A is for “Alford”
Steve Alford, the former IU Standout and Iowa head coach, took over the New Mexico Lobos entering the 2007 season. He won 24 games in his first season as the head coach, which was the most wins for a first-year coach in school history. He is now 75-25 in three seasons at the helm, and this season led them to a 29-4 overall record and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.
B is for "Bo Ryan"
Wisconsin's head coach, Bo Ryan, just does what he does. He wins games and finds ways to get his Badgers into the NCAA tournament. They have qualified for the Big Dance in each of his nine seasons as head coach. The Badgers win consistently because of their patented "swing" offense and their strong man-to-man defense, which once again ranked in the top ten nationally.
C is for "Cornell"
Many analysts believe that Cornell has a chance to make a run in the NCAA tournament because of their ability to score the basketball from the inside with 7-footer Jeff Foote and from the outside with Ryan Wittman. Wittman leads the Big Red in scoring with 17.5 ppg and is shooting 42-percent from deep. He is a great shooter but has also shown the ability to score from the inside as well. Cornell is also one of the most experienced teams in the tournament, starting four seniors and bringing more off of the bench. Also, remember that they took Kansas to the wire at Phog Allen this season, losing 71-66.
D is for "Darington Hobson"
Hobson, a 6-7 junior forward for New Mexico, could be one of the most unheralded players in the country. The junior-college transfer led the Lobos in scoring (15.8 ppg), rebounds (9.1 rpg) and assists (4.6 apg) en route to MWC Player and Newcomer of the Year Awards. Head coach Steve Alford often puts him at the point guard position, which shows his versatility.
E is for "East Tennessee State"
The East Tennessee State Bucanneers are probably the best of the five No. 16 seeds in the tournament. Just last season they nearly upset No. 1 Pittsburgh as a No. 16 seed in the first round of the tournament. They trailed the Panthers by only three with under six minutes remaining before eventually succumbing, 72-62. ETSU is not a big team but they do most of their damage offensively at the rim and struggle from the perimeter. They are led by Tommy Hubbard, a 6-4 junior forward, who averages 14.1 ppg and 8.3 rpg. Defensively, they live off of forcing turnovers.
F is for "Foote"
At 7-0, 265-pounds, Cornell center Jeff Foote is pretty much a beast at both ends of the court. On the offensive end he is a definite threat at the rim, averaging 12.3 points while shooting over 62-percent from the field. On the defensive side of the court, he is one of the best shot blockers in the country, averaging 1.9 per game. He is also an effective rebounder.
G is for "Gaudio"
Prior the the 2007 season, Dino Gaudio took over at Wake Forest under the worst possible circumstances, the death of his friend and mentor, Skip Prosser. He is now in his third season as head coach and has led his team to back-to-back tournament appearances. The Deacons like to move the ball up-and-down the court, but they rely on their top 20 defense to keep them in games. They are in the top 20 in field goal percentage defense, three-point field goal percentage defense and blocked shots.
H is for "Huggy Bear"
West Virginia's Bob Huggins is yet another coach in his third season at the helm. Just last weekend he led the Mountaineers, his alma mater, to their first ever Big East Conference Tournament Championship. Huggins has failed to lead his squad past the Sweet 16 in his last 11 trips. WVU is favored to get past the Sweet 16 and is a serious threat to win the whole thing, but they struggle to score when Da'Sean Butler can't find the bottom of the net. In five of their six losses this season, he failed to score at least his season average.
I is for "Isaiah Thomas"
Washington's sophomore guard has been forced to play with a broken bone in his shooting hand nearly all season long. Despite the injury, Thomas is still playing relatively well, and along with Quincy Pondexter, led the Huskies to an upset victory over Cal in the Pac-10 Championship. Despite the fact that he is just 5-8, Thomas is fearless and a tremendous scorer, averaging just over 17 points per game.
J is for "Jay Bilas Slurp Job"
I understand that Jay Bilas is simply trying to mix it up during ESPN's Bracketology. Everyone else on the panel consistently just went "chalk," which means they took only No. 1 through No. 3 seeds to the Elite Eight. Bilas went out on a limb and predicted Cornell to advance to the Elite Eight, which is fine. However, I don't have to hear about the Big Red during every single segment you run. I love Bilas and think he has the best basketball knowledge in the business, but he has a tendency to go on rants and become obsessive over certain issues. During their two-hour Bracketology segment, he slurped over Cornell so much that I refused to pick them in my bracket.
K is for "Kentucky"
Last season, everyone in Kentucky's least favorite coach, Billy "Clyde" Gillispie, led the Kentucky Wildcats to the N.I.T. tournament, forcing them to miss their first Big Dance since 1991. This season new head coach John Calipari leads them back to the NCAA tournament and the Wildcats are a No. 1 seed for the first time since 2004. Now they look to reach their first Final Four and win their first championship since 1998. They are led by junior Patrick Patterson, who is playing in his first NCAA tournament, and a a trio of freshmen in John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe.
L is for "Lazar Heyward"
With the trio of amazing guards (Dominic James, Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal) all graduating from Marquette following last season, 6'6'' senior Lazar Heyward was left to carry the load. During his senior season he led the Eagles in scoring with 18 points a game and nearly pulled down eight rebounds a game as well. Offensively he can drive by his man and knock down shots from the perimeter. He is also lights out at the free throw line, shooting 84-percent.
