A is for "Aggies."
A pair of Aggies will do battle in the first round as the fifth-seeded Texas A&M goes up against the 12-seed Utah State.
Texas A&M is in the Tourney for the third time under Mark Turgeon, who replaced Billy Gillispie when he bolted for UK. The other Aggies, led by Stew Morrill's motion offense, will try and pull off what it almost accomplished last year against Marquette. Utah State has bowed out in the first round in their past four attempts, last winning in 2001, when they beat Ohio State in OT in a first round upset.
B is for "Baylor Bears."
What a tremendous turnaround Scott Drew has orchestrated since the tragedy and scandal that rocked this team back in the summer of 2003.
After only winning a total of 36 games (and only 13 conference games) from 2003 to 2007, the Bears made the NCAA Tournament in 2008 and lost in the NIT championship game last year.
One could credit some of the Bears' success to Drew's apparent recruiting strategy of trying to assemble an "All-Name" team. Tweety Carter, LaceDarius Dunn, Givon Crump, Ekpe Udoh, and Quincy Acy could all make at least honorable mention on such a squad.
C is for "Cardinals."
The Louisville Cardinals are coming off back-to-back Elite Eight appearances and have proved this season, though they are nowhere near as talented as the past two years, that they can compete with anyone. They've defeated Syracuse twice and held big and late leads over the likes of Villanova, West Virginia, and Kentucky.
Leadership is an issue with this team and senior point Edgar Sosa as well as Jamaican postman Samardo Samuels are going to have to show up if they intend on beating Cal and then mowing down the Dookies.
D is for "Duke."
I feared ESPN may threaten to send some goons my way if Duke wasn't my "D."
The No. 1 seed in what many are calling the weakest region, the Blue Devils will look to prove they deserved a No. 1 seed despite running through a weaker than usual ACC. However, if you listen to Gregg Doyel , or any other talking head out there, you should go ahead and pencil Duke into your Elite Eight.
E is for "Execute."
Sure this is a key for all squads in March and in any month if they want to win, but for the Monarchs of Old Dominion, executing their gameplan is a must.
The Monarchs finished the regular season fifth in the NCAA in scoring defense (allowing just 56.9 points per game) and fifth in rebounding margin (plus 7.9). Running the shot clock down and hitting shots is what they'll need to do when they face an equally defensive-minded Notre Dame squad in the first round.
Though the Fighting Irish have just recently begun to run a stall ball offense, Old Dominion has had the entire season to perfect theirs. This should make for a Big Ten-esque first round matchup.
F is for "Finland."
That's the home country of Old Dominion's best player, 6'10" Gerald Lee. Senior big man, two-time All-CAA First Team and the pride of Uusikaupunki, Finland, Lee leads the Monarchs with 14.3 points per game, shoots 54-percent from the field and 76 percent from the free throw line.
G is for "Dallas Green."
Green averages only 6.5 points and 4.7 rebounds a game, but in back-to-back seasons has hit the game-winning shot in the NEC tournament, clinching an NCAA bid for the Colonials of Robert Morris.
H is for "Harangody."
The man is simply a beast.
He has led the Big East in scoring for three straight seasons and is Notre Dame's career leader in points and rebounds. If he can return to 100 percent and continue to fit in with Mike Brey's new offensive strategy instituted because of his injury, the Fightin' Irish may indeed make a deep run.
I is for "Irish."
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish somehow were given a six seed and will open against Old Dominion.
With All-American "H" Luke Harangody coming off the bench due to a knee injury that forced him to miss a month and Mike Brey to turn the Irish's usual high scoring offense into a stall ball defensive club, Notre Dame will look to continue their recent hot streak. With a physical Monarch team, they may approach their first round matchup with a "first team to 50 points wins" mentality.
J is for "JaJuan Johnson."
Purdue still has this guy underneath to go along with fellow junior, guard E'Twaun Moore. Though they have looked lost since losing Robbie Hummel, this is still a very talented Boilermaker squad. Johson averaged 14.9 points per game, 7.2 rpg, and 2.0 bpg en route to First-Team Big Ten honors.
K is for "Karon Abraham."
The NEC Rookie of the Year and MVP of the conference tourney, Robert Morris' Karon Abraham connects on 44.2 percent of his threeballs and strokes 85.3 percent from the line.
If he continues his improvement and the Colonials play defense like they have all year, they just might have a shot at becoming the fifth 15 seed to ever win. Led by Mike Rice, a former Pittsburgh assistant, Robert Morris has now made the tourney two out of the last three years.
