Best team: Gonzaga

This might be the best team in the long, storied history of Gonzaga hoops, which is ready to break through and at last get to the Final Four.

The Zags have experience, led by senior point guard Kevin Pangos, and a smooth, balanced, efficient offense, with Kyle Wiltjer as its leading scorer.

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Best big man: Jahlil Okafor, Duke

Knicks fans have been studying this guy for months now, dreaming of the freshman center with the fluid footwork wearing blue and orange come autumn -- if the ping pong ball gods will it.

First, though, Okafor will try to lead the Blue Devils on a long NCAA run -- or at least longer than last March's early flop -- as a No. 3 seed against Mercer. Mercy!

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Best guard/playmaker: Quinn Cook, Duke

Actually, let's make this a joint entry of Cook and his backcourt-mate Tyus Jones, because they give Duke a formidable outside-inside threat when combined with center Jahlil Okafor.

Cook averages 15.7 points. Jones averages 5.8 assists. But this could be their most important stat of all: Cook makes 89.1 percent of his free throws; Jones makes 88.4 percent. That's often how you win NCAA games.

Best go-to guy: Delon Wright, Utah

Many early bracket analysts fingered Stephen F. Austin as a potential for the nearly annual No. 12 seed vs. No. 5 upset this time around, but Utah will counter with Wright, a 6-5 senior guard with an all-around game.

How's this: he averages of 14.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.3 assists. Oh, and that 83.4 free-throw percentage could come in handy late in a close game.

Best coaching matchup: Steve Alford, UCLA vs. Larry Brown, SMU

Larry Brown led SMU to its first conference tournament title since 1988 and will be back coaching in the NCAAs with his third different college. First up, he will meet his former school of a very long time ago: UCLA.

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The NCAA committee's decision to include the Bruins was widely criticized, but it does offer Brown a nice historical bookend against a coach with his own impressive NCAA resume from the '80s.

In 1987, Alford was the leading scorer for Indiana in its championship game victory over Syracuse. In '88, Brown coached Kansas to an improbable title.

Best player you've never heard of: Tyler Kalinoski, Davidson

Kalinoski, a 6-4 senior, was Atlantic 10 Player of the Year after averaging 17 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists (with a 2.9 assists-to-turnovers ratio) for long-ago Long Islander Bob McKillop (the conference's Coach of the Year).

Davidson's first-round matchup against Iowa could well come down to whether Kalinoski outplays (or at least out-scores) Iowa senior Aaron White.

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Best bet to spring an update: Eastern Washington

Georgetown was given a generous No. 4 seed, and could be vulnerable against the Eagles, who have the leading scorer in the nation in 6-4 sophomore guard Tyler Harvey, who averages 22.9 points.

The fact that the leading scorer in Division I averages only 22.9 points is a statement about the current style of the college game, but that is a story for another day.

Best matchup: St. John's vs. Duke

If St. John's can get past San Diego State -- not easy, but not improbable -- it will get another shot at Duke in the Round of 32 in a rematch of a highly entertaining game at the Garden in January in which the Blue Devils rallied for Mike Krzyzewski's 1,000th career victory.

It will not help in dealing with Duke center Jahlil Okafor that St. John's suspended center Chris Obekpa for two weeks, but even without him, the Red Storm could make this a game.