Forget about the Fall Classic, the Super Bowl or the BCS, there is no other sporting event that captivates the nation and saps worker productivity more than the NCAA Tournament. The passion, pageantry and pandemonium of the 65-team madness takes us all on a thrill ride "Rock, Chalk Jayhawk-ed" full of stellar individual performances and bracket-busting upsets that can feed any inner Dick Vitale.
If you're an amateur bracketologist who wastes company dime on roundball research in the hopes of inking an office pool winner, this is the primer for you.
Before you click those picks, it's a necessity to understand the makeup of the perfect Final Four pedigree. That is, unless a five-year old fills out your bracket and picks teams based on cute mascot names and/or fashionable school colors. In that case, the Oregon Ducks are a trendy choice.
To help pinpoint teams destined to slug it out in Atlanta, here are five champion traits a team must possess in order to make a deep March run:
1. Floor Generals
Good guard play is imperative for any team that has aspiring tourney dreams. Essentially, point guards implement and establish plays like a foreman over his workers, looking for the best point of attack. Any point guard that has the ability to penetrate, create, rain from the arc and control the offensive tempo will keep a team's flow organized. Those squads who lack an efficient floor general will be more susceptible to turnovers and shooting funks. Although powerful frontcourts were the key to success for the past three champions, (UConn, North Carolina and Florida) they couldn't have cut down the nets without consistent backcourt play. Interestingly, each of the last three runners up (Georgia Tech, Illinois, UCLA) had a trio of solid ball-handlers. Guard play will get you to Hotlanta, but viable post play is equally necessary for the final weekend.
2. Downtown Men
Nothing in the NCAA game is more style altering than a team's ability to dial-up from long range. Why? 1. You are never out of the game … 2. Consistent perimeter shooting allows defenses to be stretched, opening up higher percentage opportunities in the paint … 3. Any riddling zone can be busted by an arc bomb. If rain isn't in the forecast, a team's chances to advance will run dry.
As the adage says, there's no better offense than a good defense. In tournament play this is vital. Defenses that force guards to start offensive sets miles from the basket frustrate, strangle and defeat superior teams. Any team that exudes tenacious, aggressive tactics in the half-court game can establish and control tempo, which will increase its odds of gaining the upper-hand.
4. Upperclassman Guidance
As former Princeton standout and U.S. Senator Bill Bradley once noted, "The taste of defeat has a richness of experience all its own." In today's day and age, it's rare that teams are well-seasoned, largely due to the attractiveness of NBA greenbacks. For those teams lucky enough to survive the bling desires of the pro game, a cohesive, battle-tested unit that has tasted the fruits – whether bitter or sweet – in March, have a distinct advantage over their opponent. These experienced squads are far less likely to crack under the microscope of the national stage due to chemistry and complacency.
5. Star Power
The pressure of playing on a grand stage is enormous. In order for any team to advance to the later rounds, a star must become the cornerstone of dependability in a school's highest hour of need. Like Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony in 2003, stars can carry the load of playing under duress and build confidence in his supporting cast. Nearly impossible to guard one-on-one, supernova Kevin Durant and his fellow baby Longhorns could do some major damage.
Based on the above criteria, here are my super six that have the best chance to get 'crunk' in Hotlanta.
#'s in parentheses denote margin of win/loss
RPI and SOS are taken from realtimerpi.com – Efficiency stats are from kenpom.com
Individual team stats ranks for games played through March 8
|Texas A&M Aggies||25-6||3-South||16||55|
|Starting Five: G-Acie Law IV (17.9 PPG), G-Dominque Kirkland (6.5 PPG), G-Josh Carter (51.6 3PT%), F-Joseph Jones (54.8 FG%), C-Antana Kavaliauskas (12.3 PPG)|
|Key Wins: at Kansas (3), Texas (18),|
|Key Losses: at LSU (12), at UCLA (3), at Texas Tech (2), Texas Tech (2)|
|Why they march to Atlanta: They say everything's big in Texas and, similar to their obscene mid-court logo at Reed Arena, the Aggies are a monster from key-to-key. Billy Gillespie's bunch is the toughest team in the NCAA tournament. Overshadowed by freshman sensation Kevin Durant as a Wooden frontrunner, Acie Law deserves national acclaim as college's premiere point guard, drilling 51.6 percent from the field, while averaging 18.2 points per game and 5.3 assists per contest. Three-point marksman Josh Carter leads the nation in field-goal percentage from behind the arc and junior Dominique Kirk is an unmitigated defender. The Aggies are equally as effective in the post. Kavaliauskas is a tireless worker who fights for open shots and rebounds. A-K's tag-team partner, junior Joseph Jones, pounds defenders in the box, drawing fouls and making teams pay – he averages a sparkling 81.6 percent from the free-throw line. Clutch, experienced and one of two teams nationally that ranks in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency, the Aggies are a relentless, championship-caliber squad with minor flaws. They may just be this year's Florida.