L is for "Land Down Under."
Five of the Saint Mary's Gaels top seven players hail from the Land Down Under— Australia. St. Mary's has won only one NCAA Tournament game in its history, and that was an opening round game against Idaho State way back in 1959.
The Gaels have been one and done in all four appearances since then.
M is for "Mike Montgomery."
Head Coach of the California Golden Bears, Montgomery led Cal to its first Pac-10 regular season title in 50 years and second straight NCAA Tourney appearance.
Led by Pac-10 Player of the Year and Cal's career scoring leader Jerome Randle, the Golden Bears will be out to prove that they didn't win the Pac-10 solely because the league is horrible.
Expect to see screens, screens, and more screens from Montgomery's offense to set up threes, threes, and more threes. And if they find themselves with a late lead, Cal's 75.7 percent free throw percentage is going to make it tough for a team to foul its way back into the game.
N is for "No North Carolina."
A year removed emerging from the South Region and claiming their fifth National Title, the Tar Heels were horrible this year and will be NITing it for the first time since 2003, Matt Doherty's final season.
O is for "Omar Samham."
St. Mary's best player and one of the best centers in the country, 6'11" Omar Samhan does it all for the Gaels. Samhan averages 20.9 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game which led the entire WCC in all three categories. The last player to do that? Bill Cartwright of San Francisco in 1978.
P is for "Perimeter Defense."
Four teams in this region (Duke, St. Mary's, Richmond and Old Dominion) hold opponents to under 30 percent shooting from downtown.
Q is for "Questionable Placement."
We've all heard the arguments about why Syracuse was sent out west while Duke was given the apparent easiest bracket.
Why is Notre Dame a six seed and Louisville a nine seed? Louisville defeated the Irish head-to-head, had a better conference record' and downed Syracuse twice on the year. Three seeds lower?
Lots of questionable placements made by the committee this year, and not just in the South.
R is for "Richmond."
The Richmond Spiders are the only program in NCAA history to win as the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th seed. Beating the likes of Florida, Mississippi State, Missouri and Old Dominion, and a 13-3 conference record in a tough A-10 has earned them a shot at getting a win as a seven seed against 10 seed Saint Mary's.
S is for "Siena Saints."
The Saints have pulled the upset for two years in a row now and will go for three against four seed Purdue.
Siena won as a 13 seed in 2008 and a nine seed last year before giving top seeded Louisville a scare in the second round. Led by MAAC player of the year and Conference Tourney MVP Alex Franklin's 16.8 points per game, the Saints have four starters averaging 13.6ppg or more.
This is a very talented and experienced Siena squad who should no longer be a surprise to anyone. They also feature the nation's leading assist man in Ronald Moore, who drops 7.8 dimes each game.
T is for "Three Pointers."
With an experienced backcourt in Senior guards Corey Allmond and Ashton Mitchell, who should give Baylor's backcourt of Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn all they can handle in the first round, the Sam Houston State Bearkats have six players who have drained 25 or more threes on the year, and average 8.8 made longballs as a team per game.
U is for "University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff."
After starting their season 0-11, the Golden Lions of the SWAC finished the season 17-4 and won 11 of their last 12 games. It should be noted that they played their first 14 games away from home and during their 0-11 start, included were losses to UTEP, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Georgia Tech, and Kansas State: all tournament teams.
If they can take out Winthrop, the Dookies might just be a little nervous...
V is for "Villanova."
Coming off a Final Four appearance, the best dressed coach in the country Jay Wright and his Wildcats will try to navigate the South to get back.
Led by soon to be 2,200-point scorer Scottie Reynolds (and just 50 points away from passing Kerry Kittles as the schools all-time leading scorer), 'Nova will try and break out of their slump which has seen them lose five of their past seven games.
W is for "Winthrop."
Winthrop will be making its second appearance in the Opening Round Game (2001), joining Florida A&M (2004, 2007) as the only two teams to earn that prestigious honor.
This is the Eagles second appearance in coach Randy Peele's three years at the school.
X is for "X Factor."
Supposedly you have to have it to win in March. What is it?
I have no idea, Algebra and Calculus were never my thing. I was more of a "Y" guy....
Y is for "Yumps."
Z is for "Zone."
You will see lots of zone defense in the South.
Louisville's Rick Pitino likes to drop back into a zone after his token press takes teams deeper into the shot clock. Richmond plays a tough matchup zone; Baylor institutes a stingy 2-3 zone. Old Dominion switches from man to zone often, and is helped by their length when in zone.
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