Reading into tourney teams' fortunes

At this time of the basketball season, there is only one question: How do I fill out my bracket?

Which teams can you trust and which teams should you punt?

To help, ESPN.com offers up a 66-team cheat sheet (sorry, Iona and Mississippi Valley State), giving you reasons to write each team in your bracket or to write them out.

Sorry, the actual decision is up to you.

As a bonus, we know this is also the time of year we all go a little Cliff Clavin, attempting to impress friends at various watercoolers and watering holes with our insightful knowledge. Included, then, is a newsy nugget to write down.

Now when someone asks you "What in the world is a Billiken, anyway?" you actually will have an answer.

East | Midwest | South | West


Syracuse (1)

Write 'em in: The Orange have talent at every position and enough depth to play both sides of a football game.

Write 'em out: Syracuse will have to make its NCAA run without Fab Melo. Huge loss, especially on defense. This team also doesn't rebound well -- in part a byproduct of its zone and the long rebounds it produces. That could be problematic.

Write it down: Before Otto the Orange rolled the sidelines, Syracuse had a number of failed mascots. The original, the Saltine Warrior, was born out of a hoax but tabled after complaints from the Onondaga Indian Nation. That gave way to a Roman gladiator, Egnaro the Troll, a random dude in an orange tuxedo, the Dome Ranger, Dome Eddie (he wore Elton John glasses) and a green (we don't know why it was green) monster called the Beast from the East. In two years, they will change it to the Beast from the East that plays in the South.

UNC Asheville (16)

Write 'em in: Jeremy Atkinson is the star, but really Eddie Biedenbach has a balanced team, with five guys averaging double figures. Most critical -- they can all shoot free throws. The Bulldogs rank fourth in the nation from the charity stripe, a big help if they can draw some fouls.

Write 'em out: The Bulldogs predicate their game on getting to the hoop and getting to the line. Which would work well if Syracuse didn't play zone. Asheville also doesn't have a single player on its roster over 6-foot-5. Even without Fab Melo, it'll be tough to guard the Orange that way.

Write it down: During the Great Depression, UNC Asheville accepted vegetables, eggs and milk as tuition payments. The NCAA may hit the Bulldogs with a retroactive postseason ban for it.

Kansas State (8)

Write 'em in: Like their coach, the Wildcats are relentless and aggressive. They want to get the ball to Jamar Samuels down low or let Rodney McGruder take it and drive. When that happens, K-State, with its nasty defense, is tough to beat.

Write 'em out: For all that tenacity, the Wildcats have a tendency to fall asleep at the wheel. They've made a habit of blowing leads late, which could be an NCAA tournament fatal flaw.

Write it down: K-State graduate Herbert Dimond invented the snooze alarm. To which a bug-eyed Frank Martin asks, "What is this snooze thing people are talking about?"

Southern Miss (9)

Write 'em in: Larry Eustachy has done a tremendous job breathing life into the Golden Eagles, happily taking transfers who, like him, are anxious for a second chance. Southern Miss is mostly scrappy, a team that will attack the basket and hope for a whistle. Point guard Neil Watson is the Golden Eagles' most important player.

Write 'em out: This team has not looked much like an NCAA tournament team of late, nosediving with three losses in its final five regular-season games. You have to wonder whether an average shooting team has hit its wall.

Write it down: Southern Miss gives its students off for Mardi Gras, with no classes scheduled for Monday or Fat Tuesday. Perhaps the Golden Eagles were miffed. Stuck in Houston, Southern Miss lost two right around the bacchanalian holiday.

Vanderbilt (5)

Write 'em in: If the Vanderbilt team that showed up in the SEC tournament is the same one in the NCAA tournament, watch out. The Commodores finally looked like the team everyone thought they could be -- talented on the perimeter and strong on the inside with Festus Ezeli. Most impressive against Kentucky was how well Vandy defended.

Write 'em out: All that said, there is this minor problem: Vanderbilt has lost its past three first-round games. Until the Commodores officially beat Harvard, all bets are off.

Write it down: Led by a bagpiper, new students are officially welcomed to campus during the Founder's Walk, passing through the university's front gates. If the Commodores don't go home from Albuquerque with a win against Harvard, the gates will be locked.

Harvard (12)

Write 'em in: The Crimson aren't flashy. Far from it. Harvard likes to pound the ball inside to Kyle Casey and Keith Wright and play good defense. It may not be aesthetically pleasing, but it works well.

Write 'em out: Unlike most upset-minded teams, Harvard does not shoot a lot of 3s, a usual equalizer in the NCAA tournament. If the Crimson can't generate offense inside, they can't generate offense.

Write it down: Technically, Harvard's nickname is John Harvard but since that sounded rather silly when yelled out at sporting events, students went with Crimson. The board is considering a change to the Jeremy Lins.

Wisconsin (4)

Write 'em in: Bo Ryan's style is tough for Big Ten opponents -- who are accustomed to it -- to prepare for. Imagine how teams in the quick-turnaround NCAA tournament feel. The Badgers are deliberate to the point of monotony on offense, which just wears opponents out. Coupled with very good defense, especially on the perimeter, they are a tough out.

Write 'em out: Slowing it down is fine, but eventually you do have to score and Wisconsin too often does not. The Badgers rank at No. 258 in the nation in scoring with just 63.9 points per game. Those numbers put Wisconsin at a severe disadvantage if it is pressed into a faster-paced game.

Write it down: Soon-to-be-graduated law students toss white canes over the goalpost at homecoming. Lore holds that if they catch a cane, they win their first case. Each caught cane equates to one point scored in the basketball team's season. Therefore the Badgers' lack of offense could be repaired if the law school would merely lower admission standards and graduate more than 275 students per year.

