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NCAA tournament: We four kings

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The Duke Blue Devils, led by Mason Plumlee (5), aim to stem the tide of mid-major programs in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. (Source: Duke Athletics) The Duke Blue Devils, led by Mason Plumlee (5), aim to stem the tide of mid-major programs in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. (Source: Duke Athletics)

This is the first of a 2-part series looking at some of the best players in the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Part 1 looks at standouts from the Big 6 conferences. Part 2, coming Thursday, will discuss the best of the mid-majors.

(RNN) – The commoners are creeping closer, but basketball's nobles still hold the castle surrounding the NCAA national championship.

Teams from the Big 6 – ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, Pac 12 and SEC – have won the last 22 titles. The most recent time a squad outside the major programs walked away from the Big Dance as champions was in 1990, when UNLV won it all.

Last season was a return to dominance for the power schools; only Ohio of the Mid-American Conference and the Atlantic 10's Xavier made it into the second week of play.

That bucked the trend of previous tournaments when mid-majors broke past the gates of the Sweet Sixteen – most notably Butler, which was in the final game two years in a row.

But 2012 was also an outlier in the terms of the talent pool. Many top freshman from 2011 stayed in school another year – most at Big 6 programs – and the incoming class of newbies was one of the strongest in a decade.

With that pool a little more shallow, the Butlers, Gonzagas and New Mexicos have a much better chance of ending that 22-year streak.

Four of the nation's top players - Trey Burke, Shane Larkin, Victor Oladipo and Mason Plumlee - lead four of the favorites from the Big 6 this year. They will be working to see the reign of excellence last at least one more season.

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