M is for "Montana Grizzlies"
The Grizzle, as ESPN's Stuart Scott refers to them, trailed Weber State by 20 points at halftime of the Big Sky Conference Tournament title game before rallying to win. They finished the season at 22-9 and rely heavily on the three-point shot, where they are shooting over 40-percent on the season. Anthony Johnson, a 6-3 senior guard, leads the way for the Grizzlies, averaging nearly 20 points per game. His leadership and experience are vital to Montana's success and when he is isn't on the court the drop-off is quite obvious.
N is for "No. 43"
East Tennessee State's 6-10 junior Seth Coy died in a one-car accident in July. The team is honoring Coy's memory by wearing a black patch with the No. 43 (Coy's old number) on it. Prior to the season, Adam Sollazzo, Coy's former roommate, changed his uniform number to 43 to honor his fallen friend.
O is for "Owls"
Head Coach Fran Dumphy is in his fourth year as the head coach of the Temple Owls and has led them to three straight NCAA tournaments. However, he hasn't had much success in tournament with an overall 1-11 record and has yet to win a tourney game as head coach of the Owls. This season they have a goal of getting to the Sweet Sixteen. Temple enters the tournament winners of their last ten games and claimed both the A-10 regular season and conference championship. They aren't a high scoring team, but they have a great balance of interior and perimeter scoring. They are led by 6-9 junior LaVoy Allen, who finished the season averaging a double-double.
P is for "Purnell"
Oliver Purnell's Clemson Tigers are back in the Big Dance and once again he is instituting that patented Diamond-And-One Press. They pressure constantly and therefore depth is a key to their success. To keep his players fresh, Purnell is known for his propensity to switch out five guys at a time. Trevor Booker, a first-team All-ACC selection, is an absolute beast on the block for Tigers, averaging 15.3 ppg and 8.3 rpg.
Q is for "Quincy Pondexter"
Pondexter is one of the most explosive finishers in the country. If you are forced to guard him one-on-one in transition, you are pretty much through. The senior guard for the Washington Huskies is averaging nearly 20 points per game and is also pulling down 7.6 rebounds. The kid can score in absolute bunches and is shooting 52-percent from the field. Like fellow Huskie guard, Isaiah Thomas, Pondexter has zero fear in his bones.
R is for "Reggie Holmes"
Holmes is Morgan State's all-time leading scorer with 2,039 career points. This season he averaged 21.8 points per game. Holmes has the ability to generate his own offense by using one or two dribbles to create enough space to shoot the jumper. He is a prolific scorer who is always looking for a way to get the ball in the basket.
S is for "Selvig"
As in Montana's big man Derik Selvig. Selvig is a 7-foot sophomore center for the Grizzlies who has the athleticism to score from the perimeter and at the rim.
T is for "Trevon Hughes"
Wisconsin's Trevon Hughes is one of the best guards in the tournament. He is an elite scorer who also has the ability find others, something that is mandatory in Bo Ryan's swing offense. He suffered an ankle injury in their regular season finale against Illinois, but is expected to be fine in time to dance.
U is for "Undefeated"
The East bracket features the two teams that remained undefeated the longest this season in Kentucky and Texas. The Wildcats were the last team to be beaten when they fell to South Carolina in Columbia, 68-62, on January 26. The Longhorns fell eight days earlier than the 'Cats, when they were defeated 71-62 at Kansas State. Since starting the season 17-0, Texas finished the season with just a 7-9 record en route to a No. 8 seed.
V is for "Victories"
Every team in the East Region is looking for four strait "victories," which will allow them to cut down the nets at the Carrier Dome and venture on down to Indy for the Final Four.
W is for "Wall"
In just one season, John Wall has built himself a Great Wall of Lexington. He finished the season averaging 16.9 points, 6.4 assists, and 4.2 rebounds en route to being named the first freshman to win SEC Player of the Year honors since LSU's Chris Jackson in 1989.
X is for "X-and-O's"
Murry Bartow, the son of coaching legend Gene Bartow, can X-and-O with the best of them. Last season his East Tennessee State Buccaneers scared the crap out of Pittsburgh in the No. 1 vs. No. 16 game. This year they look to do the same against the young and crazy-talented Kentucky Wildcats.
Y is for "Young"
Nope, we're not talking about how "young" the Kentucky Wildcats are. Instead, we are talking Wofford's head coach, Mike Young. Young is in his eighth season as head coach of the Terriers and is making his first NCAA tournament appearance. Prior to their first place finish in the Southern Conference this season, his best finish was third back in 2003. They finished this season at 26-8 and execute in their half court offense very well. They rely on Southern Conference Player of the Year, Noah Dahlman, to do the majority of their damage. At 6-6, Dahlman is an undersized big with tremendous footwork and hustle. He averaged 16.8 points and 6.3 rpg on the season, while shooting 58-percent from the field.
Z is for "Zaire Taylor"
Zaire Taylor, a 6-6 senior guard for the Missouri Tigers, does a little bit of everything for Mike Anderson's squad and is often the one to take the big shot. The Tigers like to push the ball to the offensive end after stops and Taylor is one of the best at getting the ball to the other end. He is averaging 8. 3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists on the season.
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