Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (super-sized to 68 for the NCAA tournament):
The Big Dance giveth, and the Big Dance taketh away.
It gives us Liberty (1), the shocking winner of the Big South and one of just two teams in tourney history to make the field with 20 losses. But it also gives us sudden death – just ask Missouri (2) and Duke (3), which learned the hard way last year that beating a No. 15 seed is no sure thing. Maybe this is the year a No. 16 seed finally wins a game – and Liberty is a 16.
It gives us players with cartoon-character names – there's a "Yogi" (Ferrell, of Indiana) and a Bubu (Palo, of Iowa State) – and cartoon-character antics (Marshall Henderson of Mississippi). But it also is the province of the serious (Ben Howland of UCLA) and the stoic (Bob McKillop of Davidson).
It has given a new level of March Madness excitement to schools like Gonzaga (4) and Miami (5), which own their highest seeding ever. But it has no room on the dance card for defending champion Kentucky (6) and the entire state of Texas (7). Even in a sprawling 68-team field, there are standards to maintain.
So with the field finally set, let's get down to analyzing, categorizing and proselytizing. If you aren't yet a convert to the First Church of Bracketville, you still have time to fill one out and join the congregation.
[Related: Enter Yahoo! Sports' Tourney Pick'em game]
THE ELITE EIGHT
Teams The Minutes believes have the best chance to cut down the nets in the Georgia Dome April 8: Louisville (8). Best defensive team in the country. In fact, this is the best defensive team in the 11-year history of Ken Pomeroy's efficiency ratings. The Cardinals are deep, relentless and on a prodigious roll: they have won 10 straight games, nine of them by double digits, and six straight over NCAA tournament teams. They stomped their way through the last great Big East tournament.
Indiana (9). Best offensive team in the country. The Hoosiers can hit a team from just about any angle, and they are dangerous in transition. As long as they don't run into Wisconsin, they will be a very tough out.
Duke (10). Don't read too much into the Blue Devils' ACC tourney loss to desperate Maryland. They're still 18-1 with Ryan Kelly in the lineup, and this team surely learned some valuable lessons from the comeuppance against Lehigh last year.
Ohio State (11). The Buckeyes have grown on The Minutes as the season progressed, which is the opposite of several previous years. Thad Matta has lengthened the rotation to give more minutes to deluxe athletes Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross, and point guard Aaron Craft is playing the best offensive basketball of his career. And there is a bellcow scorer in Deshaun Thomas to rely on.
Kansas (12). Another excellent defensive team, keyed by Jeff Withey's presence in the middle. Ben McLemore will be a top-three draft pick come June, and he has plenty of ancillary scorers surrounding him. Plus coach Bill Self is at the top of his game.
Michigan State (13). Nobody played a harder schedule than the Spartans, so they have been toughened for this task. There are several offensive options, but it wouldn't be a shock to see rapidly improving Adreian Payne blow up and become a star in this tournament.
Georgetown (14). The Hoyas have been upset early in each of the past three NCAA tourneys, but this team looks different. Otto Porter Jr. can rescue them by himself if need be in a tight game, and the style of play remains problematic for those outside the Big East who don't see it often.
Miami. There is no track record of NCAA success for the players – but there is for coach Jim Larranaga, who took George Mason to a Cinderella Final Four in 2006. This is a veteran team with size, athletes and an excellent backcourt, all key ingredients for a deep run.
THE SLEEPER TWO
A pair of teams that at least have a chance to be the first NCAA champion from outside the big-six conferences since UNLV in 1990:
New Mexico (15). The Lobos are a tough-minded, defensive-oriented group that play at a pace which can frustrate more up-tempo opponents. They nearly knocked off Final Four-bound Louisville in the round of 32 last year and look primed for a bigger impact this year.
Saint Louis (16). A physical, veteran-laden team that honored late coach Rick Majerus by playing just the way he would have wanted in winning the Atlantic-10. Like New Mexico, the Billikens will play deliberately and guard you until the last dog dies. If they can find enough ways to score, they'll be in this thing for a while.
[Related: How to win your office bracket pool]
THE BRACKET WRECKERS
Teams that won't win it all, but could pull an upset or two and possibly even crash the Final Four.
VCU (17). The Rams' "Havoc" defense has led to six NCAA tourney wins the past two years, and more should be on the way this season. No coach is better at infusing his players with confidence than Shaka Smart.
