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5 Things to Know About March Madness So You Don't Look Like a Complete Lummox

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Just admit it: You won't have a clue about how to talk about the 2012 NCAA tournament, much less how to fill out the bracket once the teams are selected on March 11.

That's what we're here for.

As March Madness heads toward its March 15 start date (no need to watch the games on March 13 and 14; see item number five for clarification), here are five things you need to know to sound like you sort of know about the annual college basketball party.

5. Field of 68 It was 64, then 65 and now for the second consecutive year, 68. (The progression goes like this: First Four, Second Round, Third Round, Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final Four, National Championship.) The First Four pairs the lowest four at-large qualifying teams and the lowest four conference champions for a pathway to the NCAA tourney; it's kind of like watching the National Invitational Tournament or a UH basketball game.

4. Last Year's Championship-Game Teams, Connecticut and Butler, Are Played Out Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun has been plagued with a debilitating spinal condition (he's scheduled to go under the knife on Monday), and the defending champion Huskies have struggled without their leader. At 17-10, UConn is battling for their postseason lives under associate head coach George Blaney. Meanwhile, Butler, national runner-ups in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, were bound to have a down season. Unless the 18-12 Bulldogs play lights out and/or win the Horizon League Tournament, they'll be spending March in the NIT.

3. Murray State Isn't This Year's George Mason, Gonzaga, Butler, Etc. Don't let the Racers' shiny record (currently at 26-1) fool you. The leaders of the Ohio Valley Conference, who hail from Murray, Kentucky, are weak sauce with a strength of schedule that's in the 200s. Like Wichita State, another team with a sparkly win-loss ratio, the Racers might win their first game, and maybe their second, but that's it.

2. New Mexico Could Be This Year's George Mason, Gonzaga, Butler, Etc. A few weeks ago, it was all about UNLV and San Diego State making noise out of the surprisingly potent Mountain West Conference, but now the 22-5 Lobos, winners of seven of their past eight, are a team to watch. Along with Creighton's Doug McDermott and Saint Mary's (California) Matthew Dellavedova, New Mexico's Drew Gordon will be a fun player from a lesser-known team to check out.

1. The 2012 Final Four at the Louisiana Superdome Can Never Ever Trump the 2011 Version That's because last year's festivities went off in Houston. And even though the championship game between Connecticut and Butler was beyond unwatchable, New Orleans has a tough act to follow.


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