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March Madness A to Z

By Steve Politi, Special to CNN
updated 1:18 PM EDT, Fri March 15, 2013
Michael Jordan of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill takes the game-winning shot to beat Georgetown 63-62 in the final of the NCAA tournament in New Orleans on March 29, 1982. Michael Jordan of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill takes the game-winning shot to beat Georgetown 63-62 in the final of the NCAA tournament in New Orleans on March 29, 1982.
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Memorable March Madness moments
Memorable March Madness moments
Memorable March Madness moments
Memorable March Madness moments
Memorable March Madness moments
Memorable March Madness moments
Memorable March Madness moments
Memorable March Madness moments
Memorable March Madness moments
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The NCAA Tournament brackets will be revealed on Selection Sunday, March 17
  • Need help ushering in March Madness 2013? This primer explains your brackets
  • WSJ on Notre Dame, Cincinnati, UCLA, Kansas' Adidas uniforms: "Wrong kind of crazy"
  • No. 16 seed hasn't won a game in NCAA Tournament since it expanded to 64 teams in 1985

Editor's note: Steve Politi is a sports columnist for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J. Follow him on Twitter @StevePoliti. Watch coverage of the 'first four' tournament games starting Tuesday on truTV.

(CNN) -- Do you know the mascot for South Dakota State? Can you come up with the all-time record for No. 16 seeds? How about the starting backcourt for the Michigan Wolverines?

No? Well, to prepare you for Selection Sunday and the three weeks of March Madness, here is an A to Z primer on the NCAA Tournament that will cap a wildly unpredictable season in college basketball.

A is for Anyone, which is pretty much who can claim the NCAA title. That doesn't mean you should pick Liberty -- which brings a 15-20 record into the tournament -- in your office pool. But unlike one year ago, when Kentucky was heavily favored from the start of the season, there are a dozen teams that can legitimately say they have a chance to clip the nets in Atlanta in three weeks.

B is for Big East, which is splitting into three directions next year. The seven Catholic members are retaining the name and plan to add a few other top basketball schools. Syracuse and Pittsburgh are joining the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. And the remaining schools are combining with several newcomers to form a yet-to-be-named conference. Will the league that gave us Patrick Ewing and Villanova's upset and the three Connecticut championships go out with one last hoorah? As usual, it will have a lot of chances, with as many as eight members in the field of 68.

C is for Creighton, and if you're looking for a reason to pick the Bluejays in your office pool, look no further than Doug McDermott. The junior forward is the second leading scorer in the nation with 23.1 points a game.

D is for Duke, which will be looking for its fifth national title under Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski -- and might be favored to get it. The Blue Devils went 27-4 despite missing center Ryan Kelly for seven weeks. Kelly scored a career-high 36 points in his return against Miami, the league's regular season champion. If the Blue Devils were good without him, imagine what they might do with him.

E is for Eagles, which is the mascot for a lot of teams, of course, including NCAA Tournament newcomer Florida Gulf Coast. The Fort Myers, Florida, school was established in 1991 and had its first classes in 1997. The Eagles didn't make the full transition to Division 1 athletics until 2011, in fact, so their arrival on the national stage this soon might be most surprising.

F is for Fuller, and that's what the F in Stephen F. Austin stands for. Austin was known as the "Father of Texas," and the college that bears his name is back in the tournament for the second time after winning the Southland Conference with a 26-3 record.

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G is for Golden Eagles, the nickname for Marquette. They tend to fly under the radar in the Big East, but once again colorful head coach Buzz Williams had them tied for the regular-season title. It seems like a matter of time before he takes this program back to the Final Four. Is this the year?

H is for Harvard, and after ending a 65-year NCAA Tournament drought last season, the Crimson is back in the field again. "I just feel like the basketball gods have been on our side," Crimson player Christian Webster said, and Harvard might need them: The Ivy League has a 31-59 record in the tournament since 1957.

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I is for Indiana, and this year, the mighty Hoosiers have stormed back on the national stage under head coach Tom Crean. They are the second in the nation in scoring at 80.8 points a game, led by sophomore forward Cody Zeller at 16.8 points and 8.1 rebounds. Will that mean a Final Four trip? If so, it'll end an a long drought for one of the most loyal fan bases in the sport: The Hoosiers have just one Final Four appearance (2002) in the past 20 years.

