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Brackets 101

For the next three days, it’s all about the brackets and you will hear more about brackets than you have since that electronics superstore tried to upsell you after you bought your first big-screen television. Every office has a bracket and unless you want to end up losing to Claire in accounting again this year (don’t forget her retirement party is at the end of the month) then there’s some things you should consider.

Do Tubby Smith's Gophers have what it takes to make a run?

The first thing you must decide is if it more important to be right or to win because in many pools these are two very different tracks. You have to know the scoring system. The variables of seed and round and how your pool calculates success will influence your strategy. Another critical factor is the size of your pool. Your entry in a pool of 10 people should vary greatly from your entry in a pool of thousands of people.

In a smaller pool, there is less incentive to pick a bunch of upsets. It becomes a horse race, where it’s best to hang close to the pack and look to pull away at the end rather than taking high risk and being out of the race at the quarter pole. Sure you might want bragging rights that you got that No. 14 seed beating a No. 2, but that only lasts as long as the next round. When you are in a large pool, being right isn’t good enough because it turns into a game of poker where you utilize certain strategies to increase your odds to win.

Next, let’s get the elephant out of the closet and just flatly state that there is nobody that knows what’s going to happen. No one. While matchups are important, remember, the most important matchup that can’t be predicted is which version of said team is showing up, Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde? Is this the Miami team versus Wake Forest or against Michigan State?

Beware The Offensively Challenged:
Stay away from teams that struggle to score in the “Big Dance.” In the NCAA Tournament, teams take away what you do best and there is a quicker whistle. In the last seven years, six of the champions were either first or second in offensive efficiency. Therefore teams that struggle to score the basketball, you must eliminate from your Final Four. Eliminate Wisconsin, Georgetown, New Mexico and St. Louis sooner rather than later.

Double-Digit Darlings:
The best way to win your pool is to find the longshots that are capable of winning two games in the tournament. Last year, it was Xavier, Ohio and North Carolina State. Who can it be this year?
Minnesota - This is a team that will show better out of conference than in their brutal second half of the Big Ten slate. The Gophers have the talent and they have beaten Memphis, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois. UCLA is reeling with the loss of Jordan Adams and Florida will struggle with the length and athleticism of the Tubby Smith’s club.

California - The Golden Bears limp into the tourney with losses to Stanford and Utah. They have really good guards and guards make the difference and UNLV is weakest at the guard position. Given the way Syracuse has been playing, their likely opponent in the next round, they could be vulnerable as well.

Three Critical Ingredients To March On:

Guard Play
When the game is on the line, who do you have with the basketball? Guys that could put the whole team on their back by scoring 40 or making plays for teammates to go off and make shots. Remember Kemba Walker, you need a guy who can do that.

Teams that have this: Louisville, Michigan, Miami

Do you have three lethal scoring options?
Possessions become more valuable in the tournament. Better opponents take away what you do best. Someone has to step up; last year for Kentucky it was Doron Lamb who led them in scoring.

Teams that have this: Gonzaga, Kansas, Indiana

Teams that can only play one tempo or one certain way just can’t survive. Those who can play both fast and slow and who can beat teams from the perimeter as well as the post are most dangerous.

Teams that have this: Duke, Indiana

Final Thought:

Lastly, when in doubt, two items to remember:

1) Tournament Experience - It won’t appear on any stat sheet but it’s important
2) The Coach - Some coaches are lights out when they have days to prepare, for example they call Tom Izzo, “Lord of the Dance” as he has six Final Four trips in 12 years. It is a strength certainly for Michigan State as well as Kansas.

Leigh Klein was formerly on staff at Texas and Rhode Island and now owns Five-Star Basketball Camps, the nation’s top basketball camp. He contributes to’s coverage of college basketball. Klein can be followed at @LeighAlanKlein

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