Montana (13)

Write 'em in: If the Badgers don't want to score, the Grizzlies will be more than happy to accommodate. While Montana doesn't mind running, it stops opponents on a dime, holding teams to just 62 points per game. Jordan Taylor will have his hands full with the Grizzlies' solid backcourt of Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar.

Write 'em out: Wisconsin will try to do to Montana what the Grizzlies do to everyone else. If the Badgers succeed in slowing down Montana, Wisconsin wins.

Write it down: The university library houses the oldest authorized editions of the Lewis and Clark journals. The way these two defenses play, the explorers might be the only ones able to find a basket.

Cincinnati (6)

Write 'em in: Cincinnati made more 3-pointers than any team in the Big East, and when the Bearcats are on -- as they were in their upset of Syracuse -- there is very little anyone can do to stop them. Sean Kilpatrick is especially streaky. Mix in Yancy Gates in the blocks, and Cincinnati can put together a tough inside-outside combo.

Write 'em out: If the Bearcats need to win it at the line, it's curtains. At 300th nationally (64.1 percent), Cincinnati is the worst free throw-shooting team in the NCAA field.

Write it down: Smallish copies of the famous lion statues found in Florence, Italy -- Mick and Mack -- guard McMicken Hall. Smallish coach Mick Cronin guards the sidelines.

Texas (11)

Write 'em in: This team goes as J'Covan Brown goes. The best returning player for coach Rick Barnes, Brown has basically carried a young Longhorns team to an unexpected berth, averaging 20 points per game. Point guard Myck Kabongo has been good, if at times erratic, like most young players are. Brown needs to be sensational, and Kabongo controlled for Texas to win.

Write 'em out: This team isn't terribly complicated -- take Brown out of the offense and you've essentially taken the offense out of Texas. Other guys can score, but the Longhorns absolutely need Brown to be in double digits to win.

Write it down: Since 1956, Tom Anderson, the university's carillonneur, plays songs at 12:50 p.m., using the 56-bell chimes in the Tower. Since he takes requests, may we suggest "It's a Miracle" to emphasize the Longhorns' unexpected run to the tourney?

Florida State (3)

Write 'em in: If the team that beat Duke and North Carolina shows up, the Seminoles will be a tough out. Their defense is lights-out, ranking fifth in the nation in field goal percent defense (38.1), and the emergence of Bernard James as a scorer has given Florida State three legit scorers (with Michael Snaer and Ian Miller), plus Deividas Dulkys, who scored 16 in the ACC title game versus North Carolina.

Write 'em out: If the team that lost to Princeton and Harvard shows up, see you later, Seminoles. Florida State has a tendency to turn the ball over too much -- it averages 16.3 per game, which is 325th (out of 338) in the country.

Write it down: The Unconquered Statue on campus stands 31 feet and depicts a Seminole warrior on a horse. Unconquered? Florida State? The Ivy League would beg to differ.

St. Bonaventure (14)

Write 'em in: Andrew Nicholson is good enough to become a breakout NCAA tournament player if the Bonnies can pull off some upsets. If teams pay too much attention to Nicholson, guys like Demitrius Conger and Matthew Wright can make them pay.

Write 'em out: Nicholson is going to draw an awful lot of attention, so the onus is on everyone else to score enough. That's not been an oft-followed recipe for the Bonnies this year. There's a reason Nicholson averages 18 points per game.

Write it down: Translated from the Italian "buona ventura," St. Bonaventure means "good fortune." Getting a potential first-round draft pick to come to Olean, N.Y., in the middle of an epic rebuilding job? Yep, that's good fortune. Or a miracle.

Gonzaga (7)

Write 'em in: If Robert Sacre and Elias Harris can establish some dominance inside, the Zags will be tough to beat, because that means the guys trolling on the perimeter will have some space.

Write 'em out: This is a tough draw for the Zags, who have to travel across the country to Pittsburgh, while West Virginia drives an hour for a home game. The road has not been kind to Gonzaga, which is just 6-4 away this year. Equally critical is how a young Gonzaga backcourt plays. Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos will be great, but the young players play a big part in why Gonzaga has been so inconsistent this year.

Write it down: Gonzaga will send two teams to the National Debate Tournament, held the same weekend as the Final Four, in Atlanta. One subject they've got down: Zags not a mid-major.

West Virginia (10)

Write 'em in: With a short ride to Pittsburgh, the Mountaineers will have a decided home-court advantage. Another edge: Kevin Jones. The senior has been terrific all season and is especially good on the offensive glass. To beat the Mountaineers, you have to beat Jones.

Write 'em out: After Jones and his backcourt mate, Truck Bryant, there's not a lot of reliable scoring on this Mountaineer team. The young roster has been guilty of waiting for Jones and Bryan to handle things. If they don't, the Mountaineers won't be around long.

Write it down: In 1949, WVU sponsored its first beard-growing contest as part of the school's spirit week. The contest was suspended this year because no one could beat Deniz Kilicli.

Ohio State (2)

Write 'em in: The Buckeyes appear to have rediscovered their snarl, lost during a midseason semi-swoon. Once a bit disjointed, they have figured out how to play off one another -- when Jared Sullinger is doubled, William Buford and Deshaun Thomas are making teams pay. The defensive play of pit bull point guard Aaron Craft is undervalued.

Write 'em out: As usual, Thad Matta does not have a very deep bench, which means there is little room for error. Forget Sullinger; the real key is Craft. If he hits the bench, the Buckeyes could hit the skids. If Thomas and Buford are both off, that spells disaster, too.

