Jackrabbits, the unique mascot for first-time tournament participant South Dakota State. The origin is believed to be an early 1900s newspaper article that described the team "as quick as jackrabbits." And they better be, since they're likely headed to a first-round matchup with one of the top programs in the country.
K is for Krzyzewski -- or, if you prefer, Coach K. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has won this tournament four times, more than any coach in the tournament (just one man in the history of college basketball, John Wooden with 10, has more). Do the Blue Devils have what it takes to deliver No. 5? They'll have to count on emerging freshman star Austin Rivers if they do.
L is for Loyola (Maryland), where the colorful Jimmy Patsos is the head coach. When Patsos was a graduate assistant at Maryland, he worked a side job as a bartender in the Georgetown section of D.C. -- and his reputation for courtside theatrics means the TV cameras will spend plenty of time watching him during the Greyhounds' first-round game.
M is for Murray State, which is the best team most casual college fans have never heard of. Only a four-point loss to Tennessee State kept the Racers from rural Murray, Kentucky, from entering the tournament at a perfect 31-0, and with junior guard Isaiah Canaan (19.2 points per game), there's no telling how far they'll go this month.
N is for Northwestern, and that'll be one of the biggest questions heading into Selection Sunday: Will the Wildcats finally earn their first ever berth in the NCAA Tournament? "The stats are out there," is all head coach Bill Carmody would say when asked if his team belonged this week, so don't expect much lobbying from Chicago.
O is for office pools, on which the FBI estimates more than $2.5 billion is gambled each year. That's a lot of people who think they know which No. 12 seed is going to advance to the Sweet 16.
P is for proud papa, which is how Detroit Mercy coach Ray McCallum is feeling this week. Not only are his Titans back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999, but they're in the field because his son, Ray Jr., carried them there. Ray Jr., who scored 21 points in the Horizon League championship game, could have played on a bigger stage but decided to stick with dad. "This is the greatest feeling in world!" he said.
Q is for Quinnipiac, which did not make the tournament. But doing an A to Z would be much easier if it finally did.
R is for regionals, or the round of the tournament that determines which teams reach the Final Four. If you live in Boston, Phoenix, St. Louis or Atlanta, you might notice some folks wearing their team colors and milling around downtown bars and restaurants in a few weeks.
S is for Shockers, the nickname for Wichita State. Looking for the next George Mason, that unexpected team to make a run to the Final Four? The Shockers are deep and talented enough, with point guard Joe Ragland and 7-foot center Garrett Stutz, that it wouldn't be, uh, shocking if they went on a run.
T is for Tinkle, as in Montana coach Wayne Tinkle, who has the Grizzlies back in the tournament with their best record in 20 years. Can they pull off a first-round upset? "We have achieved our No. 1 goal now and that was winning the tournament championship to go to the NCAAs," Tinkle said. "We are not out of our goals yet."
U is for UCLA, and don't bother looking for them in your brackets. The team with more NCAA Tournament victories than any other is not in the field. Neither is Butler, the surprising team from Indianapolis that reached back-to-back national championship games.
V is for VCU, back in the tournament field after pulling off perhaps the most unlikely Final Four run in history last season. The Rams went all the way from the "First Four" -- the matchups played in Dayton, Ohio, on the Tuesday before the full tournament gets under way -- to the Final Four under head coach Shaka Smart. Can they do it again? It's unlikely, of course, but the Rams are one of the hottest teams in the nation, winning 17 of their last 18 games.
W is for Western Kentucky, which started the season at 5-14 but managed to win the Sun Belt Tournament to lock up its automatic bid. Do the 15-18 Hilltoppers belong in the field? As long as that means their cuddly amorphous mascot Big Red gets a chance to dance in the Dance, who cares?
X is for Xavier, which has reached 10 of the last 11 tournaments but is sitting squarely on the tournament bubble this year. Will the Musketeers and senior guard Tu Holloway make it? It'll be one of the biggest questions when the field is revealed.
Y is for youth, and Kentucky is among the favorites to win the national title because of it. Two freshmen have led the way for the Wildcats -- Anthony Davis, the 6-10 shot-blocking specialist from Chicago, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the intense forward from New Jersey. Enjoy them while you can: Both are likely NBA lottery picks if they enter the draft at the end of the season.
Z is for Zeller, as in Tyler Zeller, the ACC Player of Year at North Carolina. The Tar Heels are arguably the most talented team in the country, but do they have what it takes to win six games in the tournament? Of course, if anyone could answer that question, it wouldn't be March Madness.