NCAA Q & A, with U and I

In an effort to be more interactive, I have opened the floor to all of you regarding the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Like my teachers always said, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question,” however, if your particular question did not make the cut, it’s probably because it was stupid. Or maybe you spelled everything wrong. Or maybe you questioned my general expertise of the NCAA Tournament, and wondered why you would be asking ME for advice rather than someone who has a real job on TV, like Dr. Phil, or someone actually involved in college basketball. If you really need to know, I’m not an expert, but neither are you. So let’s interact.

On to your questions…

No. 1: My friend says I should always pick at least one big upset in my tournament grid, but it never seems to work out for me. What should I do? — John, Howell

A lot of people fall into the trap of picking a crazy upset (like a No. 15 seed over a No. 2) just so they can say things like, “Hey — did you see that Western Boise Tech / Boston College game? I HAD Western Boise Tech! I just had a feeling.” I hate people like that — people like your friend for example — who pretend that they made an educated guess regarding a completely unpredictable and unforeseeable upset. Anyway, of course there’s bound to be an upset or two in the first couple of rounds, but there’s no reason to strain yourself looking for one just for the sake of picking one. If you don’t think Central Florida can beat Connecticut, then don’t pick them. Randomly predicting a big upset is dangerous because if it WOULD be a “big” upset, then the team you picked to lose obviously has a shot to go far. So if you’re wrong, you could end up out of the tournament faster than John Chaney with a grudge.

No. 2: What is a feasible price to enter an NCAA pool, and is it smart to enter more than one? — Devin, Atlantic Highlands

Again, playing it safe is key. The NCAA pool is an annual gambling ritual for all non-gamblers, and it’s like Christmas for real gamblers, except that instead of going to church, they end up on a payphone somewhere behind a dingy bar asking their second cousin if they can borrow the sailboat for a few days. So know what side you’re on. That said, five to 10 dollars is a good price to enter an office pool. As far as entering more than one pool, I’m not a big fan of picking two different grids for the sake of hedging bets. It clouds your rooting interests, and if you’re not a big gambler anyway, why bother?

No.3: Who should I stay away from in this year’s tournament? — James, Holmdel

As always, stay away from picking any school that ends in “Commonwealth.” Also, steer clear of the following: a) any team whose star player is a “great story” because he’s only 4’11”, and has one ear, b) any school whose initials read like a license plate (i.e., UTEP5MSTU — The University of Texas El Paso at 5 Main Street in Texas…University), c) any team from the NY/NJ metropolitan area, d) any team coached by a guy who looks like he sleeps in his suit, e) any team whose big man is 34 years old because he spent 17 years in the Peace Corp., and f) Stanford.

No. 4: What’s the deal with Gonzaga? — Amy, Middletown

Great question. The term “Gonzaga” is actually French for “screwed over my NCAA grid again.” (It’s amazing how the French cram all those words into one…they’re so lazy.) Five years ago, they were the darlings of the tournament, and now they’re just a team that nobody knows what to do with. All I know is that, eventually, their coach Mark Few ends up commentating next to Jim Nantz by the end of the tournament, which is never a good sign. I wouldn’t have them going past the second round this year, even though they’re a three seed. Of course, if you do that, they’re bound to reach the Final Four. I hate Gonzaga. Do with them what you must.

No. 5: What’s a “sleeper?” — Diane, Old Bridge

Okay — a “sleeper” is a team that everybody “sleeps on,” which is hip-hop slang for “doesn’t pay much attention to.” (It can also be used in real life, as in, “Don’t ‘sleep on’ that mattress. My dog peed on it.” And “dog” is hip-hop slang for “friend.”) For example, in this year’s tournament, maybe Michigan State is a good “sleeper” because in general, they haven’t garnered as much national attention as other teams, and you like their tournament schedule, their coach, etc. etc. And to stay on the topic…

No. 6: If everybody is picking the same team as a “sleeper,” does that team cease to become a “sleeper?” — Vince, Leonardo

Ahhh, the classic “If a tree falls in a forest” scenario. Your question is rhetorical, so it doesn’t have a real answer, however, the answer is “yes.” A “sleeper” is no longer a “sleeper” when everyone this side of Dick Vitale is calling them a “sleeper.” So wake up and find another sleeper.

No. 7: I hate Duke. Do you think they can win it all? I hope not. — William, Lincroft

Every year Duke has the same problem — not enough depth. This year, that issue is more blatant than ever, however, Duke still plays great defense, they always have the coaching edge, and they possess a phenomenal shooter in J.J. Redick. But the opposition in this tourney is going to key on Redick, and Duke, obviously, doesn’t have Cameron Indoor to fall back on. Sheldon Williams is a force, but he doesn’t seem to have the ability to take over a game. As tough as it is to doubt Coach K, I don’t see them winning it all. And as far as your opinion on Duke, I don’t understand the national obsession with hating the Duke Blue Devils. All they do is play great basketball, they pride themselves on graduating their players, the program is NEVER immersed in any kind of controversy, the players are model citizens on and off the court, and they’re coached by a highly respected and very likeable guy. Aren’t we SUPPOSED to root for teams like this? Am I the crazy one here?

No. 8: What’s your opinion on picking matchups between teams that you’re not very familiar with, and that are close seeds? For example, eighth-seeded Texas versus ninth-seeded Nevada? — Travis, Aberdeen

My rule of thumb in this situation is to go with the stronger conference. For example, if it’s a Pac-10 team going against a Big 10 team, and I’m not sure what to do, I almost always go with the Big 10 team. If that doesn’t work for you, just write something down on the line that is so illegible that it could pass for either team.

No. 9: Why is it that some random girl, who has no clue about college basketball, always ends up winning the pool? It never fails, and this is really starting to bother me. — Hector, Keyport

I think self-proclaimed “college basketball aficionados” often fall victim into overanalyzing the NCAA Tournament. If you really think about it, every team is seeded, so anybody who’s literate can take a stab at it. What I have a problem with are the people who turn in their brackets with no intentions of actually watching the games, leading to questions like, “Who won?” and “Did I pick them?” and “Why don’t they have brackets like this for the contestants on ‘Project Runway?’” When people like THAT take my money, I become very upset. But ignorance is bliss, and I can’t be mad at someone just because I think I know more about the sport than they do, yet they’re killing my pool. As long as they enjoy it, that’s fine with me. Also, I’m lying.

No. 10: As a man, is it okay to cry when CBS plays that “One Shining Moment Song” after the National Championship Game with all the highlights from the tournament? My friend wants to know. — Pete, South River

There’s no crying in college basketball! But it seems like every year, during that montage, I get something in my eye. That’s probably what’s happening to your friend as well. Tell him not to worry about it. That song really pulls at the heart strings. I mean — that song really forces debris to fly into peoples’ eyes.

No. 11: Who’s going to win it all? — Christina, Highlands

I’m going with Illinois. I like North Carolina, but the “Roy Williams” factor bothers me, and Rashad McCants, their best player, is too erratic. Illinois is big and tough, they play well together, and they always control the tempo of the game. Oh, and they’ve lost only one game all season, which was a loss that most people agreed was a good thing. Yep, Illinois is my sleeper.