Write it down: During a speech in 1833, Daniel Drake said of the buckeye, "In all our forests, there is not a tree as hard to kill as the buckeye." Despite various attempts to beat and bludgeon, Big Ten officials have said the same about felling the tree that is Jared Sullinger.

Loyola (Md.) (15)

Write 'em in: Unlike their first-round opponent, the Greyhounds actually have a bench, and a productive one at that. Jimmy Patsos will have to go to it and go to it frequently to try to at least wear out the Buckeyes.

Write 'em out: The affable Patsos will win the news conferences. The game may be a tougher matchup, especially for Erik Etherly. The junior earned MAAC tournament MVP honors by powering to the basket, but he wasn't trying to blow by Sullinger. Another issue: Loyola doesn't make a lot of 3s, usually an NCAA tournament recipe for disaster.

Write it down: Each spring the university hosts the Bull and Oyster Roast, an alumni reunion event. They'd love to sprinkle roasted buckeyes on top of the oysters this year.


North Carolina (1)

Write 'em in: There is only one team with this much talent, and that is Kentucky. Kendall Marshall is an adept point guard, but then again, he has tons of options to run this offensive machine. While not as great defensively, the Tar Heels do have size and length inside and can dominate on the boards. And if Harrison Barnes chooses to play like Harrison Barnes now, beware.

Write 'em out: John Henson's return is critical because of what he adds to the defensive end with his length. Equally critical is keeping Marshall out of foul trouble. Without Dexter Strickland, Roy Williams doesn't have a lot of point guard backup options.

Write it down: After World War I, the Tar Heels couldn't find an available head coach, so they went without. And finished 30-7. The Tar Heels considered doing the same during the Bill Guthridge era.

Lamar (16)

Write 'em in: The Cardinals rode their ranting coach to an unexpected Southland title and perhaps could still be fueled by his words. Seniors Mike James and Anthony Miles played particularly well late, and need to -- they represent the bulk of Lamar's offense.

Write 'em out: The Cardinals don't shoot from the perimeter terribly well, which tends to make upsets difficult. James is particularly weak from the arc, hitting only 32 percent.

Write it down: Mirabeau B. Lamar is the namesake and second president of the university, and was known as the "Father of Education." Pat Knight is now known as the Father of the Postgame.

Vermont (16)

Write 'em in: If Patrick McGlynn IV -- known as "Four" -- goes off, watch out. This isn't a great offensive team but McGlynn, the America East Rookie of the Year, has long-distance range that can change the dynamic for Vermont.

Write 'em out: The cold, hard truth: The Catamounts don't score very well. They average 62 points per game, and while some of that can be attributed to a healthy preoccupation with defense, if forced to score a lot Vermont won't be around for long.

Write it down: The school nickname was chosen by a vote of the men enrolled in campus. Other choices included cow and camel. The actual catamount, a mountain lion from Vermont's Green Mountains, is thought to have been extinct since the mid-1800s. Syracuse, upset by the Catamounts in 2005, would beg to differ.

Creighton (8)

Write 'em in: No mystery here. Doug McDermott is the key to the Bluejays' puzzle because he represents offense, and Creighton likes nothing better than to score. The Bluejays average 80 points per game and shoot an incredible 51 percent from the floor. If they're scoring, they're winning, especially against a less-than-offensive-minded team like Alabama.

Write 'em out: The Bluejays aren't necessarily fans of defense, so if a team can match its scoring pace (hello, North Carolina), it can beat Creighton.

Write it down: University founder John Creighton and his brother, Edward, were responsible in helping install 700 miles of the Pacific telegraph, the first transcontinental telegraph in the United States. Hence, Doug McDermott can dial long-distance.

Alabama (9)

Write 'em in: Through in-season suspensions and a four-game losing streak, Anthony Grant never lost his team's focus -- which is to play smothering defense. The Tide held opponents to a staggering 58 points per game, which is, needless to say, anathema to Creighton's game plan. Alabama isn't afraid to use full-court pressure if need be, and it could be a difference-maker.

Write 'em out: If forced to keep up in the scoring column -- especially against the likes of either Creighton or North Carolina -- it won't be pretty for Alabama. The Tide are among the nation's worst 3-point shooting teams, connecting on only 29 percent from the arc.

Write it down: Harper Lee, author of "To Kill a Mockingbird," is a graduate. That should not make Creighton Bluejays fans feel good.

Temple (5)

Write 'em in: The Owls' trio of guards -- Juan Fernandez, Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt have turned John Chaney's former stomping grounds on its ear. This Temple team can score, averaging the most points in 23 years. Having Micheal Eric back from injury helps solidify the Owls' inside.

Write 'em out: It's not easy, but a few teams in the Atlantic 10 have been able to contain that guard trio, and when that happens, Temple doesn't win. Typically, Fran Dunphy teams are great on the defensive end, but these Owls lost a little of that because of an injury to Scootie Randall, their best on-ball defender.

Write it down: The university earned its name because classes initially met in the basement of founder Dr. Russell Conwell's Baptist Temple. The Grace Baptist Church still remains and is a convenient place to pray for Fran Dunphy's first appearance in the Sweet 16.

California (12)

Write 'em in: No surprise here: Mike Montgomery has a team that takes smart shots and plays good defense. The Bears aren't going to beat anyone with their athleticism, but if Allen Crabbe can get good luck and Jorge Gutierrez pressures the ball, the Pac-12 might silence its critics with a winner.

Write 'em out: The Bears were arguably the class of their conference, but what exactly does that add up to in a lousy Pac-12? This team, solid but not flashy, could very easily be smoke and mirrors and headed home quickly.

Write it down: The Valley Life Sciences building includes skeletons of a Tyrannosaurus rex and a pteranodon. It also houses the remnants of the Pac-12's successful history.

