NCAA Power Rankings – Nov. 9, 2009

It’s hard to believe, but as the calendar turns to November, it’s time to tip off another college basketball season.

And with it, here is the first College Basketball Power Rankings for the 2009-2010 season. All team’s records as well as finish in last year’s postseason are included.

Enjoy!

1. Kansas (27-8, NCAA Second Round): Bill Self has the deepest and most talented team in all the land. A second title in three years might be in store for the good folks of Lawrence.

2. Michigan State (31-7, National Runner-Up): Kalin Lucas and most of last year’s National Runner’s Up are back for another title run in East Lansing. The only question is how the loss of emotional leader Goran Sutton will affect this team.

3. Villanova (30-8, NCAA Final Four): College basketball will always be a guard’s game, and no one has more talented guards than the Wildcats. But for Villanova to win a National Championship, McDonald’s All-American Mouphtaou Yarou will have to replace the departed Dante Cunningham’s production in the frontcourt (16.1 ppg, 7.5 rebounds).

4. Kentucky (22-14, NIT): The game’s most recognizable coach (John Calipari) is now on college basketball’s biggest stage in Lexington. If Calipari’s freshmen are as good as advertised, we very well might see the Wildcats in their first Final Four since winning it all in 1998.

5. Texas (23-12, NCAA Second Round): Add high school All-American’s Avery Bradley and Jordan Hamilton to four returning starters, and Texas has the deepest team in the country. However, there’s still no answer to the question that plagued the Longhorns last year: Who’s going to handle the ball?

6. North Carolina (34-4, National Champions): The defending National Champions will give everyone matchup problems with the biggest and most talented frontcourt in college basketball (Ed Davis, Deon Thompson, Tyler Zeller, John Henson). But is Larry Drew (1.5 ppg, 1.9 apg in 2009) ready to run the point?

7. Purdue (27-10, NCAA Sweet 16): All the pieces are in place for Purdue to make their first Final Four since 1980. Well, just as long as Robbie Hummel can stay healthy (he missed five games last year and was limited in several others with a back injury).

8. West Virginia (23-12, NCAA First Round): No one expected Bob Huggins to have West Virginia at the top of the Big East this quickly, but here they are. Now it’s time to see how they respond to being the hunted, rather than the hunter.

9. Tennessee (21-13, NCAA First Round): Any Bruce Pearl coached team will be able to score, we know that. But for Tennessee to become elite this year, they’ll need to improve on the 72.5 points a game they allowed defensively last year (284th in college basketball).

10. Ohio State (22-11, NCAA First Round): It seems like every year Thad Motta is breaking in a superstar freshman class, but for once he’s got a team of veterans. Evan Turner (17.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg), could have been an NBA lottery pick last spring.

11. California (22-11, NCAA First Round): Quick, who is the best team in the Pac-10: UCLA? Nope. Arizona? Naw. How about the Cal Golden Bears, headlined by Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher, the best backcourt on the West Coast.

12. Duke (30-7, NCAA Sweet 16): As always, Duke will be one of the two or three best teams in the ACC. But just like last year’s Sweet 16 against Villanova, they’ll still struggle against quick and athletic guards.

13. UConn (31-5, NCAA Final Four): The Huskies are deep and athletic with Stanley Robinson, Jerome Dyson, Kemba Walker and Co. coming back to Storrs. But more than skill, will they be able to replace the leadership void left by A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien?

14. Butler (26-6, NCAA First Round): Everyone from last year’s surprising Butler team is back on campus in 2010. The scariest part? Only one of their top seven players is a senior.

15. Georgia Tech (12-19): Georgia Tech has as much talent as anyone besides North Carolina in the ACC. Now it’s time for coach Paul Hewitt to prove that he is as good a coach as he is a recruiter.

16. Washington (26-9, NCAA Second Round): Abdul Gaddy is the best freshman in the entire Pac-10. How well he interacts in the backcourt with returning starter Isaiah Thomas will determine how far the Huskies go in next spring’s NCAA Tournament.

17. Oklahoma (30-6, NCAA Elite Eight): Willie Warren came back to Oklahoma to prove he was more than Blake Griffin’s sidekick. Luckily, he’ll have Tony Crocker and freshman Keith “Tiny,” Gallon (6’9 300 lbs.) around to help.

18. Louisville (31-6, NCAA Elite Eight): Rick Pitino has plenty of good players at Louisville (Terrence Jennings, Samardo Samuels, Jerry Smith etc.). But will any of them be able to provide the star power of the departed Terrence Williams and Earl Clark?

19. Michigan (21-14, NCAA Second Round): John Beilein is back for his third year in Ann Arbor. And he’ll have arguably the best player in the Big 10 joining him, Manny Harris.

20. Georgetown (16-15): With so many young players last year, I’ll give Georgetown the benefit of the doubt for struggling as much as they did. But now that Greg Monroe, Chris Wright and Austin Freeman are a year older, there’ll be no excuse this time around.

Toronto Not Content After A Big Win

You would think Toronto would be in the mood to celebrate after a big win against Cleveland, right? Not a chance.

Despite pulling off an upset that is sure to catch the attention of the rest of the NBA, the players and coaching staff brushed off the win as the first of many during a grueling 82-game schedule.

Sure, DeMar DeRozan celebrated loudly on his way back to the locker room, but besides that brief outburst it was pure business for the Raptors when dealing with the media after the game.

Andrea Bargnani, fresh off a game-high 28 points and some inspired defense against Shaquille O’Neal, wasn’t too talkative with the media after the game.

Toronto’s other star of the game, Chris Bosh, despite being willing to talk at length with the media, wasn’t willing to get giddy over the win.

“This is just one game and we have a lot more basketball to play,” a mellow Bosh told the media after the game. “We just have to make sure we take something from today and build on it.”

To have this kind of reaction from a team who failed to make the playoffs last season and suffered through injury after injury seems shocking until you realize the team has lofty goals for the season. Despite being picked by some members of the media to fail to make the playoffs this season, the team is confident and are preparing for a season that will extend well beyond 82 games.

