The Fella Who Couldn’t Wait For Selection Sunday

Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you have to buy DVDs on the day they come out even though you know you won’t watch them for months (who has time with sports and Big Brother After Dark eating up at least ten hours a day). Maybe you need to eat that can of Pringles you brought to work as a mid-afternoon snack at 8:20 AM. In short, you don’t like to wait.

Well, apparently neither does my editor, because he’s demanding a March Madness preview story even before the brackets are announced. So here it is: Can you believe that East regional? That’s a killer! And Belmont as a seven seed? Are they kidding with that?

Seriously, though, you don’t have to wait until 5 PM CST Sunday afternoon when Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg, Jay Bilas, and anybody else CBS can scare up announce the field of 65 teams for the 2008 Men’s Basketball Tournament. You can start thinking about your bracket right now. Here’s some pointers for you to get started:

1. Go big. You see all of those cute little schools trying so hard to be like the big boys? Schools like Belmont, Siena, Morgan State, and Austin Peay? Yes, they’re fun to root for, but so is your son’s teeball team and you wouldn’t advance them in a one-and-done tournament. (Well, unless they were playing the Kansas City Royals . . .) Stick with the big schools and you’ll do fine. Sure, some will let you down, but many more won’t. (If you have to ride one small school, ride Drake from the Missouri Valley Conference. They could be interesting, but as a potential five seed, not exactly a Cinderella.)

2. Bet with your head, not with your heart. My wife picks Wisconsin to win the tournament every year. Keeping in mind that we’re lucky to have a team that actually goes to the tournament every year, it’s probably not a surprise to you that she doesn’t win too many office pools. Wisconsin will probably play a softie in the first round (like we all thought Texas A&M-Corpus Christi was a softie last year), but in the second round could see a solid team from a better conference like the PAC 10’s Washington State. Not many Badger fans could feel comfortable with that potential second-round matchup.

3. Defense wins. As painful as Friday’s lowest-score-ever-in-the-Big-Ten-Tournament game between Wisconsin and Michigan might have been for some (and bear in mind that the Big Ten tournament is only in its eleventh year), it’s a simple fact that solid half-court defense wins games. Particularly in a one-and-done tournament in which teams will inevitably suffer occasional scoring droughts, teams with good defenses will always have a chance to advance. So Wisconsin, Georgetown, UCLA — all teams playing great defense, especially of late — could go deep.

4. Who wins big? One school of thought is that teams that win close games are tougher than teams that cruise to easy victories. While there may be some truth to that, we’re talking about your bracket here — do you want to sweat it out while your Final Four teams win at the buzzer, or do you want the comfort of a team that can simply blow the competition away? If you like teams that can win big, pencil in Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina, Davidson (Davidson?), UCLA, Duke, and — there they are again — Wisconsin as advancing in your bracket.

5. The Big East and the Pac-10 are scary good conferences. Were it not for all of the automatic bids the NCAA selection committee hands out, these conferences — especially the PAC-10 — could each get into double figure bids. As it is, the two will likely combine to send a whopping 14 teams to the dance. These schools didn’t have patsies like Northwestern to beat up on, making them battle-tested and good picks in the tournament. Don’t be surprised to see lower-seeded teams from these conferences (like Pittsburgh or Arizona State) still around in the tourney’s second weekend.

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