South Florida (12)

Write 'em in: The Bulls are absolutely a nuisance defensively. They don't allow shooters any space, guard the ball like it's covered in gold and somehow do all of that without getting in terrible foul trouble.

Write 'em out: As good as that defense is, the offense is just as awful. It's inactive to the point of immobility, and the Bulls cough up it up carelessly and endlessly.

Write it down: Among the traditions listed on the young university's webpage is The Celebration of Scoring! Yes, it's referring to football, since there is no offensive joy in hoopville.

Michigan (4)

Write 'em in: Vintage John Beilein: a team that can shoot 3s, plays small and plays smart, and in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., Beilein has the sort of guards March runs are made of. The Wolverines' style will create frustrating mismatches, and those who aren't patient won't win.

Write 'em out: Simple math -- Michigan took more than 700 3-pointers in the season and made plenty of them, ranking 27th with 8.2 per game. If they don't go in, the Wolverines cannot win.

Write it down: Freshmen vie for coveted spots in the popular First Year Seminars, which in the past have included topics like "The Psychology of the Zoot Suit" and "All About Mantle" (not sure if that was Mickey). Next year: Three is Greater than Two, by John Beilein.

Ohio (13)

Write 'em in: D.J. Cooper is the do-it-all man for the Bobcats, leading the team in scoring, steals and assists. If he's on, Ohio will have another chance at an upset.

Write 'em out: This isn't a veteran team, with just one senior on the roster, and typically upset specials are written by upperclassmen. Staying focused for a young group may be especially maddening against Michigan.

Write it down: Ohio University is rated as one of the most haunted universities in the country. Georgetown can attest.

San Diego State (6)

Write 'em in: Jamaal Franklin is the secret to the Aztecs' unexpected success. His overall improvement in both scoring and rebounding -- he averages 17 and 8 -- has led San Diego State all season and will be key if the Aztecs want to continue to surprise people through March.

Write 'em out: This is not an especially gifted shooting team, so if the Aztecs can't get easy buckets in transition or from offensive rebounding, it won't go well.

Write it down: The irreverent and highly entertaining student section, known as "The Show," has been around since 2001. Steve Fisher has been around slightly longer.

North Carolina State (11)

Write 'em in: Mark Gottfried has fast-tracked the Wolfpack's turnaround thanks largely to C.J. Leslie. The matchup nightmare has been terrific and has to continue that way for surprise NC State to continue a special season.

Write 'em out: The Wolfpack isn't likely to beat itself, but if there is a fatal flaw it's at the arc where, outside of Scott Wood, there aren't a lot of threats. The other problem? Leslie gets in foul trouble.

Write it down: As part of the Krispy Kreme Challenge, students run from the university bell tower to the donut shop, down a dozen donuts and then run back. If they don't finish in under an hour, Karl Hess throws them out.

Georgetown (3)

Write 'em in: The Hoyas' defense has been outstanding all season, giving Georgetown the unique ability to frustrate teams on both ends of the floor. Henry Sims has come out of nowhere as a senior to become the perfect point-center in John Thompson III's version of the Princeton offense, and Otto Porter has been otherworldly.

Write 'em out: Georgetown can get sloppy, coughing up nearly 13 turnovers per game, which is not ideal for a team that isn't perfectly built to come back.

Write it down: The famous stairs from the movie "The Exorcist" are a part of the Georgetown campus, connecting Prospect Street to M Street below. After two consecutive first-round upsets, the Hoyas might need a March exorcism.

Belmont (14)

Write 'em in: A veteran team, the Bruins have the ideal makeup for a Cinderella. These guys are older, wiser and not at all afraid of the big stage. Plus they're ridiculously deep -- the bench gives them 40 points per game -- and they can score in bunches.

Write 'em out: The Bruins don't have much of an inside game, relying heavily on their ability to knock down shots from long distance. That's always an either/or proposition when shots don't fall.

Write it down: Belmont counts Minnie Pearl, Brad Paisley and Trisha Yearwood among its alumni. After a heartbreaking loss to Duke in the first game of the season, those country crooners might be penning an alma mater love story.

Saint Mary's (7)

Write 'em in: Matthew Dellavedova will be key if the Gaels advance. He's a savvy scorer and an equally gifted passer. If Stephen Holt, out since February with a knee injury, can return, that's a huge offensive boost for Saint Mary's.

Write 'em out: Putting the brakes on Dellavedova is the easiest way to put the brakes on the Gaels. Especially athletic teams will give Saint Mary's trouble.

Write it down: For a short time, the university resided at a corner in Oakland known as the Brickpile. That's not where the Gaels want to be living in the NCAA tournament.

Purdue (10)

Write 'em in: Robbie Hummel has been on an absolute tear late in the season, clearly trying to make the most of the last few weeks in his collegiate career. If the senior can continue to score and rebound as he has been, the Boilermakers will be a tough out.

Write 'em out: This team lacks the inside presence to make it terribly effective on the boards -- just plus-1.1 in rebounding margin -- and it can get eaten up and booted out by more physical teams.

Write it down: Each season Purdue hosts the Grand Prix, a 50-mile, 160-lap go-kart race. Participating cars are made from scratch. Then again, so has Robbie Hummel's knee, and that's working just fine.

Kansas (2)

Write 'em in: Thomas Robinson gets the pub (deservedly), but Tyshawn Taylor is the answer. When he is playing well, pushing tempo, making shots and not making mistakes, the Jayhawks are tough to beat. Robinson, of course, helps a little bit, too.

Write 'em out: If Taylor is out of control and Robinson is out of the game, Kansas is in trouble. Jeff Withey has come on as a serviceable addition, but no one at KU wants to see a lot of Withey and a little of Robinson.

