NCAA tournament pregame primer

The Times’ Patrick Stevens breaks down the field of 68

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California: Yes, it’s a high-major at-large, but don’t pay attention to that. Instead, just realize the Golden Bears have no top-50 wins and a losing record away from home. There’s also the matter of an exceptionally tepid Pac-12. This is a team poised for a rapid departure.

Florida: Remember when the Gators were 19-4 and presumably Kentucky’s best challenger in the SEC? Well, 10 games and six losses later (including three setbacks against Kentucky), Florida isn’t a particularly imposing bunch and unlikely to escape the first weekend.

Georgetown: The Hoyas (and senior center Henry Sims, especially) earn a ton of credit for vastly exceeding expectations in what was thought to be a rebuilding year. But Georgetown’s inability to string together more than two wins in a row over the last six weeks is a sign such a streak probably isn’t about to start now.

Indiana: The Hoosiers beat Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, all at home. Alas, there are no NCAA tournament games in Bloomington. Toss in a season-ending knee injury to senior guard Verdell Jones III, and Tom Crean’s first NCAA appearance at Indiana might not be a long one.

Louisville: Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Cardinals won the Big East tournament, and that certainly helped propel Connecticut to a national title last season. But this was a remarkably mundane team throughout league play, and Big East tourney MVP Peyton Siva is quite inconsistent. It’s a tough team to trust for another week.

Notre Dame: The Irish plummeted back to reality after an incredible midseason run, dropping three of five (including wretched performances against Georgetown and Louisville) to close out the regular season. Notre Dame hasn’t advanced to the round of 16 since 2003, a streak unlikely to end this year.

Southern Mississippi: The RPI is not a perfect metric. Case in point: the Golden Eagles. Larry Eustachy’s team was lodged in the top 20 of the noted selection committee tool for much of the last two months. But with a 3-4 mini-slide to end the regular season, Southern Miss doesn’t look like it is long for the tournament.

UNLV: On the surface, there’s plenty to like about the Runnin’ Rebels. But dig into their profile, and they’re just 1-6 against the top 100 outside of Vegas. As usual, there are no NCAA tournament games in Sin City. The Rebs might be one-and-done.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores’ last three NCAA appearances ended with first-round exits against double-digit seeds (Siena in 2008, Murray State in 2010 and Richmond in 2011). Past performance may not indicate future results, but that’s a startling recent trend and it makes Vanderbilt tough to trust.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have Mike Scott, a not-entirely-healthy Joe Harris and a lockdown defender in Jontel Evans. They don’t have much depth. Asking anything more than one win is a bit too much.

BEST IN CLASS (a dozen certain to succeed)

Best point guard: Kendall Marshall, UNC: The Tar Heels sophomore wasn’t a first-team all-ACC selection, but he just might be the most valuable player on a credible national title contender. Marshall’s ability to analyze the movements of the other nine players on the floor is extraordinary, and Carolina will need it to make a Final Four run.

Best freshman: Anthony Davis, Kentucky: Who else would it be? Davis is the nation’s best freshman, best defensive player and arguably its best player overall. With 4.6 blocks per game, Davis is certainly the country’s top shot-swatter. Enjoy it while it lasts, Big Blue Nation; it’s doubtful Davis plays more than six more college games.

Best postgame: Jimmy Patsos, Loyola: You never know what sort of direction Patsos’ stream-of-consciousness monologues will take, only that they will be memorable, worldly and at least somewhat cathartic for the Greyhounds’ energetic eighth-year coach. His pressers before and after Loyola’s round of 64 game will be must-see TV.

Best nickname: South Dakota State: There’s no way to top the Jackrabbits in this category. South Dakota State wasn’t even in Division I a decade ago, but enters its first NCAA tournament on an eight-game winning streak. Remember the name Nate Wolters, who can both score (21.3 points per game) and distribute (six assists per game)

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