J is for Jackrabbits, and while they do not normally inspire fear, if the matchup is right, they could make noise as a higher seed. South Dakota State is in the tournament for the second straight year.

K is for Kentucky, the defending national champs and most prominent bubble team in years. Are the Wildcats in? Or are the Wildcats out? Unless they win the SEC Tournament this weekend, they'll be sweating out the selection show in Lexington. (Our guess: They're in -- barely.)

L is for Louisville, that other national power in the Bluegrass State. Can the Cardinals keep the NCAA title in-state? They're certainly on a roll. They entered the Big East Tournament with wins in 10 of their last 11 games, and that single loss was to Notre Dame -- in five overtimes.

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M is for Michigan, and if you're wondering why the Wolverines are back in contention for a national title, look no further than the backcourt. Trey Burke is a national player of the year candidate averaging 19.2 points and 6.8 assists a game, while Tim Hardaway Jr. adds 14.8 points and 4.7 rebounds.

N is for Notre Dame, and if you see the Fighting Irish in the tournament field, you're probably going to wonder: What are they wearing? Adidas has provided several teams, including Cincinnati, Kansas and UCLA, with outfits that the Wall Street Journal described as "the wrong kind of crazy." You'll have to see for yourselves. Just don't stare for long.

O is for Orange, and Syracuse is back in the field under head coach Jim Boeheim, as usual. But how many more years will the 68-year-old Boeheim, who won his 900th game, keep coaching? "I never think about the next season until after the season," he said at the Big East Tournament, "because during the season I want to quit every single game, even when we win."

P is for Porter, as in Georgetown forward Otto Porter, the Big East Player of the Year. Porter is one of the best stories in college basketball, a 6'8" forward from a small Missouri town who had never stepped on an airplane before visiting the school's Washington campus. Can he lead the Hoyas their first title since 1984?

Q is for Quixotic, which has been the quest for Quinnipiac to take its quintessential place as the Q in the A to Z. Come on, Bobcats. Get it done!

R is for Rameses, the horned mascot for North Carolina, who will be making an appearance this tournament after all. It didn't look good for the perennial power Tar Heels for much of the season, but a six-game winning streak late in the season should ensure that head coach Roy Williams' team is back in the field.

S is for Sixteen, and if you're an amateur bracketologist, you know that no No. 16 seed has ever won a game in the NCAA Tournament since it expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Is this the year of the upset to end all upsets? "I think this is the year that a 16 could possibly beat a 1 for the first time," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. Before you make that pick in your office pool, remember: The 16s are 0-112 all-time in the tournament.

T is for triple digits, and if you're wondering how a James Madison team that is 234th in scoring, 254th in rebounds, 253rd in assists and 240th in field-goal percentage made the tournament field, well, that's March. The Dukes got hot and won the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament.

U is for UCLA, which will be back in the field during the 75th anniversary of the NCAA Tournament. Sports Illustrated recently ranked the top 75 players in tournament history, and Nos. 1 and 2 belonged to the greatest dynasty in its history: Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton.

V is for Valparaiso, a Cinderella of old that's back in the tournament for the first time since 2004. The Crusaders are coached by Bryce Drew, who hit the remarkable buzzer-beater to stun Ole Miss in the 1998 tournament. His father, Homer Drew, was the coach that year, and his brother, Scott Drew, coaches Baylor.

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W is for Western Kentucky, back in the NCAA Tournament field, and while its stay might not last long, its lovable amorphous mascot Big Red will have a chance to make One Shining Moment montage that airs after the national title game. And that is where he belongs.

X is for Xavier, which is in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament after reaching the field in 11 of the last 12 seasons. The Musketeers, who reached the Sweet 16 a year ago, are 17-13 this season in the Atlantic 10.

Y is for Youth, and as usual, plenty of young stars are on the top teams. Marcus Smart was voted Associated Press freshman of the year for leading Oklahoma State back to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence. Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA) and Ben McLemore (Kansas) are two other talented rookies to watch this year.

Z is for Zags, the unofficial nickname of the Gonzaga Bulldogs, and that won't be a typo in your bracket. Once a plucky underdog, they are expected to be one of the No. 1 seeds when the field is revealed. Will they prove the selection committee was right with a run to their first Final Four? That will be determined over the next three weeks. That's what makes this tournament so much fun.

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