Sunday, March 16, 2003

This is how to win your office pool


Filling out the bracket

By Jeff D'Alessio
Florida Today

Brace yourself for the madness of March, which begins bright and early Monday morning with the rush to the office Xerox to copy off brackets. If you want to win your office pool, here's a few NCAA Tournament do's and don'ts.

Things to avoid

•  No. 16 seeds. Since 1985, they're 0-72 in first-round matchups against No. 1s. "Stay away from 16 seeds unless you have a 1-900 psychic line and an accent," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas says.

• Coaches with beards. P.J. Carlesimo is the only one to take a team to the Final Four (Seton Hall, 1989).

• Teams that go coast to coast. "If a Pacific time zone team has a 12:08 or 12:28 tip time in the Eastern time zone against an Eastern team, pick against 'em," Sports Illustrated college basketball writer Alexander Wolff says.

Count upperclassmen

The more of them a team has in key roles, the better its chance to advance.

"If you really want to win some money in your pool, pick teams that are deep and have good senior leadership," says Golden State Warriors rookie Mike Dunleavy, who played alongside senior Shane Battier on Duke's 2001 title team.

Despite the flood of underclassmen to the NBA in recent years, a senior has been named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four in four of the last five tournaments.

But while seniors sizzle, freshmen often fizzle under the bright lights of March.

"Freshmen, even talented ones, can be unreliable come tournament time," says noted NCAA expert Jerry Palm, who operates the Web site www.CollegeRPI.com.

Keep that in mind when you're analyzing Syracuse (freshman point guard and go-to guy), Illinois (all-freshman backcourt), Florida (two freshman starters) and Duke (three of top six scorers are rookies).

Ignore the experts

Pay extra close attention to the advice Billy Packer and other college basketball experts give during tonight's NCAA Selection Show (6-7 p.m., CBS).

Then do the opposite.

"The office secretary, using colors and nicknames, can beat Mr. Expert," Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan says. "And usually does."

Gonzaga over Goliath

From Bryce Drew to Hampton U., new Cinderella stories are told every March.

But how do you know which long shot to select?

•  Pick a few No. 12 seeds to make it to the weekend. Last year, three of them upset No. 5s in the first round (Creighton over Florida, Missouri over Miami, Tulsa over Marquette). The year before, 12s and 5s split their tournament openers. In 2000, the 5s went 4-0, but two got serious scares (Florida over Butler, Kentucky over St. Bonaventure in 2 OTs).

• Pick mid-majors with a history of pulling off upsets. Gonzaga did it once, then again and again. Maybe the new Gonzaga is Creighton, which bounced Florida last year. Or North Carolina-Wilmington, which is back in the field a year after stunning fourth-seeded Southern California.

• Pick upsets only in first and second rounds.

"The little guys rarely get past the Sweet 16, and the big points that win pools come later in the bracket," Bilas said.

• If they get in, bet on Butler's Bulldogs.

"They're still pretty honked off for getting left out last year and are going to want to make a statement," Palm says.

• David Mihm, who operates the Web site bracketography.com, thinks Kansas, Pittsburgh and Louisville could be ripe for a first-round upset.

• Here's a Cinderella story if we've ever heard one: Matt Crenshaw, the oldest player in Division I at 26, hit a fall-away jumper with one second left to power Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis to a 66-64 win over Valparaiso in the Mid-Continent Conference title game. The Jaguars are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance • Take a chance on Austin Peay. Why, you ask? Because fans from Austin Peay (pronounced: PEE) have the catchiest chant in college basketball: "Let's go, Peay. Let's go, Peay."

Coaching counts

• Good: Louisville's Rick Pitino, who's led six of his seven tournament teams to the Elite Eight or better.

• Bad: Cincinnati's Bob Huggins, whose teams have never knocked off a higher-seeded team but have lost eight times to a lower seed.

• Good: Kentucky's Tubby Smith, who won it all in 1998 and has been to four Sweet 16s in five seasons at UK.

• Bad: Texas' Rick Barnes, whose teams have beaten a higher-seeded team just once in 10 tournament appearances "A good rule of thumb is to pick the team with the better bench coach when everything else seems to be fairly equal," says college hoops junkie Caulton Tudor of the Raleigh News & Observer. "So much of the NCAA comes down to taking the correct counteraction. The best bench coaches have an advantage in that regard. If the No. 11 seed has an obviously talented strategist, he almost always had a decent chance of beating a No. 6 team that relies almost entirely on talent."

Bet on fast finishers

Steer clear of teams that struggled down the stretch (Notre Dame has lost four of five, Cincinnati went 4-8 down the stretch).




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This is how to win your office pool
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