For the avid sports fan, no misery surpasses that engendered when his or her “lock” for the Final Four loses to a Coppin State by 2:30 on the opening Thursday of the NCAA Tournament. What follows is intended to facilitate the successful avoidance of this misfortune; it is a primer for making picks, a process that will commence around seven o’clock on Sunday when the NCAA unveils this year’s field of 65.

Know your history

Trends become trends because certain phenomenon occur consistently, and the tournament has its fair share of traditions. Among other stats, please keep in mind that: No team seeded higher than eight has ever won the national title; no Final Four has ever included all four top seeds, and only twice in the last 10 years have three made it; only two teams from outside the BCS conferences have won the national title since the field was expanded to 64 teams, and the last time it happened was 1981. Beyond the hard facts, those determined to learn from history should know that seemingly invariably, a 12 seed upsets a five, and almost as frequently, an 11 takes down an six and a 10 defeats a seven.

There are other historical elements to consider when filling out your brackets. To the point, literally, guard play is of paramount importance in the tournament because it is the backcourt men, particularly the point guard, who handle the ball, initiate the offense, and interpret the defense of teams they likely haven’t previously played. Failure to fulfill any of these obligations can result in turnovers, defensive breakdowns, and a quick exit. Not convinced? Ask Steve Blake, Jay Williams, Mateen Cleeves, Ricky Moore and Wayne Turner, the last five national-champion point guards. Flawless players? Certainly not. Exceptional floor generals? Certainly.

College basketball is a coach’s game

Given diffuse talent, winning and losing often depend on the hoops acumen of the coaches.

Those seeking to impress their friends and bankrupt their bookies may want to consider the tournament histories of the coaches guiding some of the teams expected to win. Flat out, some coaches struggle in tournament settings, so don’t be deceived if they’ve guided their teams to gaudy regular-season win totals relying on ample prep time and myriad sources for inspiration. In the tournament, many of those luxuries disappear, coaches never afforded more than four or five days to scout up to three teams and only given the inherent urgency of the tournament’s one-and-done format for winning impetus. (Though that really should suffice.)

Watch out for Purdue’s Gene Keady, Roy Williams of Kansas and Bob Huggins at Cincinnati. The Boilermakers, Jayhawks, and Bearcats have not cut down the nets under their current bosses. Keady’s never been to the Final Four while Williams and Huggins routinely loses prematurely with prohibitive favorites. One more man to be leary of is Notre Dame’s Mike Brey. His Irish lost to a non-tournament team in the first round of the Big East Tournament and the second-year coach is still cutting his teeth with a team that may draw upset-waiting-to-happen Pennsylvania in the first round.

Gonzaga’s Mark Few, Louisville’s Rick Pitino, and Utah’s Rick Majerus may spur their teams to victory. Few has found ways to motivate the Zags when considered either the underdog or the favorite; Pitino has always gotten his players to force the opponent to play his team’s game; and Majerus has deftly deployed unexpected defenses to befuddle favored opponents. One more coach to consider is Dennis Felton of Western Kentucky, who has guided his team to the Tourney for the third straight year despite missing his preseason all-american center Chris Marcus.

Road Warriors

With exceptions like Duke sometimes playing in Greensboro, N.C., few teams enjoy a homecourt advantage in the NCAA Tournament, and the ability to win away from home becomes important. This season was proof, as many teams faltered on the road. College basketball’s better road teams have been Kentucky (14-2 away from Rupp), Arizona (8-2), Stanford (8-2), Syracuse (8-3), Florida (8-5), and Texas (8-5). Conversely, there are a handful of bubble teams who have struggled on the road (North Carolina State is 3-8; Minnesota is 2-8), yet they aren’t necessarily going dancing. Of the Tourney locks, be wary of Missouri (4-8), Purdue (4-8), Cincinnati (4-7) and Maryland (5-6).

Styles make fights

Ok, so that adage is commonly used in boxing, but it is certainly applicable here. Part of the Tournament’s unique intrigue is that it pits teams against each other that play different ways, and often whoever adapts better emerges from the contest victorious. That is particularly so on defense, where the right tweak or confusing zone can disrupt an offense or shutdown a top scorer.

This consideration could manifest itself when a slow-it-down team like Wisconsin plays a run-and-gun squad like Louisville. Another stylistic difference to look for is if a zone-reliant team must play a squad that can bomb from the perimeter. It could get ugly for the zone team that can’t adjust against Creighton or Duke. Contrarily, those who play Utah or Oklahoma better find alternative ways to score, because teams like those will prioritize disrupting an offense.

Anything else?

Here are some miscellaneous items to bear in mind when figuring out who could be going to New Orleans: Rely on credible sources for information, the best being yourself; depth is always important in a tournament because the rapid succession of games and their intensity can be wearisome; senior leadership is key, especially in loud arenas and under extreme pressure; go with your gut.

What’s the good word?

So, who has a shot to go far in the tournament? With the important caveat that the brackets are still undetermined and thus, a lot is still unkonwn, here are some teams that could do some damage:

Arizona and Kentucky

Both Wildcats have distanced themselves from the competition. They have strong senior leadership, good guard play, and excellent athleticism and depth. These are chalk teams.


The ‘Horns swept Oklahoma and are 8-5 against the RPI top 50. Most importantly, they have T.J. Ford, the nation’s best point guard and a man that the Pistons have said is the best non-NBA player not named LeBron. Ford and the deep Texas team may get a top seed and seemed primed for a run.


Led by freshman sensation Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse can score with anyone and has great balance among Anthony, Jerry McNamara, Billy Edelin, Kueth Duany Hakim Warrick. Among elite teams, this is a dangerous “sleeper.”


David West and Romain Sato are as good a combination as any, and the Musketeers have been on fire after a disappointing opening half of the season. Thad Motta has a team that could beat a top seed given steady Lionel Chalmers and the deadly duo.

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