Write it down: The Jayhawk is actually a mythical combination of two birds -- the blue jay and the sparrow hawk. The message behind the combination, according to KU: Don't turn your back on this bird. Got that, Mizzou?

Detroit (15)

Write 'em in: Thanks to Ray McCallum, the Titans will be a hot upset pick, and it is certainly not a crazy choice. The sophomore leads his team in points per game, assists and steals and could have gone to a lot of bigger-name schools. He opted for Detroit so he could play for his dad.

Write 'em out: This is not a rock-solid defensive team, and you have to wonder whether Detroit has the horses to get in a scoring contest with some of the major programs. If they can't turn teams over, they might not be able to win.

Write it down: The university named its court after former coach, Dick Vitale. With apologies to our dear colleague, if McCallum & Son beat Kansas, they may have to change that.


Kentucky (1)

Write 'em in: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague, Darius Miller. Really? Need we say more? OK, well, if we must … What separates this team from a collection of individual talent is the unselfishness. The top six guys average between 9.4 and 14.3 points per game.

Write 'em out: The Wildcats have gone with basically six guys, pulling Kyle Wiltjer and Eloy Vargas off the bench sparingly. If anyone gets in foul trouble -- especially Davis -- it could be trouble. Another Achilles' heel: If the Cats don't hit their 3s, they could struggle. Kentucky was 6-of-28 in its SEC tournament final loss to Vanderbilt.

Write it down: As part of the annual Little Kentucky Derby, students drop thousands of ping-pong balls from Patterson Office Tower. Anthony Davis blocks them all.

Western Kentucky (16)

Write 'em in: WKU is sprinkled with pixie dust. The Hilltoppers' coach was fired in January and they were 7-16 at one point. But they stunned the Sun Belt by winning the conference tourney and then stunned Mississippi Valley State by overcoming a 16-point deficit in the final five minutes. That's Cinderella stuff. Western Kentucky prefers to run, and point guard Jamal Crook is terrific on the break.

Write 'em out: The Hilltoppers' lackluster offense is 321st in field goal percentage and 238rd in points per game. Hard to win if you can't score. More important, Ray Harper's team relies heavily on five freshmen, which could make for tough sledding.

Write it down: An international trademark company sued Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2007 on behalf of WKU, claiming his media company's mascot, Gabibbo, was an unauthorized lookalike of Big Red. The Italian lawyer argued, in part, that Big Red wears shoes and Gabibbo does not.

Iowa State (8)

Write 'em in: Fred Hoiberg has modeled his team of amalgamated transfers after his own style of play -- no one shoots more 3s than the Cyclones. Iowa State averages 8.9 makes from beyond the arc per game.

Write 'em out: The obvious, of course, is when the Clones can't hit from outside, they struggle. Another soft spot is the ISU defense. They play hard but aren't quick enough to contain fast-twitch guards.

Write it down: In 1953, students went on a three-day riot that required police from four neighboring towns to help quell it. Why? The undergrads were angry that the university wouldn't give them the day off after beating Missouri in a homecoming game. To prevent further problems, Missouri kindly decided to join the SEC.

Connecticut (9)

Write 'em in: Armed with as much talent as anyone, the Huskies are finally starting to play as a team. In the last two weeks, UConn has looked more connected than it has all season, nearly topping Syracuse in the Big East tournament.

Write 'em out: Jeremy Lamb can be too passive and Shabazz Napier too aggressive. The Huskies need Lamb, a bona fide first-round draft pick, to demand the ball and Napier to make smart shots.

Write it down: During Winter Weekend, the student government hosts One-Ton Sundae, which is exactly as it sounds: 2,000 pounds of ice cream, toppings, scoops and a bucket for all you can eat. Jim Calhoun overdid it this year, causing the stenosis in his back.

Wichita State (5)

Write 'em in: Sure to be a mid-major sleeper pick, the Shockers have experience, loaded with juniors and seniors who won the NIT a year ago, size thanks to 7-foot Garrett Stutz and tenacity. Wichita State is also among the nation's best rebounding teams.

Write 'em out: If Stutz gets in foul trouble, the Shockers get real small, real fast. In three of Wichita's five losses this season, Stutz was saddled with fouls.

Write it down: The Shocker nickname is shortened from the original Wheatshocker, bestowed on athletes in the early 1900s, when many earned extra cash for stacking (or shocking) wheat during the harvest. Nowadays that would be an NCAA violation.

VCU (12)

Write 'em in: Just like last year, what separates the Rams is how they play. They will flat-out wear down their opponents with their frenetic, full-court defense. VCU leads the nation in steals, averaging 10.7 per game.

Write 'em out: If an opponent can force the Rams into a half-court game, that will put VCU at a decided disadvantage. This is also a young team -- almost completely turned over from last year's Final Four group -- and it's a young team that will face a lot of non-basketball questions. Namely to reflect on the Final Four of a year ago and Shaka Smart's level of interest in Illinois. The Rams have to stay focused.

Write it down: With 143 consecutive starts, Bradford Burgess now owns the NCAA record, topping Patrick Ewing. Considering how VCU plays, Burgess ought to rank as the nation's most fit player, too.

Indiana (4)

Write 'em in: The Hoosiers have sharpshooters at virtually every position, a multitude of players who can knock down 3-pointers and spread the floor. What they can't connect on, Cody Zeller can. Jordan Hulls is the point guard, Victor Oladipo the engine.

Write 'em out: If said sharpshooters have an off night, the Hoosiers could be in trouble, and without Verdell Jones, some other role players will have to fill the stat sheet. Most critically, this is Indiana's first run to the NCAA tournament since the Kelvin Sampson implosion. How the players handle the atmosphere will be most telling.

