Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
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Last year, for the first time in years, I won the office March Madness pool.
Although it would be tough to find anyone around here who watches more college basketball than I do, March Madness also involves a lot of luck.
Mine came from the fingers of Kansas' Mario Chalmers and the poor free throw shooting of Memphis last season.
This year, it's easy to argue that as many as five teams could win the whole thing. Although getting the champion right always helps, locking up a few early round surprises can go a long way in bragging rights. As important as picking Kansas to win it was, picking 15 of the Sweet 16 teams is what won it for me.
I'm no Joe Lunardi, but here are five keys I like to stick to:
- 1. Don't pick with emotion. Hey, I'm glad you graduated from Siena, Washington or Drake, but be realistic when you pick. It's like anything in gambling - or, of course, in this case, a friendly office pool. Don't ever pick with emotion. Look at the spreads and lines and then pick.
- 2. Don't try to pick upsets. Usually the seeding committee does a pretty good job with seeding. Although there will be upsets in the first couple of rounds - picking a 12 seed against a No. 5 usually is a pretty good bet - the favored teams usually win. Don't be the person that picks all sorts of upsets, hits on a couple, brags all week about how sweet they are, then ends up with four teams in the Sweet 16.
- 3. Follow the conference powers. Mid-majors are what they are. There are a couple each year that make it to the Sweet 16 or even Elite 8, but for the most part, they are one and done. This year, stick with teams from the Big East and ACC. Those conferences were the best all year and will inevitably be the best bets in the tournament. In many cases, the sixth- or seventh-best team in the Big East is better than the second-best in the Big Ten or Big 12.
- 4. The easy road. With the brackets out, look at teams that play close to home. Home court advantage is never more evident than in college basketball. In 2003, national champion Syracuse's first four games were never more than five hours away from home. That helped Syracuse - a No. 3 seed that season - lock up the national title.
- 5. Stick with guards and coaches. It's that simple. Look at the last four national champions, their backcourts and coaches. Kansas with Chalmers, Sherron Collins, Russell Robinson and coach Bill Self; Florida twice, with Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey, Corey Brewer and coach Billy Donovan; and North Carolina with Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and coach Roy Williams.