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NCAA tournament: Buckle up for a wild ride


College basketball fans, start your brackets.

With play-in games out of the way, March Madness kicks into high gear today, the time of the year hoop heads circle the calendar like it’s Christmas.

This year’s run should be a blast — an undefeated team in the bracket, a wide-open field and a heavy dose of great players.

So stock up the fridge, work on that fake cough to call in sick and dig the remote from under the couch cushions. It’s time to roll.

Top teams

  • Florida: No. 1 overall seed should get some props, especially one that plays defense as the Gators do.
  • Wichita State: Final Four last season, unbeaten so far this one.
  • Arizona: The loss of Brandon Ashley hurt and so did a loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game, but not enough to keep the Wildcats from earning a No. 1 seed.
  • Virginia: No. 1 in the East Regional after sweeping the ACC regular-season and tournament titles.
  • Louisville: Defending champs are somehow a No. 4. A little secret: They’re better than that.
  • Michigan State. The Spartans aren’t highly ranked, but never count out a Tom Izzo team, especially one that won the Big Ten tournament.

Top players

  • Doug McDermott, Creighton: Pretty much everyone’s player of the year will be playing in the NCAA tournament for the final time.
  • Jabari Parker, Duke: He has been not only the best of this year’s heralded freshman class but also one of the best no matter what year.
  • Shabazz Napier, UConn: About the only thing the Huskies’ do-everything guard doesn’t do is drive the team bus.
  • Russ Smith, Louisville: He is still Russdiculous.
  • Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati: Playing on a defense-first team hasn’t kept him from scoring 20 points a game.
  • Nick Johnson, Arizona: The junior whose coach couldn’t get a callback from elite summer camps has become one of the best two-way players in the country.
  • Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: He may have been suspended for a confrontation with a fan and has been accused of flopping, but the dude can play.

Top opening matchups

  • Oregon vs. BYU: Ducks and Cougars combined to score nearly 200 points in their first meeting this season.
  • Kansas State vs. Kentucky: The Wildcats from Kentucky are peaking at the right time; the Wildcats from the Little Apple have a score to settle — they’re 0-8 all-time against Kentucky.
  • Gonzaga vs. Oklahoma State: The Zags are underrated; the Cowboys have Marcus Smart
  • Arizona State vs. Texas: The Longhorns average more than 15 offensive rebounds per game and the Sun Devils have 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski in the middle.

Potential upsets

  • Harvard over Cincinnati: The 12th Crimson pulled off an upset by knocking off New Mexico last season and have pretty much everyone back.
  • Providence over North Carolina: The Friars, the 11th seed, took themselves off the NCAA bubble by winning the Big East, one of the toughest tournaments in the game. The sixth-seeded Tar Heels have been inconsistent most of the year, following big wins with disappointing losses.
  • Saint Joseph’s over UConn: The Hawks won nine of their last 11 games and have big man Halil Kanacevic; UConn won 26 games but could be vulnerable.
  • N.C. State over Saint Louis: The Billikens limped down the stretch, losing four of five after a 25-2 start.

Numbers

  • 3: Straight years a team with a losing record has made the field of 68. Cal Poly, at 13-19, got in by winning the Big West tournament as the No. 7 seed.
  • 9: Years since a preseason No. 1 didn’t get a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Kentucky is 8 in the Midwest.
  • 16: Years since UMass had made the NCAA tournament before getting in this season.
  • 18: Teams that have entered the NCAA tournament undefeated. Seven went on to win the title, the last one Indiana in 1976.
  • 26: Straight wins by top overall seed Florida.
  • 38: Years since Virginia had won the ACC tournament before this season. The Cavs also won the regular-season title for the first time since 1981.
  • 133: Games of scoring in double figures by Creighton’s Doug McDermott, an NCAA record.
  • 355: Weight of Sim Bhullar, New Mexico State’s 7-foot-5 center.