Write it down: Rumor has it that the Herman Wells Library sinks over an inch annually because the architect didn't take into account the weight of the books during construction. Fortunately Kelvin Sampson's phone records are housed elsewhere.

New Mexico State (13)

Write 'em in: The Aggies are all brawn, no finesse. They crash the boards and crash them hard, ranking fourth in the nation in rebounding margin (plus-8.2). New Mexico State players have posted 24 double-doubles this season. Those who don't like to play down and dirty will not like playing with the Aggies.

Write 'em out: NMSU is not terribly fond of the 3-pointer, and history tells us that most NCAA tournament-winning teams at least don't despise it. New Mexico State does. The Aggies made just 4.6 per game, easily last in the WAC.

Write it down: The University's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences has an onion-breeding program. Bill Raftery is a fan.

UNLV (6)

Write 'em in: The runnin' is back in the Rebels thanks to Dave Rice's up-tempo brand of basketball. UNLV led the Mountain West in scoring and is terrific in the transition game. UCLA transfer Mike Moser has been sensational all season.

Write 'em out: UNLV limps into the NCAA tournament, having gone just 5-4 over its final nine games after a 21-3 start. The Rebels need to get back the swagger that pushed them as high as 12 in the national rankings.

Write it down: The basketball team is the only Runnin' Rebels at UNLV. Everyone else is just a plain old rebel, named because the university pulled away from the University of Nevada, Reno to carve out its own identity. It has nothing, believe it or not, to do with Jerry Tarkanian.

Colorado (11)

Write 'em in: Second-year coach Tad Boyle built a surprise Pac-12 winner late with stingy defense. Colorado, solid if not showy on the defensive end, holds opponents to just 62 points per game.

Write 'em out: Because the Buffaloes tend to be a little less than dynamic on the offensive end, they need to defend well to win. Biggest key? Rebounding. Colorado is just 8-9 when it doesn't outboard its opponents.

Write it down: The University hosts the annual Conference on World Affairs. In the past, experts have discussed everything from cancer to alien invasions. This year's topic: how Colorado fits in a conference named for the Pacific Ocean.

Baylor (3)

Write 'em in: The Bears are absolutely loaded with talent and athleticism, a team that looks like an NBA squad when it takes the court. If they play up to that talent, watch out. The play of Pierre Jackson has been especially critical, with the guard able to feed guys like Quincy Acy, Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller.

Write 'em out: If the Bears are so talented, why have they been so unpredictable? That's the million-dollar question. Their defense has been soft and ineffective at times and their focus less than keen way too often. If Jones disappears, as he's been wont to do, so will the Bears.

Write it down: The university, in conjunction with the city of Waco, tends to the Waco Mammoth Site, the nation's only "recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Pleistocene mammoths." During the Big 12 tournament, it unearthed Perry Jones III.

South Dakota State (14)

Write 'em in: If Nate Wolters is on, the Jackrabbits can pull off an upset. The junior is an adept scorer, averaging 21.3 points per game and, like the rest of his teammates, able to drain it from long range. These guys aren't terribly athletic, but everyone can shoot. South Dakota State hits 39 percent from beyond the arc.

Write 'em out: Simple math. No 3s, no wins for the Jackrabbits. If Wolters is off, South Dakota State will struggle.

Write it down: The Bummobile, a 1912 Model-T Ford has been a part of the Hobo Day Parade (held at the end of homecoming) since 1939. If the Jackrabbits beat Baylor, they will upgrade to a Ferrari.

Notre Dame (7)

Write 'em in: The overachieving Irish like to control tempo, which can be maddening to teams that want to go. Though they are known for their strong perimeter game, Jack Cooley has given Notre Dame a dependable presence inside.

Write 'em out: The Irish aren't very athletic -- the guards are smart but not the sort you worry about breaking you down. If Notre Dame can't hit 3s, it will have a hard time winning.

Write it down: Among the artifacts in the on-campus Basilica are relics of each of the 12 apostles and a piece of the manger at Bethlehem. If the Irish can finally get past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament -- which has happened only once in the last 25 tournaments (2003) -- they will add Mike Brey's mock turtleneck.

Xavier (10)

Write 'em in: If the Musketeers have recovered from their brawl-induced malaise, this is a very dangerous team. Chris Mack has a squad loaded with talent, tough in the backcourt with Mark Lyons and Dez Wells and tough in the frontcourt with Kenny Frease. And in Tu Holloway, Xavier has a player who can take over a game, regardless of the competition.

Write 'em out: Xavier needs its backcourt to be good in order to win, which means not just scoring but Lyons needs to keep his head in the game. Otherwise a disappointing season will end quickly.

Write it down: Xavier's Blue Blob mascot was tackled after a student won $1 million by sinking a half-court shot during the Crosstown Shootout. Because Skyline Chili sponsored the event, the company pitched in for a new Blob costume. The Blob did not start the brawl this year.

Duke (2)

Write 'em in: The Blue Devils have a healthy combination of inside-outside, thanks to Austin Rivers, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins on the wing and the Plumlee brothers and Ryan Kelly inside. Their defense is vastly underrated as those post men are solid filling up space inside.

Write 'em out: If the Blue Devils are without Ryan Kelly, this could be a short visit. The big man stretches the floor with his 3-point shooting ability (40 percent). Kelly or no Kelly, Duke can't win if it can't shoot. This team, as so often is the case in Durham, relies heavily on the 3-ball.

Write it down: The Blue Devils are named after the Chasseurs Alpins (les Diables Bleus), a group of well-known French soldiers. No one likes the French and therefore no one likes Duke.