So it should come as no surprise that head coach Jay Triano was quick to dismiss this as just another win.

“My speech to the players (after the game) was going to be exactly the same, win or lose,” Triano explained to the media following the game. “Forget this one, we have to move on and player another game. The fact it is the Cavs, we know they’re a good basketball team, but we don’t look at this as being any bigger than other game. It’s not bigger than the game against Memphis because we still have to beat another basketball team and we still have to get prepared to do that now.”

While most Raptors fans are heading to bed happy tonight after the big win, it’s clear this game was just a stepping stone to the teams bigger goals this season.

In The Scrum With Randy Foye

Fresh off his introductory press conference with the Washington Wizards, guard Randy Foye talked to members of the media about his true position, his initial reaction to being traded, his thoughts on Kevin McHale’s influence on his game, and his memorable duel with Dwyane Wade last season.

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Exclusive Interview With James Johnson

James Johnson chatted with Ryan McNeill after a pre-draft workout in Toronto about what it was like to have Sports Illustrated write a feature story on him this season, how his MMA training provides him with additional toughness on the basketball court, what he feels he would bring to the Raptors if they drafted him, what he and Jeff Teague are doing to help each other out during pre-draft workouts, what it’s been like having all of his workouts with Earl Clark and what he’s learning about himself from hearing what coaches around the NBA are telling him about his game.

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Hoops Addict Podcast: NBA Draft Preview

Hoops Addict’s college basketball writer Aaron Torres took some time this weekend to chat with me about:

* Why he would draft Jonny Flynn over Jrue Holiday
* Who he has as sleepers in the draft and who is overrated
* He weighs in on Ricky Rubio and Blake Griffin
* James Harden being a fourth scorer at best in the NBA
* Stephen Curry needing to find the right team to enjoy a successful rookie season
* We both herald Eric Maynor as a sleeper pick
* Aaron raves about Tyreke Evans’ growth since he was moved from shooting guard to point guard last season
* How sticking around for four years of college ball are hurting Tyler Hansbrough and Darren Collison

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NBA Mock Draft – April 30

As we all know, the months leading up to the NBA Draft can make for an overwhelming flurry of inside scoops, conspiracy theories and rumors from all around the internet; this year appears to be no different.

Fortunately, Hoops Addict has been keeping tabs on all the top college prospects and will be in attendance at NBA pre-draft workouts in Toronto and Washington to put it all in perspective. While there is a lot up in the air, this is our best attempt to get through all the speculation and give you some insight into who the top 30 prospects are.

Make sure you keep checking back for updated rankings over the next few months. Then, once the NBA Draft order is announced on May 19, we’ll start adapting these rankings to reflect specific team needs and what we’re hearing specific NBA teams will do.

1. Blake Griffin PF/C
20 years old, 6’10”, 251 lbs.
Oklahoma, Sophomore

2. Ricky Rubio  PG
18 years old, 6’4″, 180lbs.
DKV Joventut

3. Hasheem Thabeet C
22 years old, 7’3″, 265 lbs.
Connecticut, Junior

4. James Harden SG
19 years old, 6’5″, 218 lbs.
Arizona State, Sophomore

5. Jordan Hill PF
21 years old, 6’10”, 235 lbs.
Arizona, Junior

6. Tyreke Evans PG/SG
19 years old, 6’5″, 195 lbs.
Memphis, Freshman

7. Stephen Curry PG/SG
21 years old, 6’3″, 185 lbs.
Davidson, Junior

8. Brandon Jennings PG
19 years old, 6’1″, 170 lbs.
Lottomatica Roma, International

9. Earl Clark SF/PF
21 years old; 6’9″; 220 lbs.
Louisville, Junior

10. DeMar DeRozan SG/SF
19 years old, 6’7″, 207 lbs.
USC, Freshman

11. James Johnson PF
22 years old, 6’8″, 235 lbs.
Wake Forest, Sophomore

12. Eric Maynor PG
21 years old, 6’2″, 165 lbs.
VCU, Senior

13. Jrue Holiday PG/SG
18 years old, 6’3″, 185 lbs.
UCLA, Freshman

14. DeJuan Blair PF/C
19 years old, 6’7″, 265 lbs.
Pittsburgh, Sophomore

15. Ty Lawson PG
21 years old, 6’0″, 195 lbs.
North Carolina, Junior

16. Gerald Henderson SG
21 years old, 6’5″, 215 lbs.
Duke, Junior

17. Patrick Patterson  PF
20 years old, 6’8″, 223 lbs.
Kentucky, Sophomore

18. Darren Collison PG
21 years old, 6’1″, 165 lbs.
UCLA, Senior

19. Jeff Teague PG/SG
20 years old, 6’2″, 180 lbs.
Wake Forest, Sophomore

20. Jonny Flynn PG
20 years old; 6’0″; 172 lbs.
Syracuse, Sophomore

21. Terrence Williams SG/SF
21 years old, 6’6″, 220 lbs.
Louisville, Senior

22. Austin Daye SF/PF
20 years old; 6’10″; 190 lbs.
Gonzaga, Sophomore

23. Wayne Ellington SG
21 years old, 6’5″, 190 lbs.
North Carolina, Junior

24. Sam Young SF/PF
23 years old, 6’6″, 210 lbs.
Pittsburgh, Senior

25. Chase Budinger SG/SF
21 years old; 6’7″; 218 lbs.
Arizona, Junior

26. Tyler Hansbrough PF
23 years old, 6’9″, 230 lbs.
North Carolina, Senior

27. Patrick Mills PG
20 years old, 6’0″, 175 lbs.
Saint Mary’s, Sophomore

28. Gani Lawal PF
20 years old; 6’8″; 233 lbs.
Georgia Tech, Sophomore

29. Toney Douglas PG/SG
23 years old; 6’1″; 196 lbs.
Florida State, Senior

30. Nick Calathes PG/SG
20 years old; 6’5″; 185 lbs.
Florida, Sophomore

North Carolina Finds Success Through Collectivism

As North Carolina collected the program’s fifth National Championship last night via a convincing 89-72 win over Michigan State, one theme seemed to resonate most among many potential storylines: teamwork.