Iowa State (18). The Cyclones are one of the most dangerous 3-point shooting teams in the nation. If they get hot from the perimeter, they could take out anyone. Of course, they also can take themselves out quickly with their casual defense, but they will be a dangerous draw.
Davidson (19). This team isn't like the Steph Curry-led regional finalist of 2008; there is no superstar on this Bob McKillop team. But there are a bunch of veterans who are efficient offensively and lead the nation in free-throw accuracy – and that could be a huge factor in close tournament games.
Belmont (20). Coach Rick Byrd is 0-5 in the NCAA tourney, but this may be his year to win one. The senior backcourt of Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson is one of the best in the Dance, and this team can shoot extremely well. Lack of size could be an issue.
Colorado State (21). In his first year in Fort Collins, Larry Eustachy inherited a solid nucleus from Tim Miles and added impact transfer Colton Iverson from Minnesota. He also made this team dramatically tougher on the glass. The Rams got a taste of the tourney last year in a round-of-64 loss to Murray State and will be wiser for it this time around.
THE FRAUDULENT FIVE
Prominent teams that could be bounced from the Dance early:
Memphis (22). Tough to trust the talented but looney Tigers, who miss enough free throws and commit enough turnovers to make just about every game against quality competition an arduous one. Josh Pastner is 0-2 as an NCAA tournament coach.
Michigan (23). The Wolverines wobbled down the stretch, losing half of their final 12 games. The last quality team they beat outside of Ann Arbor was Illinois – in January.
Arizona (24). Seems an eternity ago that the Wildcats were 14-0. Since then they are 11-7 and have beaten just one NCAA tournament team (Colorado).
Missouri (25). The Tigers have Final Four talent but sub-NIT poise and execution in late-game situations. Give them a chance to blow a lead in the final minutes and they will. They're also helpless outside of Columbia, Mo.
Pittsburgh (26). Underperforming in the tournament is a proud Panthers tradition.
Where are the expectations highest and urgency deepest in this tournament? The Minutes knows:
Indiana. No title since 1987. No Final Four since 2002. Some serious misery in between then and now. One of the game's flagship programs has set its sights on winning it all this year, and falling short will not be well-received by a hungry Hoosier Nation.
The Big Ten in general (27). It has been the best league by far this season – now it's time to deliver when it counts most. The Big Ten hasn't won a national title since 2000 (Michigan State) and has seen its stature slide in other sports. This is a vital tourney for Jim Delany's league.
Gonzaga.The best team in school history has been shown great respect by the selection committee. Now it must back up the seeding and geographic breaks with the first Final Four in school history.
Team McDermott (28). Coach Greg McDermott and son Doug McDermott have had a great run together at Creighton, winning 79 games in three seasons. But just one of those has come in the NCAA tournament. Can they lead Creighton to its first Sweet Sixteen since 1974?
Louisville. Program with a ton of tradition has not won a national title since 1986, and its fans have watched bitter rival Kentucky win three since then – most recently last year. Now, with the Wildcats relegated to the NIT and the Cardinals owning a No. 1 seed, the ardor for a third national championship is at an all-time high.
Jim Boeheim (29). There has been speculation that this is Boeheim's last hurrah – that the impending move to the ACC and ongoing NCAA investigation of his program might send him into retirement. If so, he'd certainly like to go out with a Final Four appearance, something he hasn't done in 10 years. Can a team that has lost five of its last eight regain its form?
Ben Howland (30). The embattled UCLA coach got some of the critics off his back with a Pac-12 regular season title – but not all of them. Can he satisfy Bill Walton and make another Final Four run with a thin roster further weakened by the injury to guard Jordan Adams?
HOLES ON THE RESUME
Six tourney coaches who have accomplished a lot, but never made a Final Four:
Mark Few (31), Gonzaga. He's had 14 straight 20-win seasons, but never won more than two NCAA tourney games in a single season. His NCAA record: 13-12.
John Beilein (32), Michigan. He spent a lot of time at lower levels, but is now in his sixth season at Michigan after five at West Virginia. Beilein has just eight NCAA tourney wins, and three of those came at West Virginia in 2005.
Bo Ryan (33), Wisconsin. Remarkably consistent winner whose teams tend to overachieve during the regular season and then fail to do the same in the Big Dance. Like Beilein, he reached one regional final in 2005.