Lehigh (15)

Write 'em in: C.J. McCollum is a stat-stuffer who can score on anyone, which is exactly how the Mountain Hawks want to win -- by outscoring you. They average 73 points per game. Even better, they are one of the best from the charity stripe, knocking down 77 percent of their free throws, a huge bonus if a game is close.

Write 'em out: On the flip side, Lehigh gives up 72 points per game, so that does not exactly give the Mountain Hawks a lot of wiggle room, especially against top-tier opposition. If Lehigh isn't shooting well, Lehigh isn't winning.

Write it down: Jesse Reno, credited with inventing the elevator, graduated from Lehigh. If the Mountain Hawks upset Duke, of course, they will be riding to the penthouse.


Michigan State (1)

Write 'em in: If the Spartans can get good guard play, especially from Keith Appling, they are incredibly difficult to beat. Michigan State is solid defensively, rebounds ferociously and in Draymond Green has a player that absolutely will not let Michigan State lose.

Write 'em out: The loss of Branden Dawson, who tore his ACL against Ohio State, is a big blow for the Spartans. The athletic freshman was equally productive on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Adreian Payne, phenomenal in the Big Ten tournament final, is key.

Write it down: Sparty, State's mascot, is a three-time mascot national champion. No truth to the rumor that he will retire this year and that Michigan State will make Draymond Green its rep.

LIU Brooklyn (16)

Write 'em in: If the Blackbirds can force their tempo. LIU ranks third in the nation in scoring, averaging 81.9 points per game. Julian Boyd is the go-to guy, equally capable of scoring in the post and facing the basket. Jamal Olasewere is his Robin as well as LIU's best defensive force.

Write 'em out: If they find someone who can match their tempo, this won't go well. The Blackbirds are 330th in scoring defense, giving up 77.3 points per game. A half-court game would be equally problematic.

Write it down: The university sits on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, which is not actually a part of Long Island, making the university something of a misnamed mismatch. If the Blackbirds beat Michigan State, they can play Broadway.

Memphis (8)

Write 'em in: A ridiculously talented team that is coming into its own, the Tigers are an extremely dangerous No. 8 seed. Speedy quick, Memphis loves to get up and down and is an effective scoring machine, averaging 75 points and connecting on nearly 50 percent of its shots from the floor. Adonis Thomas has been cleared to play, giving Josh Pastner yet another weapon to choose from.

Write 'em out: The Tigers' margin for error is incredibly thin. They're scrappy enough to create turnovers but frenetic enough to make them, forcing 453 and coughing up 411 this season. Memphis also will struggle if someone really dominates the boards.

Write it down: TOM III, the Tigers' live mascot, eats specially prepared beef to help him grow. Unlike Josh Pastner, TOM does not mind an occasional sip of caffeine.

Saint Louis (9)

Write 'em in: A typical Rick Majerus team, the Billikens are frustratingly well-coached with a diligent approach to offense that borders on obsession. Their defense allows only 62 points per game but that is as much a byproduct of that deliberate offense as anything. Equally frustrating, Saint Louis has a number of guys who can shoot from outside, including big man Rob Loe.

Write 'em out: Because the Billikens wear out the shot clock, they have to be productive on virtually every possession. They can score quickly if needed but this is not a team built for the comeback. If forced out of their tempo, especially by a team like Memphis, this could get ugly fast.

Write it down: The Billiken originally was a fad toy and doll created in the early 1900s. Made to look like an elf, it was said to bring good luck to those who bought it. Kinda like Majerus.

New Mexico (5)

Write 'em in: Not surprisingly, a coach tutored by Bob Knight likes to run good half-court offense. That's when the Lobos are at their best. There is no superstar here -- no one even averages 13 points per game -- but there is a solid team mentality. New Mexico is especially good on the glass, with Drew Gordon leading the charge.

Write 'em out: If the Lobos are forced out of their comfort zone -- which could happen against a team like Long Beach State -- things can unravel. A transition game won't serve New Mexico well.

Write it down: Not even a $60 million facelift could change what makes The Pit so special -- it sits 37 feet below ground. Of course, if the Lobos win big in the tourney, New Mexico may have to raise the roof.

Long Beach State (12)

Write 'em in: The Lobos love full-court pressure and love to get out in the open floor. This is a team that thrives on forcing turnovers. Casper Ware is the star, but all five starters are more than capable of big scoring nights. Thanks to a tough nonconference slate, Long Beach State won't be wide-eyed in the tournament.

Write 'em out: The 49ers are better when Ware, who averages 17.4 ppg, is on. If he struggles, his team might, as well. Long Beach State has to be careful, too, defensively. Getting out to run on offense is good, so long as you get back on defense.

Write it down: Long Beach State is the only school with the word "beach" in its name. Hence the 49ers are sometimes referred to as "the Beach." They may be known as Cinderella before tourney's end.

Louisville (4)

Write 'em in: The Cardinals are starting to rediscover their fast-paced tempo, lost temporarily through a season of difficult injuries. Louisville still isn't a great shooting team, but when it can play frenetic defense, it can mask that problem. Peyton Siva was terrific in the Big East tournament. If the point guard continues that, the Cards become tough to beat.

Write 'em out: The Cards can't shoot, especially if Kyle Kuric is having a rough night, so if that and the defense go south, it could be another early exit for Louisville. Siva and Russ Smith both need to play smart or this won't end well for the Cards.

Write it down: Bill Samuels Sr. concocted the recipe for Maker's Mark, one of Kentucky's best-known bourbons. And his son, now the company president, was responsible for producing the commemorative bottle featuring John Calipari a year ago. Who said Cards and Cats can't all get along?