Prediction: National Champions
|Starting Five: G-Darren Collison (6.0 APG), G-Arron Afflalo (16.7 PPG), F-Josh Shipp (13.5 PPG), F-Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (7.7 RPG), C-Lorenzo Mata (65.7 FG%)|
|Key Wins: BYU (13), Kentucky (5), Texas A&M (3), at Washington St (8)|
|Key Losses: at Oregon (2), at Stanford (7), at Washington (10), California (7)|
|Why they march to Atlanta: Do you think Ben Howland is anxious at possibly facing previous employer Pitt? Trying to become the first team to lose in the first round of their conference tournament and win a championship, UCLA is a savvy, experienced team, that gets sensational play from its backcourt and body-up opponents aggressively on defense. Well-oiled machines on the attack, the Bruins burn the nets offensively, showcasing a 48.4 team FG%. Roadrunner Darren Collison is the key for UCLA making it back the Final Four. In games in which the Bruins have fallen, Collison has shot only 30.7 percent from the field and sported a lowly 18:17 AST:TO ratio. Ranked in the top 18 in the nation in offensive and defensive efficiency, outside of their pathetic 64.7 percent conversion rate at the charity stripe, UCLA has enough firepower to hoist the Seaman's Trophy.
Prediction: National Champion Runner-up
|Starting Five: G-Jessie Sapp (3.4 APG), G-Jonathan Wallace (47.6 3PT%), F-DaJuan Summers (9.1 PPG), F-Jeff Green (14.2 PPG), C-Roy Hibbert (12.7 PPG)|
|Key Wins: at Notre Dame (18), Marquette (18), Pittsburgh (8), Pittsburgh (17)|
|Key Losses: Old Dominion (13), Oregon (7), at Duke (9), at Syracuse (14)|
|Why they march to Atlanta: With Thompson calling the shots and Ewing in uniform, it feels like it's 1986 all over again at G'Town. Maybe now I can bring back the Flock of Seagulls hairdo without ridicule. In the shadows of legendary fathers, the Hoyas are once again a collegiate authoritarian. The most efficient offensive machine in the nation, the Hoyas run a Princeton style on steroids. Silky smooth forward Jeff Green is a perfectionist on both ends of the floor who exploded in the Big East tournament, averaging over 21 points per game and shooting a red-hot 55 percent. He and paint behemoth Roy Hibbert (2.4 BPG) have mitigated opposing offenses, limiting teams to 56 points per contest (5th in the country) and a deplorable 38.8 percent from the field (10th in DI). The Hoyas' mountainous interior (19th in the country in rebound margin), suffocating defense, fluid offense and overall tournament experience, arrows to a spot in Atlanta.
Prediction: Final Four loss to Texas A&M
|Starting Five: G-Michael Flowers (3.0:1.4 AST:TO ratio), G-Kammron Taylor (12.6 PPG), F-Alando Tucker (20.2 PPG), F-Marcus Landry (5.9 PPG), C-Jason Chappell (3.1 PPG)|
|Key Wins: at Marquette (4), Pittsburgh (14), Ohio St (3)|
|Key Losses: Missouri St. (2), at Indiana (5), at Ohio St (1), Ohio St (17)|
|Why they march to Atlanta: Break out the beer and brats, Wisconsin and their inflexible defense will badger their way to Atlanta. Arguably in the toughest region, Wisky is as fiercely competitive as their head coach Bo Ryan. The best defensive club in their bracket, the Badgers rank fifth in the country in defensive efficiency, stymieing opponents to an average of 40.7 percent from the field. On the attack, Wisconsin runs a complex "swing" offense that's excruciating to defend if long strokers Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry can hit the trifecta. Alando Tucker is an explosive, plucky scorer who knocks down mid-range jumpers confidently and can slash to the hoop with ease. With a plethora of ogres over 6-foot-7 on roster that see plenty of minutes, if they can keep the tempo pedestrian, the Badgers can punish teams with their size. Because they protect the basketball (11.3 TO/G ranks 10th nationally), rebound relentlessly and play cerebral basketball, this is an overlooked Wisconsin club that has Final Four assets. Oh, and if they make it to the Sweet 16, they could get their third-leading scorer, Brian Butch back.