The manner in which the Tar Heels played all season lent itself to using some of sports journalism most boring and repetitive clichés when analyzing why they were successful.

Truisms such as “the whole of Carolina’s team was greater than the sum of its parts” seem obvious because they have been said so many times before. Hearing Leninst ideals about “players sacrificing for the group making all the difference” can hold the same significance as worthless ideas about giving “110%”.

The twist is that this cliché, like most actually, is that its true.

Carolina was successful not because of one player’s staggering individual excellence or game-changing ability, but because of the collective talents of their entire roster. They found success via collectivism.

The Heels became champions in large part because they did not have a once-in-a-generation talent that their entire team’s success hinged upon. Though four of their players may be drafted to the NBA this June, only one is thought to be a lottery pick. Instead of having a solo marvel like Blake Griffin, they relied on a number of specialists, players who all had considerable ability but who alone could never have carried a team to this kind of success.

The almost predictable truth of course is that this ‘team-trumps-transcendent talent’ formula, this attitude of ‘many-over-one’ is something Carolina has used successfully before. Though it has produced arguably the most prolific set of individual NBA talent of any program in the country, the team has rarely achieved ultimate triumphs when it had its greatest individual stars.

Three of its four prior championships bare this out. For proof, one needs only to go back to 2005 to when the Tar Heels defeated Illinois for the national crown. Just as was the case this year, that roster was filled with blue-chip talent but was without an awe-inspiring superstar that was destined for further greatness.

If the 2009 Heels were lead to a large extent by Tyler Hansbrough, the 2005 squad was similarly guided by their own brawny big man, Sean May.

Both were First-team All-American during their time in Chapel Hill (Hansbrough was National Player of the Year last season as well) and more than capable of dominating in college, but neither was/is thought to have a triumphant pro career. Each of these big men were able to captain a highly talent roster towards great team success yet neither player’s game translates well towards the NBA.

The similarities between these rosters only continue when one considers the impact of each team’s dynamic, Ferrari-fast point guards, Ty Lawson and Ray Felton, respectively.

Lawson has the ability to score in traffic and became the emotional leader of his team this spring, just as Felton was similarly critical to the 2005 team’s success. While Lawson has emerged during the NCAA tournament as a viable NBA point guard, he has never been viewed as a star-in-the-making. The same was also true for Felton: he was universally praised as an excellent collegiate floor general but lacked the elite talents of his contemporary ACC rival, Chris Paul.

It was behind this set of little-big duos that each team was guided, in each case seeing one lean on the other to account for potential deficiencies in their own game.

Finally, the parallel between the rosters is not complete without mention of their prolific outside shooters with NBA-talent (Wayne Ellington and Rashad McCants) and do-everything dynamic swingmen with mountains of potential (Danny Green and Marvin Williams).

If we now look further back to Dean Smith’s second championship in 1993, we also see a team lead by excellent collegiate players who derived their strength from playing in harmony and balancing their individually assets into one unit.

That team was lead by Donald Williams, George Lynch and Eric Montross, none of whom rose to prominence as individuals, yet together they defeated the more individually talented Fab Five from Michigan, lead by future Hall of Famer Chris Webber.

This trend can be traced even further back to the Tar Heels first NCAA Championship in 1957 under coach Frank McGuire. That team was led by Lennie Rosenbluth. Rosenbluth lead an extremely athletic, offensively-balanced Carolina team to the title over none other than Wilt Chamberlain and the Kansas Jayhawks.

Rosenbluth was comparable to Hansbrough: he was named National Player of the Year as well as ACC Player of the Year in the same season, yet he only ever went on to have a brief professional career (82 total games) with the Philadelphia Warriors, averaging a mere 4.2 points a game.

Another approach to examining the level of success that team-oriented Carolina team that are balanced in talent throughout the roster is to consider the catalog of star players that did not win a championship while in Chapel Hill.

Phil Ford was National Player of the Year in 1978 and a three-time All-American, yet never won a ring. Antawn Jamison’s collegiate resume is similarly impressive with having won both the Naismith and Wooden awards, yet he was also denied a championship. So too was National Player of the Year Kenny Smith.

Other notable Tar Heel players, including many first-team All-Americans, saw great individual success without winning a championship. That incredible register of players includes Billy Cunningham, Bob McAdoo, Bobby Jones, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Jeff McInnis, Vince Carter, and J.R. Reid.

The only true notable exception to the idea that only collectivist Carolina teams are successful is the most obvious and probably the best team UNC has ever produced: the 1982 NCAA Champions.

That team had National Player of the Year and future Hall of Famer James Worthy, as well as future NBA champ Sam Perkins… and some scrawny freshman from Wilmington by the name of Michael Jordan.

As always, Jordan is the exception that proves the rule: a sole Superman talent seems hurts Carolina’s chances when it comes to raising another banner in the Dean Dome.

Whether or not a collaborative unit always serves Carolina best is a thought for another day though. Today, this team, this allied group, has their one shining moment.

Unsung Player: Stanley Robinson

The University of Connecticut’s basketball season ended Saturday night with an 82-73 Final Four loss to Michigan State. While stars like A.J. Price and Hasheem Thabeet get much of the credit for this team’s success, it may have been small forward Stanley Robinson who played best this postseason.

The fact that Robinson was even on the court Saturday is a story all to itself.

You see, Robinson is a walk-on. He paid his own way this season, while the guys he started over were on free rides.

Just the typical student you’d find walking around UConn’s campus on a typically cold winter morning.

That is, if by “typical student” you mean a wiry 6’9″ athlete with the ability to jump out of the gym and with an unlimited future, one that will likely include cashing NBA paychecks.

The most bizarre thing? “Sticks,” as his teammates call him, didn’t lose the scholarship he once had by flunking off the team, doesn’t appear to have failed a drug test and has no known criminal record.

Regardless, Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun decided last spring to give the enigmatic Robinson a little tough love, telling him he wasn’t welcome to the program until he dealt with some maturity issues that were holding him back both off and on the court.

Because of his unlimited potential and apparently in-tact transcript, Robinson could have left the university and gone somewhere else.

