NCAA hoops: Tips on how to fill out a successful NCAA Tournament bracket
By Mac Engel
Outside of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, gas stations in Louisiana, river boats, select Indian reservations, horse tracks, dog tracks, jai alai venues and the Internet, gambling is illegal in the United States. The 2010 NCAA Tournament is about the kids, the experience of a lifetime, and one shining moment. In no way should the tournament be used as a communal bond in the work place, or, heaven forbid, for wagering.
But if you must break the law and spend $10 to enter a tournament pool, be smart and make sure to follow these doís and doníts
óDo be cute early, boring late: Have fun with the Cinderella picks in the first two rounds. For the Final Four, go with the favorites. In the past five years, 10 No. 1 seeds have reached the Final Four.
The field of 65 is a democracy where UTEP and Sam Houston State have the same chance as Kentucky or Syracuse. But the Final Four is usually an aristocracy, where Kansas and Duke are usually expected.
óDonít forget about the play-in game: Because the game featuring Winthrop and Arkansas-Pine Bluff is Tuesday night, itís easy to miss, thus botching your efforts to complete your bracket. As to who will win, who cares? Just pick it.
óDo pick Siena to win its first game: The Saints won 27 games and have an ideal first-round matchup in fourth-seeded Purdue. Once a fashionable pick for the Final Four, the Boilermakersí loss of top player Robbie Hummel to a season-ending knee injury makes them vulnerable.
óDonít pick Butler: The Bulldogs are always a cute team to pick, but they never go anywhere because, despite good guard play, they have no real size. And their game against UTEP is a rough 12-5 matchup. The Minersí combo of guard Randy Culpepper and Louisville transfer Derrick Caracter is too much. Donít be shocked if UTEP makes the Sweet 16.
óDo embrace the 13th seed: No. 3 seeds are 85-15 against 14 seeds, but this bracket features upset potential in this matchup. The last time a No. 3 seed lost its first game was 2006, when coach Steve Alfordís Iowa Hawkeyes lost to Northwestern State. Alford coaches No. 3 New Mexico, which will play a Montana team that features Anthony Johnson, who averages nearly 20 points per game. Montana is bigger, deeper and will win. But Siena will beat Purdue. And a 30-win Murray State squad has guards good enough to counter Vanderbiltís size advantage.
óDonít pick a 16th seed: Once the initial reaction of, ďWow, picking Lehigh, huh? GutsyĒ wears off, youíll quickly realize this is a wasted win in your bracket. A No. 16 seed has never won its first-round game. The closest was Princetonís one-point loss against Georgetown in 1989.
óDo pick against Bob Huggins: The Mountaineers are a typical Huggie Bear team ó athletic, strong, big, physical. But in Huggieís past 11 NCAA Tournament appearances with West Virginia and Cincinnati, heís been to just two Sweet 16s. Expect West Virginia to beat Morgan State and then lose to either Missouri or Clemson.
óDonít pick Texas to win: The Longhorns are talented enough to give Kentucky a game in the second round. But the íHorns wonít make it that far, thus completing a season that saw them go from top-ranked to unranked to first-round losers.
óDo pick two Cinderellas to reach the Sweet 16 but not more: Because the big-time programs get the one-and-done guys such as John Wall, itís harder for the mid-majors to really make a dent. So limit your Sweet 16 surprises to two. Think UTEP. Think Murray State.
óDonít Pick the Ivy: Cornell waves the nerd flag in this tournament, but the Big Red received a tough draw in fifth-seeded Temple. The Owls are coached by Fran Dunphy, and he knows how to beat Cornellís deliberate attack. The Big Red will win only if Ryan Wittman has a huge game.
óDo go with Baylor: Filling out brackets is never the time to ask, ďWait, explain how this team is this good and got these players?Ē Just go with it. The Bears are that good, and can reach the Elite Eight.
óDonít look for George Mason: The Patriotsí captivating run to the Final Four was in 2006. It was charming to watch an 11-seed from a mid-major make it that far, but it was an aberration. If there is another George Mason, just enjoy it and be OK with the destruction it causes your bracket.
óDo expect Duke to reach the Final Four: The NCAA selection committee all but cleared a path for the Blue Devils. Theirs is the easiest bracket of the four.
óDonít bet on John Calipari to win a title: The first-year Kentucky coach has reached two Final Fours with uber-talented teams. His UMass team in 1996 featured Marcus Camby. His Memphis team in 2008 featured Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts. Both schools landed in NCAA hot water and neither won a title. And despite having the likely top player in the 2010 NBA Draft in freshman John Wall, this team wonít win it all, either. Theyíll get close, though.
óDonít pick with your heart: If youíre a Texas A&M alum or North Texas fan, it would be nice to think the Aggies or Mean Green will make the Final Four. They wonít. Itís only OK to pick with your heart if your heart is in Kansas, Duke, Kentucky or Syracuse.
óDo pick Kansas: Because my heart and money went to Lawrence, Kan., for four years and this team is loaded at every position, itís OK in saying the Jayhawks will win their second national title in the past three years.