Luke Graham: Rules for March |

Luke Graham: Rules for March

Luke Graham

Luke Graham.

— This really is the best time of the year.

The dawn of the NCAA basketball tournament always symbolizes the start of spring and warm weather. It's time to put away the winter jackets and dust off the shorts. We have more hours of daylight, so when we leave work at the end of the day, there's actually time and light to do things.

The NCAA tournament might be one of America's top five sporting events. It's not just the format that captivates us. Tight games, upsets, Cinderella runs and the 5 vs. 12 games are all things we love in the first week.

The biggest thing, however, might be the camaraderie. In office pools, the women in the advertising department have just as much of a chance to win as the guys in the sports department. There is no exact science to picking teams. Take this, for example: ESPN examined past NCAA champions and found that more than 60 percent of them wear the color blue, and most of their mascots are mammals.

I like to think I have a little better luck. I certainly have a formula I follow. But take it for what it's worth — just another pundit telling you how to do things. If it means anything, two years ago, I won our office pool. Last year, I had 15 of the 16 teams in the Sweet 16. Of course, I've also had my share of phenomenal blunders. But those are all in the past. It's spring again, and my chances are just as good as ever.

■ Experience does matter. Lots of teams have phenomenal freshmen, but it's the unknown juniors and seniors who lead a program. That's why North Carolina won last year and Kansas the year before. A team predominately based on young players is more than likely to go out early — here's looking at you, Kentucky. Here's also looking at experienced teams such as Cornell that could make a run.

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■ Guards and coaches are the two biggest components to a deep run in the tournament. Guards dictate the pace of play, and coaches actually matter in college basketball. If you don't agree, just take a look at the Texas Longhorns. At one point, they were ranked No. 1 in the nation. Coach Rick Barnes never settled on a lineup, and now Texas is a team that will be lucky to win its first-round game.

But for every Barnes, there is Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Kansas' Bill Self, Villanova's Jay Wright, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim. As for guards, look for teams like BYU, Baylor, Villanova and Marquette to make runs.

■ Go with the power conference. It's not hard to argue that the Big East was the deepest and toughest conference this year. Take those middle-of-the-pack power conference teams to make a run. They've played to what amounts as some of the hardest schedules throughout the year. It's why the Big East is dangerous.

■ Parity is dying. It's cool to pick upsets. It's cool to tell everyone you had so and so beating a top seed. But sports on a universal level have shown us parity is really dying. Top seeds, maybe more so than ever, have the best chance. There really is a collection of five or six teams that will make the Final Four. While George Mason's run a couple years ago was magnificent, don't count on it happening again.

■ Under the radar teams I like: Georgetown (plays a different style that's tough to defend), Baylor (guards, coaching and a difficult style to defend) and UTEP (lots of experience).

■ Go with the teams that look dominant. This isn't earth-shattering, but the two teams I've seen this year that actually can dominate are Kansas and Duke. That's my odds-on favorite for the title game.

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