Davidson (13)

Write 'em in: A balanced team with five scorers in double figures, the Wildcats are a high-scoring group that takes a lot of shots and makes plenty of them. Davidson shoots 45 percent from the floor, 34 from the arc.

Write 'em out: There is no Steph Curry here. There are good players and a good team, but no single player who will make Davidson stand out. That can be tricky, especially for this team, which does not play very good defense.

Write it down: The Cake Race -- a 2-mile race for freshmen in which the winners do indeed get cake -- began in the 1930s when the track team coach figured if he dangled a carrot (or carrot cake, as it were), he might be able to unearth some talent for his team. Ever since 2008, when his team went to the Elite Eight, Bob McKillop hasn't paid for dinner, a drink or dessert in Davidson.

Murray State (6)

Write 'em in: Isaiah Canaan is All-American good, the sort of player who can elevate a mid-major to March glory. If he's on, Murray can live up to both its record and presumed mid-major darling status for a long time in this tournament.

Write 'em out: The Racers' strength can also be their undoing. Murray State loves to push the tempo, averaging 74 points per game, but sometimes its feet get ahead of it. Murray State averages 14 turnovers per game, and against the wrong team that can lead to a ticket home.

Write it down: The late Jim Varney, better known as "Ernest" in the popular Vern commercials, attended Murray State, enrolling when he was just 15. Steve Prohm, the Racers' head coach, is slightly older now.

Colorado State (11)

Write 'em in: The Rams are patient, which can be fatal to opponents. If defenses fall asleep on Colorado State, they will pay and pay dearly. The Rams rank fifth in the nation in 3-point shooting, hitting 41 percent from the floor. Leaving Wes Eikmeier alone is especially not suggested.

Write 'em out: Two problems loom for Colorado State -- those outside shots clang off the rim. The Rams aren't very good rebounding the ball, so missing means losing.

Write it down: The movie "One on One," starring Robby Benson, was filmed in Moby Arena. It was about a talented basketball player who had to survive the underworld of corruption and cheating. Today that's called summer league ball.

Marquette (3)

Write 'em in: Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom are as formidable an inside-outside duo as you'll find in the country. Johnson-Odom makes the Golden Eagles tough in transition; Crowder is the go-to guy in the half court.

Write 'em out: The Golden Eagle have had a bad tendency to fall behind -- six times they've trailed by double digits heading into the second half. It caught up with them against Louisville in the Big East tournament. It could burn Marquette in the NCAA tournament, too.

Write it down: For more than 30 years, freshmen from O'Donnell and Cobeen Halls have taken part in the Orientation Square Dance. Now we know where Buzz Williams got his moves.

BYU (14)

Write 'em in: The inside game is BYU's strength, with Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock the Cougars' most reliable scorers and biggest presence on defense.

Write 'em out: Jimmer has left the building, which leaves the Cougars without a go-to player when the game is on the line. Davies absolutely cannot get into foul trouble. This team also has a tendency to get behind, something it cannot afford in this tournament.

Write it down: The original costumed cougar mascot was nicknamed "Cosmo" because the wearer said the school was very "cosmopolitan." The magazine and the cocktail disagree.

Florida (7)

Write 'em in: The Gators are blessed with tons of guys who can shoot the ball -- Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Brad Beal, Mike Rosario and Erik Murphy. Coupled with their pace, that can make it hard for teams to keep up when the shots are falling.

Write 'em out: Without Will Yeguete, the Gators are undersized and that's not good for a team that's average on the boards to begin with. If they get a formidable opponent on the glass, they go home early. A lot of responsibility now on the young shoulders of Casey Prather.

Write it down: Florida is home to one of the largest collections of butterflies and moths in the world. The occasionally flighty Boynton and Walker are but two of the more than nine million species housed on campus.

Virginia (10)

Write 'em in: Mike Scott is sensational, and wisely the central figure of the Cavaliers' offense. If they can get the ball to him consistently and if someone else can score even moderately -- especially Sammy Zeglinski -- turtle-paced Virginia becomes harder to beat.

Write 'em out: The Cavaliers are entering the tournament headed the wrong way, losing five of their last eight, and are now down to seven scholarship players (Assane Sene was suspended before the ACC tournament). Those aren't the sort of numbers that add up to a deep March run.

Write it down: Charles T. Pepper, the namesake of Dr Pepper, is a Virginia graduate. Perhaps the good doctor could infuse a little caffeine into the deliberate Cavaliers.

Missouri (2)

Write 'em in: The Tigers are as unique to this tournament as any tea: a small, cat-quick team that is as disruptive as any in the country. Yet for all that havoc, they are incredibly good at taking care of the basketball, seventh in the country with just 10.5 turnovers per game. When Mizzou is hitting shots, they are hard to beat.

Write 'em out: It's not the rebounding that kills them -- usually Mizzou's style makes up for the size disadvantage -- it's the shooting. If the Tigers are struggling from the arc, the Tigers are struggling to win.

Write it down: Only six columns remain from the original Academic Hall, burned in an 1892 fire. Originally the board wanted them removed but supporters rallied and the Columns remain an iconic part of campus. If the Tigers win the title, Ricardo Ratliffe, the only starter on Mizzou's roster who is taller than 6-7, will be made into the seventh column.

Norfolk State (15)

Write 'em in: The MEAC champions debut in the NCAA tournament behind the terrific play of Kyle O'Quinn. The senior averages a double-double and also led his conference in blocked shots.

Write 'em out: The Spartans guard the 3-point arc especially well, something Missouri will be well aware of. Teams shoot just 29 percent from the 3 against Norfolk State. They need that kind of defense to pull off the upset.

Write it down: Norfolk State twice had to earn its independence, first from Virginia Union and then later from Virginia State. Getting away from Missouri will be even harder.