Prediction: Final Four loss to UCLA
|Ohio St. Buckeyes||30-3||1-West||1||17|
|Starting Five: G-Mike Conley Jr. (6.3 APG), G-Ron Lewis (11.5 PPG), G-Daequan Cook (10.9 PPG), G-Jamar Butler (8.4 PPG), C-Greg Oden (15.7 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.5 BPG)|
|Key Wins: Tennessee (2), Wisconsin (1), Wisconsin (17)|
|Key Losses: at Florida (26), at North Carolina (9), at Wisconsin (3)|
|Why they march to Atlanta: Gum or no gum, Thad Matta and his baby Buckeyes have chewed up the competition. Although Greg Oden grabs the spotlight, the hallmark of this Ohio St. team is the ability of their guards to penetrate the lane and create. Dynamite freshman phenom Mike Conley Jr. is the straw that mixes the drink, ranking fifth nationally in assists (6.4 APG). Due to Conley's intuitiveness, Oden, a high school teammate of Conley, has been able to generate handfuls of high-percentage shots each game – the main reason why he's shooting a pinpoint accurate 61.4 percent. The sheer paint presence of Oden and the aggressiveness of the Buckeye guards have helped OSU wear down adversaries and get to the charity stripe with regularity. Limiting opponents to a staunch 40.1 field-goal percentage, Ohio St. frustrates foes – especially on the glass – and displaces normal team flow. If their guards consistently knock down the three and Oden stays out of foul trouble, this is a team with enough depth and talent to cut down the nets in the Georgia Dome, even without a speck of experience.
Prediction: Elite 8 loss to Texas A&M
|Starting Five: G-D.J. Augustin (6.7 APG), G-A.J. Abrams (3.5 3PTM/G), G-Justin Mason (8.2 PPG), F-Kevin Durant (25.3 PPG, 11.5 RPG), F-Damion James (7.2 RPG)|
|Key Wins: at Kansas (3), Texas (18)|
|Key Losses: at LSU (12), at UCLA (3), at Texas Tech (2), Texas Tech (2)|
|Why they march to Atlanta: Kevin Durant should be nicknamed "The Freak." The only player in college basketball who ranks in the top 10 in points and rebounds per game, Durant is the best all-around threat to hit the collegiate hardwood since Magic Johnson. And while Durant steals the headlines, but the sum of the parts will ultimately determine the Horns destiny. Augustin has developed into a cognitive point guard, dishing out 6.4 APG . He's also become a dependable scorer, averaging 16.5 PPG in his past 10. Three-point specialist Abrams and paint pounder Damian James have also blossomed down the stretch and will be pivotal in alleviating defensive pressure on Durant. Gritty, beef-jerky tough and road-seasoned, the Longhorns average nearly 83 points per game, rain an insane 40.4 percent from three and are a solid free-throw shooting club (72.3%). The Carmelo Anthony comparisons are obvious, yet unfair – if Texas reaches the finals, Durant will be in a class all his own. Then again, he may be already.
Prediction: Elite 8 loss to Georgetown
As you prepare to fill in the rest of the blanks, here are a few facts to keep in mind.
- 14 of the past 16 champions have been either a 1- or 2-seed.
- Since 1979, at least one No. 3 or higher seed has made it to the Final Four.
- Since 1997, 12 No. 10 seeds have made it to the Sweet Sixteen.
- Only three times since 1985 have three No. 1 seeds made it to the Final four.
- Since the inception of the Coach's Poll 15 years ago, the No. 1-ranked team before the start of the postseason has been in the national championship seven times and has won the championship five of those times. Ohio St is currently ranked No. 1.
- 87 percent of Final Four teams come from the top four seeds
- Kevin Durant