He has two young daughters in his home town of Birmingham, Alabama, and could have transferred somewhere closer to them and his more comfortable past (Robinson suffered from well documented culture shock upon his arrival to Connecticut in the summer of 2006). His list of suitors would have likely been as long as the wingspan that will someday make him millions in the NBA, and no one would have second-guessed him.

Instead Robinson shocked some, and decided to stay at the University of Connecticut, or as he once described it to me, “the 31st team in the NBA.” Despite the suspension, he has a deep bond with Calhoun, one that reared its head when Robinson once interrupted a press conference to give his coach a hand-wrapped gift before heading home for a short Christmas break.

While not taking classes last fall, Robinson worked at a scrap heap company in Willimantic, Conn. from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday (the story was wonderfully documented by ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil here), and lived off-campus. A few days a week he got up early and worked out on his own, often at 5 in the morning, and lifted weights after work.

Not quite the typical day of a Division I athlete.

On December 15 of this past season, Robinson returned to his team and into competitive basketball, scoring seven points and getting five rebounds in 16 minutes of action.

But again to re-iterate, despite sharing the court with no fewer than three other teammates who may someday share NBA riches with him, Robinson played as a walk-on. He spent the spring semester at UConn paying for his own education, books and food, something that maybe just a year before he took for granted.

As the season progressed, Robinson’s rust started to wear off. And not a second too soon.

On February 11, guard Jerome Dyson, and his 13 point a game average, went down and out for the season, tearing cartilage in his knee. Many – myself included- were ready to write the obituary on UConn’s season that night, as the Huskies lost their best perimeter scorer and defender.

And for three weeks, the argument seemed to hold water, as UConn finished the season 4-2 without Dyson.

Then something strange happened. Appearing from out of no where (as much as anyone who is 6’9″ could), the Stanley Robinson everyone in Connecticut had been waiting two-and-a-half years for showed up.

He made his first mark on one of sports biggest stages: in the classic six overtime game against Syracuse in the Big East Tournament. Yes the Huskies lost, but for the first time since Dyson went down, they seemed to have a pep in their step that had been missing.

Robinson finished the evening with 28 points and 14 rebounds, starting the game with some highlight reel dunks, and finishing with some clutch perimeter jump shots. If it wasn’t for Robinson, there would have been no historical significance to the game, no “Instant Classic,” on ESPN and we all would have gotten a better night’s sleep.

Robinson carried the Huskies that night, and as someone who was there, I can say that of the eight players that fouled out, Robinson got by far the loudest ovation of anyone as he found his way to the bench.

As the NCAA Tournament rolled around, Robinson’s game continued to develop. He scored double figures in all five games, after only accomplishing the feat four times in the regular season.

His defense improved, shutting down Purdue’s Robbie Hummel in the second half of their Sweet 16 game, and his four blocks against Missouri in the Elite Eight were the same as the rest of his teammates combined (including Thabeet, who at 7’3 was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year).

And even though the Huskies season ended in the Final Four, there was Robinson getting 15 points and 13 rebounds at Ford Field Saturday, arguably the only Husky that had a game worth remembering.

Most importantly though, Robinson seems to have gotten his act together off the court too. Over Final Four weekend he noted to reporters that he got a 93 on a recent test. And of course Calhoun plans on honoring the player who stuck with his program, by giving Robinson something that he once likely saw as a formality: his scholarship.

Every March we talk about the “Road to the Final Four,” which to me has always been a bit of a misnomer, since, let’s be honest, once you get to the Final Four, don’t you want to win it?

Because for the one team that does hoist the trophy, there are 64 others that end their season with losses.

Everybody wants to be that team, and the player with the smile on their face on the first Monday night in April.

However sometimes, just the journey down that road, is accomplishment enough.

(author’s note: This article was originally published at www.aarontorres-sports.com)

Audio: Final Four Preview

With the Final Four happening this weekend, I took some time to chat with Aaron Torres about a wide range of topics surrounding the games being played this weekend.
Some of the major issues we addressed include:

* Michigan State enjoying “Home court advantage” this weekend
* Ty Lawson  playing as the top PG in tourney and how A.J. Price is a close second
* If UConn is distracted by off the court stuff
* How Jay Wright has his team playing as a cohesive unit
* Predictions for games this weekend
.

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College Basketball’s Toughest Job

Despite writing about NCAA basketball for close to two years now, Billy Gillispie’s name has been typed on my keyboard all of one time. It was a passing mention of the Kentucky head basketball coach, in reference to a player who’d transferred out of the program in the fall of 2007.

The fact that the coach of the winningest program in college basketball history was only mentioned once on the site speaks volumes to where Kentucky basketball is, and has been since Gillispie took over two seasons ago. They are an afterthought nationally, and now locally as the Louisville Cardinals have made a run to the Elite Eight.

It is that indifference both by myself, and from everyone that covers college basketball which led to Gillispie’s firing on Friday afternoon.

His Kentucky teams just didn’t matter, at a place where basketball is all that matters.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the firing was best for both parties.

Gillispie proved to be a bit of an introvert, at a place where every move is scrutinized. He was standoffish with the media, something that’s acceptable when you’re winning 30 times a year, but not when you’re a mid-level SEC team.

He lost too many head-scratching games (Gardner-Webb last year, VMI to open this season) and struggled down the stretch in 2009, finishing the regular season just 3-6, after starting 16-5.

You can survive stretches like that at UTEP and Texas A & M (Gillispie’s previous two head coaching stops), but not in Lexington, where anything short of a Final Four run is considered a disappointing year.

Not making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 17 years of course is downright unspeakable.

So Kentucky cut the cord, figuring if they didn’t this year, they would next (barring an absolutely shocking turnaround). Gillispie is on the unemployment line, and the Wildcats are searching for a new hardwood head man, for the second time in three off-seasons.

As with any head coaching search at a major program, you’re going to hear all the big names.

Florida head coach Billy Donovan has already come out and said he has no interest in the job. It is probably for best, as Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart likely would have taken at least a little heat for bringing in a coach that is coming off back-to-back NIT appearances. Even if they were on the heels of consecutive National Championships.

