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A primer on 8 schools here for tourney From Barney Fife to Bing Crosby, NCAA competitors have varied alumni, histories

Most avid college basketball fans know that West Virginia won the Big East basketball championship in thrilling fashion last weekend.

Fewer people know that its prominent alumni include Don Knotts, the beloved Deputy Barney Fife from "The Andy Griffith Show."

The University of Missouri is renowned for its journalism school and its Big 12 teams. It's also known as the university that gave us the homecoming tradition.

And Florida State University claims to be one of only two colleges in America with their own student circuses.

The eight schools heading to Buffalo today for the first two rounds of the NCAA men's basketball tournament -- West Virginia, Missouri, Florida State, Syracuse, Morgan State, Gonzaga, Vermont and Clemson -- boast rich histories dating back as far as 1791.

One started as a Bible institute, another as an all-male military school.

All eight are thriving universities today.

They span the nation, from Florida State to Gonzaga in Washington State, from the University of Vermont to the University of Missouri.

And two of the schools, Syracuse and West Virginia, are within easy driving distance of Buffalo.

All eight universities have sent athletes to the professional ranks, but they also groomed undergraduates who later excelled in politics, literature, the arts and business.

Here's a small list of those alumni. See if you can match them up with their schools. Answers are in the graphic above:

Joe Biden. Bing Crosby. Strom Thurmond. Burt Reynolds. Kweisi Mfume. Joyce Carol Oates. Sam Walton. Brad Pitt.

These schools range from small private ones, like Gonzaga with 4,729 students, to large public universities like Florida State with 30,400.

Their mascots include three cats, a bulldog, a mountaineer and a guy named Otto who replaced the Saltine Warrior following a battle over political correctness.

Their school colors cover most of the spectrum, including red, orange, green, blue and purple. One school once sported the colors pink and pea green before coming to its senses.

But they all share one common denominator -- chasing their dream as far as they can in the basketball tourney.

For all of them, and perhaps for the one team cutting down the nets in Indianapolis, it all starts here in Buffalo this weekend.

To catch a glimpse of the teams before the games begin, check out practice sessions Thursday in HSBC Arena. Practices last 40 minutes each and are open to the public.

Here's the schedule: noon, Morgan State; 12:45 p.m., Missouri; 1:30 p.m., West Virginia; 2:15 p.m., Clemson; 4:25 p.m., Gonzaga; 5:10 p.m., Syracuse; 5:55 p.m., Florida State; and 6:40 p.m., Vermont.

The games start at 12:15 p.m. Friday, when West Virginia takes on Morgan State.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com and jrey@buffnews.com

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