Jamie Dixon (34), Pittsburgh. He's had a pair of No. 1 seeds, plus several other teams seeded highly in the tourney. But the Panthers have a long, painful history of falling short of the final weekend.
Steve Alford (35), New Mexico. Not only is he lacking a Final Four appearance, Alford hasn't been to the Sweet Sixteen since 1999, when he was at Missouri State (then known as Southwest Missouri State).
Mike Brey (36), Notre Dame. He has the Fighting Irish in the tournament for the sixth time in the last seven years. But he's 2-5 in the previous five appearances.
THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
The past 13 national championships all have been won by coaches who had been to at least one Final Four previously. The list of coaches in the field who have won a national title and have the finger bling to show for it:
Mike Krzyzewski (37), Duke. Titles won: 1991, '92, 2001, 2010. All at Duke. Chances of another one this year: Decent.
Billy Donovan (38), Florida. Titles won: 2006, '07. Both at Florida. Chances of another one this year: Not great, but not astronomical. Gators must figure out how to win a close game.
Roy Williams (39), North Carolina. Titles won: 2005, '09. Both at North Carolina. Chances of another one this year: Not bloody likely.
Rick Pitino (40), Louisville. Title won: 1996. At Kentucky. Chances of another one this year: Good. His Cardinals are the team to beat.
Tom Izzo (41), Michigan State. Title won: 2000. At Michigan State. Chances of another one this year: One of eight teams prominently in The Minutes' mix.
Bill Self (42), Kansas. Title won: 2008. At Kansas. Chances of another one this year: About the same as Krzyzewski's. Getting last year's team to the title game was a bigger upset than doing it with this group would be.
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse. Title won: 2003. At Syracuse. Chances of another one this year: Not good unless the late-season woes get fixed in a hurry coming out of the Big East tournament.
Steve Fisher (43), San Diego State. Title won: 1989. At Michigan. Chances of another one this year: Not happening.
Tubby Smith (44), Minnesota. Title won: 1998. At Kentucky. Chances of another one this year: Definitely not happening. Gophers have won only three of their last 10 games, backing into the tournament based on a strong start to the season.
Five guys you'll want to pay particular attention to, for multiple reasons:
Victor Oladipo (45), Indiana. Maybe the most versatile player in the field (13.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.2 steals, defense for days). Undoubtedly the most athletic player in the field (there will be highlight-making dunks and/or blocked shots).
Ben McLemore (46), Kansas. Always good to check out the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, especially when he's the leading scorer on a title contender.
Russ Smith (47), Louisville. Irrepressible, and at times incorrigible. "Russdiculous" is fearless and relentless and capable of keeping both teams in the game, depending on shot selection and ball-handling decisions.
Marshall Henderson (48), Mississippi. He's Russdiculous on crazy pills, which is saying something. Henderson is a streak shooter who can go off for 30 if he's hot. He might also insult the entire nation with his obnoxious demeanor.
Aaron Craft (49), Ohio State. Some critics say he's the overrated Great White Hope. Some supporters say he's the best defensive guard in America. Wherever you fall within that spectrum, you must respect what Craft has done in March: averages of 14 points, 6.8 assists, 3.3 steals and three rebounds per game heading into Sunday's Big Ten tourney final.
IMPORTS AND EXPORTS
Look at the map, then look at the rosters of the 68 NCAA tourney teams. You'll see some hotbeds that have produced a lot of high-level talent – and a lot of that high-level talent has been willing to leave home to play college ball. Among the hottest locales:
The state of Indiana (50). The All-Indiana Export Tournament Team: Mason Plumlee, Duke; Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State; Gary Harris, Michigan State; Glenn Robinson III, Michigan; Scott Wood, North Carolina State. There have always been more good players in the state than the local schools can take, but the surplus is especially high at the moment – and at least one local school wishes it had some of those guys.
Program hurt by the poaching: That would be Purdue, which missed the Big Dance for the first time in seven years.
Washington/Baltimore (51). The All-BW Export Tournament Team: Victor Oladipo, Indiana; C.J. Fair, Syracuse; Jerian Grant, Notre Dame; Quinn Cook, Duke; Jamal Olasewere, Long Island. There are plenty more where they came from, and have been plenty of others that preceded them (Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley and Thomas Robinson, just to name some the Big 12 poached).
