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February 3, 2013

Get ready ladies and gentlemen.  This will be a year when that one-girl-who-once-dribbled-a-basketball-and-knew-a-guy-whose-brother-played-in-high-school wins your annual tournament bracket pool. 

With Selection Sunday only a couple weeks away, the field is wide open with nearly ten teams who have a legitimate shot at cutting down the nets in Atlanta.  There are no powerhouses in college basketball this year, so picking a winner (and more importantly winning your tournament pool) will be as challenging as ever.  In other words, Rocky the Octopus has as a good of a chance at picking the winners as you do.

But, if you follow these simple steps, victory shall be yours!

  1. Forget anything that happened before January.  Oh, did your alma mater beat the #3 team in the country in November?  Big deal.  The early season tournaments and non-conference games, while exciting to watch, don’t mean anything in the long run.  The great teams don’t hit their full stride until conference play.
  1. Speaking of conference play: it matters.  Winning a conference regular season title or a conference tournament is a great sign that a team is ready for a long run come tourney time.  You have to go all the way back to 1997 to find a team (Arizona) that won the National Championship without winning either a regular season conference championship or a conference tournament championship in that same season.  So if you find yourself with a matchup that you are unsure about, go with the team that has already proven they are championship material.
  1. Don’t sleep on the Mid-Majors.  The great thing about college basketball is that once the tournament starts any team can make a run (unless you are a 16/15 seed).  No teams do this better than the Mid-Majors.  They capture everything we love about the tournament.  A small school, from a small conference, making a great run to the Elite Eight or Final Four while taking out some of the big boys.  George Mason in 2006.  VCU in 2011.  Butler in 2010 and 2011.  You should definitely pick upsets.  You should definitely have a Mid-Major school (See: Butler, Gonzaga, Wichita State) getting to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.  However, you should definitely not pick a Mid-Major to win it all.  No team outside of a (current) Power-Six conference has won the national championship since Texas Western in 1966.  Pick the Cinderella, but just make sure you don’t take her all the way to the Ball.
  1. Go with the proven Coach.  Does it seem like teams such as Michigan State, Duke, and North Carolina always make the Final Four?  It is no coincidence.  Teams that have coaches like Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski will always have a coaching advantage against whomever they are playing.  Great coaches are able to get the most out of their team and are able push their team beyond their own capabilities.  Simply put, winning the national championship requires a great coach.  In the last 20 years, there have only been three coaches that won a national championship that the general public most likely wouldn’t consider “great”: 1) Nolan Richardson, Arkansas 1994, 2) Jim Harrick, UCLA 1995, and 3) John Calipari, Kentucky 2012.  When in doubt, pick the team with the better coach.
  1. Don’t listen to the talking heads.  You can’t turn on CBS or ESPN to watch a game without some “expert” spouting their unsurpassed knowledge about college basketball.  Don’t listen to what Seth Greenberg, Seth Davis, or Digger Phelps has to say.  There’s a reason sports commentators don’t reveal their bracket picks to the public – they don’t have a clue who is going to win!  Go with your gut instinct before you are influenced by someone like Doug Gottlieb.

There you have it folks.  The one and only guide you’ll need to win your next college basketball tournament pool.  Following these five simple rules will guarantee you a first place finish.  If for some reason you don’t finish in first place, don’t blame me…I just pick the teams who have cute dogs as their mascot.