The Star has listed the best of the NCAA tournament, A to Z, since Lute Olson had dark hair. This year, we’re doubling down — on letters, that is. Here’s an alliterative look at the Big Dance. We’re calling it NCAA tournament, AA to ZZ.
AA is for, what else, Amazing Arizona. The Wildcats enter the tournament with Sean Miller’s best team, after one of the finest regular seasons in program history. After a 21-0 start, though, they’ve lost four games, including a heartbreaker to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament title game. If anyone can, Arizona can certainly put together a six-game streak of dominant defense.
BB is for Big Billy. Florida might have the nation’s best résumé, and Donovan is the reason why. Year after year, the Gators are tourney threats, but coming off three straight Elite Eights, it’s time for Donovan to reclaim the hardware for the first time since back-to-back titles in 2005-06 and 2006-07.
CC is for “Cocoon” Coaches. What’s with all these aging coaches, still in their prime, long into their 60s? Don’t Jim Boeheim, Mike Krzyzewski, Steve Fisher, et al., realize John Wooden retired at the age of 65? Someone call up Don Ameche and Wilford Brimley for another sequel.
DD is for Dumb Deciders. What were the seeders thinking with the Midwest bracket? That path to the Final Four is filled with more potholes than New York City. Sorry, Wichita State.
EE is for Early Exits. Who will be this year’s surprise letdown? Looking at the field, watch out No. 3 Syracuse (vs. No. 14 Western Michigan), No. 6 Ohio State (vs. No. 11 Dayton) and No. 5 Cincinnati (vs. No. 12 Harvard).
FF is for Freshman Follies. Youngsters were thought to be running the show, but someone forgot to give the kids the keys to the cars. What was thought to be the top freshman class in ages fizzled out a bit. Can Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and Co. heat up during March?
GG is for “Goodness Gracious, Sakes Alive!” John Wooden looks down and smiles at UCLA’s fantastic Pac-12 tourney run, which concluded with a 75-71 win over Arizona in the title game. The Bruins have a pretty potent offense, one that lifted them to a surprising No. 4 seed.
HH is for Hobbled Heroes. The tournament just won’t be the same without banged-up and sidelined stars such as Arizona’s Brandon Ashley, Kansas’ Joel Embiid and Colorado’s Spencer Dinwiddie.
II is for Instant Impact. The best teams usually depend on solid sixth men to provide a quick threat off the bench. Look out for Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Louisville’s Luke Hancock to provide a spark in March.
JJ is for Jerry Jones. The Dallas Cowboys may be hovering around .500 going on 20 years, but their mogul owner sure knows how to stuff his coffers. Shrewd move, JJ, landing the Final Four in Arlington.
KK is for Kentucky Kids. John Calipari may have rolled the dice on his whole youth movement thing one too many times. The Wildcats were often just wild this season, but would anybody really be surprised if they somehow made a run?
LL is for Louisiana’s Long: The Ragin’ Cajuns’ sophomore sensation Shawn Long is one of the tournament’s most intriguing players. He’ll likely be knocked out early — No. 14 seed ULL opens with third-seeded Creighton — but if he hits his averages of 19 points and 10 rebounds, that’ll be one more line on his résumé.
MM is for March Magnets: Kansas, Duke, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Gonzaga — talk about attracted to the tournament. Each ranks in the top eight in the country in consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, with the Jayhawks at No. 2 all-time and No. 1 on the active list with 25 straight bids.
NN is for Negative Nancies. Oh, you don’t feel like filling out a bracket this year, because “I just never win, what’s the point?” We guarantee the guy who won the bracket challenge last year at one point went 18 for 32 in the second round. Sack up and play.
OO is for Offensive Offspring. Doug McDermott, son of Creighton coach Greg, is one of the great scorers in college hoops history. He’s scored 20-plus in 13 straight games, and all but FOUR times for the season. Ridiculous. Simply ridiculous.
PP is for Parker & Paige. Separated by 7 inches and 10 miles, Jabari Parker and Marcus Paige share one thing in common: The All-Americans are certainly the leaders of their squads, Duke and North Carolina, respectively. Respect is the key word there because both command it.
QQ is for Quotable Quips. There is not much better than the frustration — or jubilation — of players and coaches in the postgame pressers. I mean, “We want to enjoy this ride as long as we can because after this, it’s just babies and memories,” said Cornell’s Louis Dale, after the Big Red beat Wisconsin in 2010 to advance to the Sweet 16. March Madness is made for gems like this.
RR is for Rim Rockers. Arizona’s Gordon, Duke’s Parker, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Syracuse’s C.J. Fair should turn March Madness into a performance by the Blue Angels. These dudes can get up.
SS is for Shaka Smart. The coach of No. 5-seeded VCU could have a scintillating showdown in the third round with No. 4 UCLA, a school he reportedly flirted with before the Bruins ended up with Steve Alford.
TT is for Terrific Twos. Villanova, Kansas, Michigan and Wisconsin might have easier roads to the Final Four than the top seeds. With deep lineups, each of these teams is a legit Final Four threat.
UU is for Ultimate Underdogs. Syracuse, watch out. The third-seeded Orange has been plummeting lately, losing 5 of 7, and the Western Michigan Broncos have the right mix of post presence and outside options to take out zone-oriented ’Cuse.
VV is for Valuable Veterans. Florida, the No. 1 overall seed, is also favored by Las Vegas to win the title. Little surprise, considering their experienced talent. Three of the Gators’ top four scorers are seniors.
WW is for Wichita Wizards. Everybody put up three foam fingers for WSU, which finished off the first undefeated regular season in more than 20 years, then cruised to the Missouri Valley Conference title.
XX is for Xerophilous X-factors. Xerophilous is defined as “capable of thriving in a hot, dry climate, as certain plants or animals,” which sure sounds like the Wildcats, and their biggest X-factor, Hollis-Jefferson. All-Dae has been key in some wins, and some losses — in Arizona’s last two losses, he has scored eight points and turned it over six times. (PS: Thanks, “Google search for X adjectives.”)
YY is for Young & Young. James and Joseph Young share major scoring burdens for Kentucky and Oregon, respectively. Both can drop 20 points, and despite the age difference — James is a freshman Wildcat while Joseph is a junior Duck — they’ve shone well on the individual stage.
ZZ is for Zipping Zags. Top-seeded Arizona, assuming it takes care of business with Weber State — a likely assumption — should probably be awaiting No. 8 seed Gonzaga, which has a beatable second-round opponent in Oklahoma State. Mark Few’s squads rarely get the seeding respect they deserve, and the Bulldogs could definitely be considered for a No. 7 seed and a potential matchup with a team on the level of 10th-seeded BYU, which went 1-2 against Gonzaga.