We know: The bracket can be overwhelming.
Maybe you've heard of the major teams, but many others could be difficult to even locate on a map.
Bucknell anybody? Winthrop? Mount St. Mary's? They're not the guys in California, and if you think Jacksonville State is in Florida, I have some bad news for you, my friend.
Point is, the more you know, the more fun it is when the action really gets started on Thursday and Friday (after the First Four are in).
We're here to help.
These are the anti-Dukes: Teams worth rooting for if your alma mater didn't make this year's bracket.
Michigan. In case you missed it, our Matt Brown explained why Michigan is the most easily rootable team in this year's field. To recap the Wolverines' week: Their plane to the Big Ten tournament in Washington, D.C., aborted takeoff amid 60 mile per hour winds and skidded off the runway into a ditch. Guard Derrick Walton suffered a laceration on his knee that needed stitches. The team entertained a forfeit but flew in Thursday morning for its opening-round game against Illinois that tipped off at 12:20 local time. Michigan won that game in practice jerseys because the players' real uniforms were still on the plane, and nothing could be removed until the investigation was complete. On Sunday, the Wolverines finished an unlikely run to the Big Ten tournament title, becoming the lowest-seeded team to ever win the league's tournament, at No. 7.
"You're going to tell your grandchildren about those five days," John Beilein said he told his team this week.
And the Wolverines will have a lot of extra fans for their opening game against Oklahoma State in Round 1.
Northwestern. Behind the Wolverines, Northwestern will be one of the biggest stories of the week leading up to the tournament. Don't worry about what our Will Leitch says, even if he makes some compelling points. CBS waited to unveil the Wildcats' slot in the bracket until the final region, and when they did, the Northwestern players removed their jackets and revealed shirts that said "It's time." They waited long enough. NU's berth was its first in school history, and eliminated its status as the last major conference team to never play in the NCAA Tournament.
Also, Elaine Benes/Selina Meyer is Northwestern's most public fan: Her son Charlie Hall is a sophomore on the team.
Here's hoping we see some thumbs and little kicks this weekend.
New Orleans. Back in 2005, Hurricane Katrina tore the roof off and flooded Lakefront Arena, and after slowed fundraising, state budget cuts and trimmed enrollment, the athletic department was $5 million in debt. In 2009, the school announced plans to drop from the Division I Sun Belt all the way to Division III, but never actually made the move. In 2011, it announced new plans to stay in Division I and join the Southland Conference. By that point, more than 100 of the school's athletes had transferred, and the program was predictably in a giant hole. Just six years later, New Orleans is back in the tournament after ending Stephen F. Austin's reign over the Southland. Coach Mark Slessinger has been with the program since the 2011-12 season, slowly rebuilding to this year's regular season and tournament title. Before this season, they'd never finished higher than eighth in the Southland. They're a 16-seed bound for the First Four, but they're an easy team to get behind in Dayton against Mount St. Mary's and maybe later this week against overall No. 1 seed Villanova.
Rhode Island. The Rams spent most of the last part of the season squarely on the bubble, but removed all doubt with an eight-game winning streak to end the season with an Atlantic-10 title. The last time URI made the field (1999), it did it in dramatic fashion, thanks to Lamar Odom.
This year wasn't as crazy, but the program is a long way from its run to the Elite Eight under Jim Harrick back in 1998. Re-bottling that magic for this year's tournament would be quite a sight.
SMU. The Mustangs were banned from last year's tournament thanks to skirting a few NCAA rules under Larry Brown. They came back strong in 2017 under ex-Brown assistant Tim Jankovich. SMU won its second AAC title in three years, and at 30-4, already set a school record for wins. Before the program's rejuvenation under Brown, SMU hadn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1993. These are not bracket tourists hoping to snap a selfie and get a short taste of the madness. This is a team capable of a deep run, even as a criminally low No. 6 seed. It's a down year for The American and SMU's resume is thin on quality wins, but its only loss since Nov. 30 came at 29-5 Cincinnati by two points. Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye is a force at 6-foot-7 and 235 pounds. He's averaging 19 points and nearly seven boards a game in his first season on the floor.
