>The local ties
Connecticut freshman guard Rob Garrison (Niagara Falls) is the only Western New York player in the men's field. Liberty junior forward Jamie Feagin (Wilson) is the only WNYer in the women's field.
Among coaches, former Canisius boss John Beilein is back leading West Virginia with his son, Patrick, and ex-St. Bonaventure star Mike Gansey on his roster. Ex-Canisius guard Nick Macarchuk is an assistant at Iona and a possible candidate to replace Mike MacDonald as the head man at Canisius. Longtime former St. Bonaventure assistant Joe Lombardi is on Jamie Dixon's staff at Pittsburgh.
Oakland women's coach Beckie Francis, whose team is a No. 16 seed and playing No. 1 Ohio State on Sunday in West Lafayette, Ind., was the top assistant at the University at Buffalo under Sal Buscaglia from 1990 to '94.
Francis, who is married to Oakland President Gary Russi, led the school to the NCAAs in 2002 but retired from coaching due to stress-related intestinal disorders. She returned to coaching this year, refreshed from physical and mental therapy to change her outlook on the profession.
>Names you should learn
Atlanta Regional: George Washington needs a healthy return from forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who missed the A-10 Tournament with a knee injury. Iona guard Steve Burtt and his father, Steve Burtt Sr., are the NCAA's all-time leading father-son scoring duo. Dad and son are 1-2 in school history. California forward Leon Powe and Texas forward P.J. Tucker will end up on a lot of All-American teams. Glen Davis, LSU's 6-foot-9 sophomore, is called "Big Baby" or "Baby Shaq" depending upon your source.
Washington Regional: Tennessee sophomore guard Chris Lofton hits nearly 46 percent from three-point range. Washington guard Brandon Roy is the best player you rarely see in Buffalo because he plays basically every game after 10 p.m. Paul Miller, Wichita State's 6-10 center, was the Player of the Year in the Missouri Valley. Lightning-quick guard Carldell "Squeaky" Johnson leads a UAB squad that has knocked out Kentucky and LSU the last two years. Utah State senior forward Nate Harris averaged 17 points and shot 62 percent from the field. Kirsten Zoellner, Albany's 7-1 center, could be a challenge for Connecticut as he started his career in the Big East at Boston College.
Minneapolis Regional: Florida forward Joakim Noah is the son of former French tennis great Yannick Noah. Nevada junior Nick Fazekas is the WAC Player of the Year and was a key part of the Wolf Pack's Sweet 16 team in 2004. Guard Ben Jacobson leads a Northern Iowa squad that owns wins over LSU and Iowa. Wisconsin-Milwaukee returns four starters from its Sweet 16 team, led by forward Joah Tucker. Pacific's Christian Maraker, a 6-9 forward, is the Big West Player of the Year and has helped the Tigers to first-round wins over Providence and Pittsburgh the last two years.
Oakland Regional: The UCLA backcourt of sophomores Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo should become household names by the end of this tournament. Kansas guard Brandon Rush has scored more points than any Jayhawks freshman other than Danny Manning. Marquette senior Steve Novak averages 17 points and shoots 46 percent from three-point range, an amazing figure for a 6-10 player. Bucknell's Chris McNaughton, a 6-11 junior, hit the shot to beat Kansas in last year's first round. Bradley struggled early in the season when 7-foot sophomore Patrick O'Bryant was injured and flourished when he returned.
*Bucknell has won 17 of its last 18, losing only at Northern Iowa in overtime in a BracketBusters game.
*Gonzaga has won 18 in a row since a Dec. 27 loss at Memphis.
*Nevada has won 14 straight.
*Northwestern State is 15-1 in its last 16, losing only by three at Utah State in BracketBusters.
*Kansas is 22-3 after a 3-4 start.
*Albany is 19-4 after a 2-6 start.
*North Carolina-Wilmington and Pacific have won 13 of 14.
>What's up with them?
*Syracuse won four straight in the Big East Tournament after a 4-9 slump.
*North Carolina State is on a four-game losing streak while Wisconsin has dropped its last three.
*Xavier won four straight in the Atlantic 10 Tournament after going 5-8 in its previous 13 games.
*Northern Iowa finished 2-5.
>Who are these guys?
Albany: Just moved to Division I in 1999 and won the America East title by beating Vermont.