The next big name is Tom Izzo at Michigan State. Well, there is a possibility that after going to four Final Four’s in the last decade, and being on the brink of another that he might be getting bored in East Lansing.

But he is also a Michigan guy, born there, and started his coaching career in his early 20’s at a state high school. He was also an assistant at MSU before getting the head coaching gig, so it seems unlikely that Izzo retire anything but a Spartan.

What about Pitt’s Jamie Dixon? The problem with this is Dixon has never coached a McDonald’s All-American in all his years at Pitt, choosing instead to develop lower rated recruits into stars by their junior and senior years.

While this may work at Pitt, I doubt the fans in Lexington will be comfortable watching their players develop at a snails pace. That is what did in Gillispie’s predecessor Tubby Smith. He won an awful lot of games, but never seemed to have the superstars needed to win games late in the tournament.

As for Rick Pitino, I’m sorry UK fans, but he’s not riding in on his white horse, and in his all white suit to save the day.

So with all those names out, who’s left?

As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one man that Barnhart needs to call, and when he makes that call, needs to refuse to take no as answer.

That man: John Calipari.

Calipari is everything that Kentucky and their fans want. And he’s everything they need, if they’re serious about getting back to college basketball’s elite.

At the end of the day, what was the biggest problem with Gillipsie? Yes, he was aloof, but again none of that would matter if he won more games. Calipari recently won 30 games for the fourth consecutive year. Not too shabby considering no coach in the history of the sport has done that.

And before Gillispie, what did in Tubby Smith?

Well, there were a few factors, the primary one being that he didn’t win enough tournament games. Calipari has been to the Sweet 16 four times in the last four years, the Elite Eight twice in that time and played for a National Championship in 2008.

But beyond that, Calipari would bring some cache that the Big Blue faithful are desperately missing.

For one, there is no one better at selling his program than Calipari. He did it at UMass, and has continued his “us against the world,” mentality in Memphis.

This year, when his team was battling for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament down the stretch, there was Calipari on every television show, radio network and street corner preaching that his team deserved it. You couldn’t turn on your TV without seeing Calipari’s face.

Most importantly though, Calipari will bring the superstar players that Kentucky really hasn’t gotten since Pitino was roaming the sidelines in Lexington in the mid-1990’s.

Meanwhile, in that same time guys like Shawne Williams, Derrick Rose and very likely Tyreke Evans have come to play Calipari and in one year, come out NBA ready. Before them, Calipari successfully got players like Amare Stoudemire and Kendrick Perkins to commit to Memphis, and would have played there, but weren’t required at the time to go to college before starting their NBA careers.

And despite the constant exodus of top players, more blue chippers continue to commit.

This year Calipari has already signed Xavier Henry and DeMarcus Cousins, two of the top three players in the high school class of 2009 according to recruiting website Rivals.com.

Calipari has made Memphis the destination for the one and done superstars looking to come to college, improve their game, and then move on to the next level. And at the end of the day, superstars are what win you NCAA Tournament games, and more importantly National Championships.

Now, here’s the most important question: Would Calipari ever leave Memphis?

It seems like every year, some school makes an overture at the coach, including the spring of 2006 when he seriously considered leaving for NC State. He decided to stay, but lets be honest NC State isn’t Kentucky. The whole state revolves around Wildcats basketball, and Calipari could get whatever he wanted in terms of salary and facility upgrades.

Also, at some point, doesn’t Calipari have to get bored by the lack of competition in Conference USA? Memphis hasn’t lost an intra-conference game in three years, and doesn’t appear to be letting up any time soon.

And for a guy as competitive as Calipari, doesn’t that seem a little boring?

Because as much as he relishes the underdog role in Memphis, the competitor in him must get a little disinterested once January comes, and he can pretty much hit cruise control until Selection Sunday.

Other than a few big games early in the season, Memphis simply isn’t challenged the remainder of the year.

So as the tournament winds down, we’ll learn a lot more about Kentucky’s plans for their basketball future.

What direction they will go? I have no idea.

But Barnhart needs to start by getting on a plane to Memphis with a blank check in hand, and not leaving until Calipari’s signature is on it.

Because in Kentucky there’s only one thing that counts: winning basketball games.

And no one does it better than John Calipari.

(This article was originally published here, at www.aarontorres-sports.com)

Interview With Dr. Russell T. Wigginton

Following up on my interview yesterday with the President of the NCPA, today I have a chat with Dr. Russell T. Wigginton, Vice President of College Relations at Rhodes College in Memphis, and the author of “The Strange Career of the Black Athlete: African Americans and Sports.”

I was able to chat with Dr. Wigginton about:

* The hypocrisy of  ‘One and Dones’
* How the NBA’s current policy is disproportionately harmful to underprivileged African American youth
* Why the NBA and players union should reevaluate its eligibility rules for young players. In baseball, an individual can declare for the First-Year Player Draft if he has graduated from high school.  Players from four-year colleges can enter the draft only if they have completed their junior or senior years, or if they are at least 21-years-old. I talked with Dr. Wigginton about why this could be a great model for the NBA to use.
* He provided his thoughts on Brandon Jennings heading to Europe to play basketball

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NCAA Tournament: Weekend Preview

Well, the NCAA Tournament field has been trimmed from 65 to 16, with that number set to be dwindled to four by the end of the weekend.

Before we get there though, a lot of good basketball is still to be played.

Here is what to look out for this weekend.

Best Match-Up: Villanova vs. Duke, East Region, Thursday 9:57 p.m.

It’s a classic match-up of two college basketball’s best teams, from its two premiere conferences Thursday night in Boston.

What makes this match-up one to watch however, is that both teams play similar styles of basketball, using dribble penetration by its guards to create open shots on the perimeter, and easy baskets for the big guys down low.

For Villanova it all starts with Scottie Reynolds.

While his numbers may be a bit down from previous years, the point guard has been as good as ever, as his ability to break-down defenders creates open shots from 3-point range for Villanova’s wing players.