Wichita State. Coach Gregg Marshall and the Shockers are no strangers to the bracket, but they're victims of a historically bad year in the Missouri Valley. The mid-major league often lands multiple teams in the field, but only got one this year after Illinois State was snubbed. WSU's resume -- like SMU -- is thin, but in what many thought would be a rebuilding year after Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet graduated, Wichita still won the MVC and went 30-4. This isn't the defensive giant that choked out Vanderbilt and Arizona in last year's tournament, but it's very balanced in spite of inexperience. The Shockers are in the top 20 of KenPom.com's offensive and defensive ratings. And they're a No. 10 seed? I'm sure the committee's apology is in the mail.
UC Davis. Northwestern isn't alone as a newbie this year. The Aggies moved up from Division II to Division I in 2004 and won the Big West regular season title back in 2015. Two years later, as the Big West's second-place team, they're back after surviving overtime against Cal State Fullerton in the semifinals and beating top-seeded UC Irvine in the title game.
Jacksonville State. They're in Alabama, by the way. First-year coach Ray Harper took the No. 4 seeded Gamecocks to the top of the OVC Tournament, knocking off league juggernaut and No. 1 seed Belmont in the semifinals and beating No. 2 seed Tennessee-Martin in the title game.
North Dakota. The program dumped one-time nickname "Fighting Sioux" back in 2012 after a lengthy controversy. Two years ago, they adopted their current Fighting Hawks moniker and the one-time Division II power finally cracked the Big Dance. They moved up to Division I play for the 2009-10 season and 11th-year coach Brian Jones has overseen the transition. The program has played in the CIT five times, but lost its opening game every time. The No. 15 seed will take on Arizona after winning the regular season and postseason titles in the Big Sky.
State bragging rights battlers
Northern Kentucky. The Norse have one of the best nicknames in the tournament and like the teams above them, are also playing in the tournament for the first time. They get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in-state giant Kentucky less than two hours from campus in Indianapolis. Big Blue Nation will flood that arena, but don't be surprised if the Norse have plenty of support, too.
Florida Gulf Coast. Dunk City is officially back. (We'll pause now for you to watch this and reminisce about the most lovable Cinderella in NCAA Tournament history.)
And yes, they're still dunking on folks. In the Atlantic Sun final, guard Rayjon Tucker dunked hard enough to break Alico Arena's shot clock.
Dunk City shut down the shot clock pic.twitter.com/SsFYVXejLu- Danny (@recordsANDradio) March 5, 2017
All of FGCU's media releases come from a "Dunk City" dateline and they'll be leaving the beach to take on No. 3 seed Florida State in Orlando for Round 1. The Eagles might be the little guys, but they've been to the tournament twice since FSU's last trip back in 2012. Andy Enfield is at USC now, but beware of Joe Dooley's squad.
Just plain fun
UCLA. Lavar Ball believes replacing his son Lonzo Ball with Steph Curry on this team would be a downgrade. OK, so Lavar's not all that lovable, but Lonzo can ball and the Bruins are one of the most entertaining teams in the entire bracket. They're also capable of winning the whole thing. UCLA is KenPom.com's No. 3 offensive team and No. 13 most uptempo team. Also, if it's close late, don't be surprise if Lonzo pulls from 25 feet for the win.
Oklahoma State. Jawun Evans missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, but he's back and one of the nation's best point guards. That does wonders for an offense, and so does dumping Travis Ford for Brad Underwood, who built a Southland dynasty at Stephen F. Austin. In Year 1, OSU's offense behind Evans and Phil Forte is KenPom.com's top-rated attack. Also, freshman guard Davon Dillard can fly and the Cowboys have six players who shoot better than 42 percent from three.
USC. They have a good luck puppy. Enough said.
Here is Andy Enfield's kids new puppy. "Our good luck charm." pic.twitter.com/FnWoA40tPT- Joey Kaufman (@joeyrkaufman) March 12, 2017