Belmont: Nashville school, the alma mater of many famous musicians, moved to Division I in 1996. It was in the NIT two years ago after a 21-win season that included a win at Missouri.
Northwestern State: Southland Conference champ won pre-Christmas road games against schools from the SEC (Mississippi State), Big 12 (Oklahoma State) and Pac-10 (Oregon State).
South Alabama: Sun Belt champ coached by former Kentucky star John Pelphrey is best known for 1989 first-round upset of Alabama.
Winthrop: Big South champ from Rock Hill, S.C. (just across the border from Charlotte) is in the field for the sixth time in eight years. Eagles won at Marquette in championship of Golden Eagles' tournament, lost by three at Alabama and by 10 at Memphis.
>Could we meet again?
*Texas-West Virginia in the Atlanta Regional semifinal. The Longhorns survived, 76-75, on Nov. 21 in the Guardians Classic at Kansas City.
*Michigan State-North Carolina in the Washington Regional second round. The teams met in the national semifinals last year, with the Tar Heels winning on their way to the championship.
*UCLA and Pittsburgh in the Oakland Regional final. It would be a matchup of coach Ben Howland's new team and his old one. The Panthers would have a tough road to get there (Kent State, Kansas, Memphis) but it would be no shock if they did.
*Villanova and Georgetown in the Minneapolis Regional final. If an explanation is necessary, go watch more Olympic snowboard cross.
>SUNY state of mind
With the rise of UB, Bulls fans probably figured they would be the first SUNY school to reach the NCAAs. After all, Binghamton, Albany and Stony Brook have all struggled since moving into Division I in America East.
UB came oh-so-close last year with its one-point overtime loss to Ohio University in the Mid-American final. But Albany broke through Saturday with its A-East final win over Vermont. Entering this year, Albany hadn't had a winning season since upgrading to Division I in 1999. Just two years ago, the Great Danes (our choice for best nickname in the field) were 5-23.
Now they're playing Connecticut on Friday in Philadelphia, and the Huskies figure to be riled up after their early exit from the Big East Tournament.
"I made a dumb comment when UConn got beat by Syracuse," Albany coach Will Brown told the Albany Times-Union. "I said, 'Man, I'd hate to be the team that plays them next. They were sleepwalking through the Big East Tournament. They're going to try to bury the next team they play. Hopefully, it's not us.' "
The major school that has by far the biggest travel dilemma is Boston College. The Eagles lost to Duke in Sunday's ACC Tournament final in Greensboro, N.C., and were on their charter flight home when they learned they would be playing Pacific on Thursday in Salt Lake City at 10:40 a.m. local time.
They picked up some fresh clothes and headed back to the airport Monday for the jaunt West to a pod that included teams such as San Diego State, Gonzaga, Nevada, Montana and Pacific.
"They can just jump on a bus and get there," Boston College coach Al Skinner told the Boston Globe, ignoring the fact it is 760 miles from San Diego to Salt Lake City. "Here we are playing great basketball and you'd think they'd take these things into consideration. From an academic standpoint, it has not served us very well. We're going to have to go to the other side of the country. . . . So we've got some issues and we got to try to limit them as best we can."
>Mark your calendars
Buffalo gets back into the madness next year on March 15 and 17 as the first and second rounds return for their third visit to HSBC Arena (following 2000 and 2004). The event will be hosted by Canisius, Niagara and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, which is bidding for future events. Buffalo and the Pepsi Arena in Albany have made the first cut for selections for 2009 or 2010.
Ticket information for next year's games in Buffalo will be announced in the spring. A public lottery for 300-level seats again is expected to be held.
Joining Buffalo as subregional hosts will be Columbus, Lexington, Winston-Salem, Chicago, New Orleans, Sacramento and Spokane. The New Orleans Arena, heavily damaged in Hurricane Katrina, re-opened last week.
The Final Four has been awarded through 2011 and the Superdome in New Orleans, a favorite for fans and media, is not in the current rotation. Next year's event goes to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. It moves to San Antonio's Alamodome in 2008 before making its debut at Ford Field in Detroit in 2009.
The 2010 event will return to Indianapolis but be played in the new home of the NFL's Colts. In 2011, there will be another first-timer -- Houston's Reliant Stadium.