Both Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher contribute off the bench, combining for about 19 points and two 3-pointers a game off the bench.

Like Duke, Villanova isn’t big down low, with Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark getting the bulk of the minutes in the paint.

Cunningham is one of college basketball’s most improved players this season, averaging 18 points and seven rebounds, after being a role player for most of his career.

But while the Wildcats do like to get Cunningham the ball in the post, most of his points still come off put backs, and his guards ability to create off the dribble.

Duke plays in a very similar way.

They’re top three scorers all do most of their work on the perimeter, with Gerald Henderson, Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer combining for about 56 points a game.

The Blue Devils too lack a true low-post presence, with Singler often lining up on the opponents power forward, despite spending most of his time away from the basket.

Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas are Duke’s primary low-post players, although neither is much of an offensive weapon.

The key in this game will be how Duke handles Villanova’s more athletic backcourt.

Against UCLA, the Wildcats were simply able to do whatever they pleased with six players scoring in double-digits.

Reynolds and Reggie Redding seemed to be able to get into the lane at will, with the “Corey’s,” Fisher and Stokes, combining for five threes.

All year Duke struggled with athletic ball-handlers (Jeff Teague of Wake Forest, Tyrese Rice of Boston College and of course Ty Lawson of North Carolina), and will need to have their best defensive effort of the year to hang stay with Villanova.

But if Reynolds and the rest of Villanova’s backcourt are able to make plays it will be a long night for Duke fans, and likely the Blue Devils last game of the season.

Best Match-Up No One is Talking About: Syracuse vs. Oklahoma, Friday 7:27 p.m.

This game has it all.

Star-power? Absolutely, with Blake Griffin of Oklahoma and Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn.

Great coaching? Hall-of-Famer Jim Boeheim and up-and-comer Jeff Capel certainly qualify.

Playing styles? Check, as Oklahoma wants to push the ball and Syracuse wants to play in the half-court.

But what will be the key in this one is how Syracuse’s famous 2-3 zone handles Blake Griffin and Oklahoma’s 3-point shooters. Because to quite be honest, their defense a week ago against Arizona State left a lot to be desired.

Yes, the Orange did a good job in holding Arizona State superstar James Harden to just 10 points, and limiting Jeff Pendergraph’s effectiveness down low.

However, whenever it looked like Syracuse was ready to put Arizona State away, the Sun Devils always seemed to make a run, usually fueled by the three point shot.

In the game, Arizona State role players Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksiks seemed to always be open, combining for 40 points on 12 3-pointers.

Simply put, that will not get the job done against Oklahoma, which boasts four genuine perimeter threats in Austin Johnson, Tony Crocker, Willie Warren and Cade Davis. Each can light it up, and each will make you pay if left open.

This is the biggest reason why I think Syracuse may be in trouble this weekend.

While it seems natural for the Orange to try and double Griffin every time he touches the ball, he is a great passer out of the double team, and seems to always find the open man on the perimeter.

If he can do this with any regularity, and Oklahoma is able to swing the ball into the corners as effectively as Arizona State did, Syracuse will be in trouble.

Offensively, look for Syracuse to do what they’ve been doing, running their half-court sets, and relying on the dribble penetration of do-it-all point guard Jonny Flynn.

The sophomore has elevated his game since the beginning of the Big East tournament, and is the biggest reason why the Orange are still playing on the second weekend of the tournament.

Syracuse too has great perimeter scorers in Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins, as the two each average double figures, and are killer when left open on the perimeter.

Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson are big bodies down low, but will have trouble getting easy baskets the way they have in previous games with Griffin and his brother Taylor down low for the Sooners.

This one will be close, but look for Oklahoma’s perimeter players to be the difference.

After every win and every double-double, Griffin is quick to praise his guards, and rightfully so.

While they don’t get the publicity the big guy down low gets, they are equally important in the Sooners run to the Sweet 16.

They’re skill-set will be on display this weekend, and be the biggest reason Oklahoma marches on to the Elite Eight.

Most Important Player: Ty Lawson, G, North Carolina

Could it be anyone else?

The Tar Heels point guard and ACC Player of the Year is the single most important player to his team in this tournament.

During his absence due to a toe injury, North Carolina lost in the ACC Tournament to Florida State, and struggled upon his return against LSU in the first half of their second round match-up.

However, Lawson was phenomenal in the second half, scoring 21 of his 23 points after intermission, including a three-point play that gave the Tar Heels momentum that ultimately pushed them to victory.

Reports are this week that the toe is getting better, and if North Carolina is going to win Friday night against Gonzaga, they’ll need the junior.

The Zags want to play at a fast pace, and may be the best offensive team left in the field besides North Carolina. And they are deep on the perimeter with Matt Bouldin, Jeremy Pargo and freshman hero Demetri Goodson, causing match-up problems if Lawson isn’t healthy.

If they do push the pace of the game- which they’re expected to do- it will be crucial that Lawson be at full strength to keep North Carolina’s offense rolling, and scoring the points needed to keep up with Gonzaga.

While it does appear Lawson will play Friday, it is still uncertain how much he will be able to give, and how healthy the toe actually is.

North Carolina fans better hope for the best game Lawson has played all season.

They were able to beat LSU with their point guard on nine toes. They might not be able to do the same Friday.

No. 1 Seed Most Likely To Lose: Louisville

Yes, the Cardinals have the benefit of playing a No. 12 seed in Arizona, but their opponent certainly isn’t your conventional Cinderella story.

The Wildcats boast two future NBA draft picks in Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, and beat the likes of Gonzaga, Kansas and UCLA during the regular season.

Louisville meanwhile is coming off a struggle against a good Siena team, but one that certainly didn’t have the athletes to match-up against the Cardinals. If it wasn’t for Terrence Williams 24 points and 15 rebounds, Louisville might not be playing this weekend.

While Arizona will be the toughest match-up Louisville has faced this far, they should still win.

The Cardinals full-court defensive pressure should eventually wear down a good Arizona team, but one that really only plays six players.

Also it’s hard to imagine Hill- a future NBA lottery pick- able to get easy baskets the way he did in the first two rounds. Louisville boasts one of the deepest front-courts in all of college basketball, with Earl Clark, Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings down low.

