Bob Knight will pay his $10,000 fine, Princeton is finally a favorite and North Carolina is doing quite nicely without Dean Smith. And more plot lines are certain to emerge when the NCAA's 64-team showcase begins Thursday.
A top seed has never lost to a 16th seed, but plenty have struggled in shaking the butterflies.
"We were riding high last year, and we were playing a team named Fairfield, and all of the sudden they were giving us a run for our money," Antawn Jamison of top-ranked North Carolina says of last year's opener, an 82-74 win. "This time we sort of have a lot to prove."
The Tar Heels (30-3) are now coached by Bill Guthridge, the retired Smith's longtime assistant.
They get to prove their point against Navy (19-10), which shocked Syracuse a decade ago when David Robinson was the team's centerpiece. There's no Robinson this time, only a hard-working team that won the Patriot League tournament.
The Middies and Tar heels tip off the tournament at Hartford Conn., at 12:20 p.m. EST on Thursday, five minutes before Xavier (22-7) takes on the University of Washington (18-9) in Washington, D.C.
Knight and Indiana (19-11) will be in Washington to play Oklahoma (22-10) in an early evening game. Knight agreed Wednesday to pay a $10,000 fine levied by the Big Ten for his barbs at referee Ted Valentine.
For Princeton, it's a new feeling. The Tigers (26-1) used to be the low seed nobody wanted to play, losing by a point to Georgetown and knocking off UCLA in first-round games.
Now the Tigers are the fifth seed in the East, taking on Nevada-Las Vegas (20-12) in Hartford. This is a true reversal of form -- UNLV, accustomed to being a top seed, made it to the tournament only by winning the Western Athletic Conference tournament at home and are a 12th seed.
Still, there are questions about Princeton, which beat North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Texas and Rutgers and lost just 50-42 to North Carolina. That's because they play in the Ivy League.
"The questions we've been getting are always like `What do you think about your seed?' " says guard Mitch Henderson. "'Do you think you have a chance? Will it be a disappointment if you lose?' Nobody's asking us how we're going to match up with this guy or that guy on UNLV."
Thursday's games are in the East and West. The South and Midwest regionals start Friday.
In addition to the North Carolina and Princeton games at Hartford, North Carolina Charlotte (19-10) faces Illinois-Chicago (22-5) and Michigan State (20-7) meets Eastern Michigan (20-9) in a neighborhood battle moved 1,000 miles east.
In Washington, it's Xavier-Washington; South Carolina (23-7) vs. Richmond (22-7); Indiana-Oklahoma; and Connecticut (29-4) vs. Fairleigh Dickinson (23-6).
Defending champion Arizona (27-4), the top seed in the West, opens with Nicholls State in the final game Thursday at Sacramento, Calif. Other games there are Maryland (19-10) vs. Utah State (25-7); Illinois (22-9) vs. South Alabama (21-6), and Tennessee (20-8) vs. Illinois State (24-5).
At Boise, Idaho, it's Temple (21-8) vs. West Virginia (22-8) in an eastern rivalry transplanted 2,500 miles; Cincinnati (26-5) vs. Northern Arizona (21-7); Utah (25-3) vs. San Francisco (19-10); and Arkansas (23-8) vs. Nebraska (20-11).
In the Eastern Michigan-Michigan State game, many of the players know each other from their playground days.
"The experience factor is going to help us a great deal," says Earl Boykins, the 5-foot-5 star of Eastern, the 13th seed in the regional.
"There isn't a player on our team who doesn't respect them," says coach Tom Izzo of the fourth-seeded Spartans.
The Temple-West Virginia game is a revival of an Atlantic 10 rivalry that ended when the Mountaineers moved to the Big East. But that was five years ago.
"Their players haven't seen us," coach John Chaney of seventh-seeded Temple says of the 10th-seeded Mountaineers. "Maybe the coaches know, but the kids don't know nothing. They're just happy to have a ride on the merry-go-round."
There are 16 more games Friday in Lexington, Ky., Atlanta, Oklahoma City and Chicago.
At Lexington, it will be Syracuse-Iona, New Mexico-Butler, Oklahoma State-George Washington and Duke-Radford. At Atlanta, it's Kentucky-South Carolina State, Massachusetts-Saint Louis, Michigan-Davidson and UCLA-Miami.
At Oklahoma City, it's Mississippi-Valparaiso, Texas Christian-Florida State, Rhode Island-Murray State and Kansas-Prairie View. At Chicago, it's Clemson-Western Michigan, Stanford-College of Charleston, Purdue-Delaware and St. John's-Detroit.
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