Program hurt by the poaching:
Maryland, which is missing the tournament for the third consecutive year, something that last happened in the early 1990s.
Canada (52). The All-Canadian Export Tournament Team: Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga; Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga; Nik Stauskas, Michigan; Anthony Bennett, UNLV; Melvin Ejim, Iowa State. That leaves off plenty of other major contributors to good teams. (Ironically, the most talked-about Canadian coming into the season didn't make the Dance – that's Texas' Myck Kabongo, who was suspended by the NCAA for the first 23 games of the season for impermissible benefits. By the time he returned, the Longhorns were too far gone.
Program hurt by the poaching:
None. It's a victimless crime, unless you're a fan of Canadian college basketball.
Texas (53). The All-Texas Export Tournament Team: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State; Phil Pressey, Missouri; Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke; Marshall Henderson, Mississippi; Andre Roberson, Colorado. Actually, you could put about half the Oklahoma State roster on that team.
[Related: Kentucky leads list of NCAA tourney snubs]
Program hurt by the poaching: All of them. The Lone Star State has as many teams in the tournament as Alaska (0).
They don't lead their teams in scoring. They weren't named All-Americans. Nobody is frothing about their NBA potential. But every highly successful team has an underrated guy who keeps everyone together and on task. Five to watch in this tourney:
Mike Bruesewitz (54), Wisconsin. Insatiable hustler who does not shoot well (41 percent from the field, 28 percent from 3) but cannot be kept out of the lineup (27.6 minutes per game). Good for a few key rebounds every game. Would rather take a charge than eat. Pounces on loose balls like a cat on a chipmunk.
Will Sheehey (55), Indiana. Primary energy source off the bench for the Hoosiers. The junior forward is a good athlete who carries a chip on his shoulder, never backing away from a challenge.
Tyler Thornton (56), Duke. Another guy who has stubbornly maintained his place in the rotation (22.1 minutes per game) despite bringing little to the table offensively (3.3 points per game). Thornton is a defensive pest who is also ready, willing and able to take a big 3-point shot if the opportunity presents itself.
Julian Gamble (57), Miami. Bullish big man has to share the middle with Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson, but he makes his minutes count. Gamble was vital in the ACC tournament title win over North Carolina (11 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks).
Luke Hancock (58), Louisville. He was named a team captain coming off a redshirt year as a transfer from George Mason, which tells you about his intangible qualities. Now the tangible is coming together as well: Hancock's shooting eye has finally returned, hitting 57 percent of his 3s over the last eight games.
The most notable follicles in the field:
Mike Bruesewitz, Wisconsin (captain and MVP). The flaming red hair, styled somewhat like Kramer's, is fairly epic.
Kelly Olynyk (59), Gonzaga. Long hair, don't care. Olynyk only gets his cut when he goes home to Canada, which isn't often.
Cody Ellis (60), Saint Louis. The 6-foot-8, 245-pound Aussie comes with a blotch of blue hair in the middle of his head.
Will Yeguete (61), Florida. Proudly rocking the Mohawk while guarding the paint for the Gators.
Jordair Jett (62), Saint Louis. Long braids are still popular for defensive backs in football, but not so much in basketball. The Billikens' point guard is one of the last holdouts, keeping his dreads flowing freely on the court and off.
(Minutes moment of silence for the absence of Ed Daniel, whose Ben Wallace afro did not make the Dance this year, and Nerlens Noel, whose hightop fade is also sitting this one out.)
FIRST TIME IN A LONG TIME Welcome back to Bracketville, we're so glad you could return:
LaSalle (63) is in the NCAA field for the first time since 1992. For a program with some actual history (1954 national champions and '55 runner-up), that's a long time to go between appearances.
James Madison (64) is in the field for the first time since 1994. The Dukes haven't won a game in the Dance since '83. They shouldn't anticipate that changing this year.
Mississippi (65) is in the field for the first time since 2002. The Rebels were on the bubble for the longest time, but made it official by winning the SEC tournament.
Florida Gulf Coast (66) is making its first appearance in school history. But then again, school history only dates to 2008 as a Division I member.
When hungry in the festive Final Four city of Atlanta (67), The Minutes recommends a visit to Fat Matt's Rib Shack (68). Heed the name of the place and order a full slab. Or, if you have a more dainty appetite, try the rib sandwich. Thank The Minutes later.
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