Look for Louisville to defend, run and ultimately pull away in the second half against a game Arizona team, but one that simply can’t stay with the Cardinals for forty minutes.

Louisville should win comfortably, but didn’t we say that against Siena too?

Best Storyline: Look Who’s Left!

Everybody gets all gushy whenever a Cinderella upsets a big name, but it makes for better basketball and better ratings when the good teams are still alive.

Because the best players come and go so frequently, what’s best for college basketball is to have recognizable programs and coaches in the tournament. It is what gives the casual fan something to root for, and against.

For example, how many of you out there really know who Memphis’ starting center is? Even if you do know the answer- Shawn Taggert by the way- I doubt you have much of an opinion, good or bad, on him. But everybody knows the Tigers coach John Calipari, and whether you love him from his days at Memphis or with the New Jersey Nets before that, you most certainly have some preconceived ideas about him.

The same is true in Durham, North Carolina and Storrs, Conn., where Coach K and Jim Calhoun seem to have patrolled the sidelines since the beginning of time, and have gained both fame and infamy along the way.

So while the players change, the jerseys do not, and that is what’s best for this tournament.

Look at who’s left.

Of the 16 teams, seven have coaches who have won a National Championship (Roy Williams, Coach K, Calhoun, Jim Boeheim, Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino and most recently Bill Self), while Arizona won a National Championship just 12 years ago, under a coach who just retired this season in Lute Olson.

Villanova (Jay Wright), Gonzaga (Mark Few) and Pittsburgh (Jamie Dixon) are led by long-time floor generals who have been on the cusp before, and may have their best teams to date this year.

And of course there is Calipari, who was just a few seconds away from getting his own hardware a year ago.

So while there may be no Davidson or George Mason this year, enjoy this weekend, because we’ve never seen more top-flight coaching and talent on the court among the final 16 teams.

And while you may not have a chance at winning your office pool because you had West Virginia and Wake Forest in the Final Four, at least you get to watch good basketball.

Right?

Five Players To Watch In The NCAA Tournament

Every year players emerge from no-where to become household names come NCAA Tournament time.

Here are five, that you’ll need to know before filling out your brackets this March.

5. Ben Woodside, G, North Dakota State:

Woodside’s story, like all of North Dakota State’s, is truly amazing.

The fifth-year senior was actually instructed to red-shirt – along with four other classmates, one of which is no longer on the team- in the fall of 2004, as the Bison had their eyes on 2009, the first year they’d be eligible for the NCAA Tournament.

During that season, Woodside, and the rest of the practice squad routinely beat the first teamers, tempting then assistant coach, and current head man Saul Phillips to remove their red-shirts.

But all the heartburn from that season has quickly faded, as the Bison are in the school’s first ever NCAA Tournament, in their first year of eligibility.

Now, if North Dakota State is to actually win a game, they’ll need a super-human effort from their 5’11” guard.

Woodside has done it before, scoring 60 points earlier this season in a loss to Stephen F. Austin, while topping 30 on three other occasions.

But none were against a team like Kansas, or his likely opposition at point guard, Sherron Collins.

Anyone who watched CBS’ Selection Show on Sunday saw what North Dakota State going to the NCAA Tournament meant to both this school, and the community that surrounds it.

But it will take a truly magical effort from Woodside for the story to continue, and for the Bison to advance to the second round.

4. Robbie Hummel, F, Purdue:

Hummel’s stats don’t jump out at you (12.7 points, 6.9 rebounds per game), but don’t be fooled, the 6’8″ junior is the heart and soul of this team, and having him healthy is Purdue’s only chance at a deep tournament run.

Early in the season, Hummel struggled with injuries, missing five games completely, while being limited in several others. Even in games which he played, Hummel often didn’t practice between contests.

However, since returning to the Boilermakers line-up for good in mid-February, this has been a different team, highlighted by a Big 10 tournament championship last weekend. In it, Hummel appeared to be his old self, averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds in Purdue’s three wins.

Although they should get by Northern Iowa in the first round, Pac-10 regular season champion Washington will likely await, with No. 1 seed UConn a likely opponent in the Sweet 16.

It’s not unfathomable for Purdue to beat either of these teams, and make a serious run at the Final Four. But they’ll need a healthy Hummel, at the top of his game, for it to happen.

3. Devin Ebanks, F, West Virginia:

NBA scouts have been drooling over Ebanks since the long and athletic forward was a senior in high school a year ago. And after playing for Bob Huggins for a year, the true freshman is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.

Ebanks, is literally getting better by the day, getting a career-high 20 points in the Mountaineers upset of Pittsburgh in the Big East quarterfinals, and topping it the following night with 22 points against Syracuse. He also has recorded double digit rebounds in five of his last eight games.

But more importantly, Ebanks has a knack for the clutch, making big free throws down to ice the game against Pittsburgh and two that forced overtime in the closing seconds against Syracuse.

West Virginia has had tournament success in recent years, getting to the Sweet 16 three times since 2005.

But they’ve never had a player as talented as Ebanks, and because of it, may advance further than any Mountaineers fan could ever imagine.

2. Toney Douglas, G, Florida State:

We all know that Ty Lawson won the ACC Player of the Year in 2009, but quickly who finished in second? No, it wasn’t Duke’s Gerald Henderson, Wake Forest’s Jeff Teague or even Lawson’s teammate Tyler Hansbrough.

It was Florida State’s Douglas.

While the nation may not have known much about the senior guard a week ago, they got a quick acquaintance, after Douglas scored 28 points in the Seminoles stunning victory over North Carolina in the ACC semi-finals, and got another 27 in the loss to Duke.

In all honesty, Florida State wouldn’t be in the NCAA Tournament, and maybe not even the NIT if it wasn’t for Douglas.

They’ve got a lot of nice spare parts like wing Derwin Kitchen and 7’1 monster Solomon Alabi down low. But Douglas is the engine that makes this team go.

As a No. 5 seed, the Seminoles can’t look past a good Wisconsin team, or even Xavier in the next round.

But as long as Douglas does what he has all year- score points and lots of them- Florida State should beat both, and advance to the Sweet 16.

1. Tyreke Evans, G, Memphis:

Evans isn’t going to sneak up on anyone, as the freshman has started virtually every game since putting on a Tigers uniform, and was everyone’s high school All-American before that.

But despite all the hype, Evans may be the single most important player to his team in this years NCAA Tournament.

To put it simply, Memphis has not lost since Evans has taken control of the point guard position, just a few days before Christmas.

Since then Memphis has put up 23 wins in a row, sweeping through Conference USA, and beating both Tennessee and Gonzaga on the road.

The Tigers play good enough defense to beat anyone in this tournament, but their half-court offense has been suspect at times. Which is what makes Evans so important.

At the end of the day Evans is still a freshman, and at times it’s shown. He can be turnover prone, and occasionally tries to force things, and do too much.

But he can also take virtually any opponent off the dribble, and is Memphis’ best offensive weapon.

The Tigers have everything a team needs to get back to the Final Four, and compete for a National Championship.

To finish up where they fell just a bit short a year ago, Evans will have to be the star he is capable of being.

(author’s note: this article was originally published at www.aarontorres-sports.com

March Madness on The Score

As a Canadian, the past few years I’ve found it tough to follow the NCAA Tournament as closely as I would have liked. Sure, CBS Sports does a great job in the United States, but not all of their online content is made available to Canadians like myself.

Needless to say I was excited to get a Press Release this afternoon from Cameron at The Score. Check out some of the gems The Score has in terms of covering March Madness:

* Live game coverage of all 63 tournament match-ups with hard hitting, in-studio analysis from The Score’s Tim Micallef and analyst Sherman Hamilton
* The Score’s Adnan Virk and Cabbie will be on-site in Detroit for the Final Four, providing game analysis, top interviews and behind-the-scenes coverage that you won’t find anywhere else
* The Score’s exclusive Tourney Central blog, featuring up-to-the-seconds news, commentary, hits and disses.

* Score Fantasy’s Bracket Buster pool with $10,000 in cash and prizes available to be won. Score users can track their picks against the brackets of Cabbie, Tim Micallef and other Score Personalities plus use Facebook Connect to see which friends are registered and how they stack up against their brackets.
* Live updates as they happen through The Score’s Twitter feed.
* Game previews, live scores, and recaps through ScoreMobile and ScoreMobile iPhone Edition (available in the iTunes AppStore or at http://iphone.thescore.com)
* ScoreMobile iPhone Edition will offer interactive live blogging on all match-ups from the Sweet Sixteen through to the Final
* Video highlights for every game will be available through ScoreMobile iPhone Edition and various Canadian mobile carrier video decks

Wow, talk about giving college hoops junkies their fix.

Important March Madness Trends To Watch

It takes a full season to get to this point. We dissect teams, watch hundreds of games (remember that night you were up until 2:30 watching San Diego and Portland? Me too, although I’d like to forget) and learn the smallest nuances about our favorite schools and players.

Then the NCAA Tournament brackets come out, and we fill them out confidently, knowing that the team that everyone’s picking has a star player who only shoots 42 percent from the foul line, and that State U’s center has one leg that’s shorter than the other.

And despite it all, we never win that darn NCAA Tournament pool. It’s always Doris from accounting that walks with the first place prize, after choosing her National Champion because she liked their team’s colors, or thought their coach was a “cutie.”

While picking your NCAA Tournament bracket will always be an inexact science, there are trends that stand out year to year that can help you when making those tough picks.

So while it’s very unlikely that you’ll finish the tournament with an unblemished bracket, here are some key factors that have withstood the test of time, and should be key aspects when determining your National Champion.

Talent Usually Wins Out:

So listen, we’re not saying that all four No. 1 seeds are going to make the Final Four like last year, because well, last year was an absolute anomaly.

But it is also no coincidence that dating back to the last five NCAA Tournaments, what turned out to be the most talented team won four of them (2004 with UConn, 2005 with North Carolina, 2007 with Florida and you can make a case for Kansas in 2008).

You don’t need to win your conference tournament (North Carolina in 2005) or even be a No. 1 seed (UConn was actually a No. 2 in 2004), if you have talent that no one else can match up with.

And by talent, we mean future NBA talent.

John Calipari said that he believes you need three future professionals to win a National Championship. And well, there hasn’t been a team this decade where that didn’t hold true.

Because this is a down year for college basketball, the number of teams that have that is limited. Really looking across the landscape, only North Carolina and maybe Louisville have three sure-fire pros.

So it may only take two. Which brings Memphis (Tyreke Evans, Robert Dozier), UConn (A.J. Price, Hasheem Thabeet) and Pittsburgh (DeJuan Blair and Sam Young) back into the picture.

At the end of the day, it’s not what you do in November or December that matters, but what you do for three weeks in March.

And like anything else in life, at the end of the day talent almost always wins out.

Look Out For: North Carolina- The Tar Heels have four guys who could have been pros this year in Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green and Tyler Hansbrough, as well as guys who aren’t much farther behind like Deon Thompson and Ed Davis.

They’re Called Free Throws For A Reason:

One of my favorite NCAA Tournament stories (that I get reminded of yearly by a friend) happened in 2002.

Duke was the defending National Champion, and blitzed through the ACC, conquering every town from Chapel Hill to Tallahassee along the way.

They had Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, and everybody’s All-American Jason (now Jay) Williams leading the team.

But coming into the tournament, I went against the grain and picked Duke to lose, telling anyone who would listen, “Don’t take Duke, because Jason Williams will be handling the ball in pressure situations, and he is a terrible free-throw shooter.”

And for once in my life, I was made to look like a genius. Down four to Indiana in the Sweet 16, Williams was fouled while making a three-pointer, cutting the Hoosiers lead to one. However, he missed the subsequent free-throw, Indiana recovered and the rest was history.

And we all saw that bad free-throw shooting did Memphis in last year’s National Championship game.

The bottom line is, they’re called free throws for a reason. If you’re serious about winning a National Championship you better be able to make them down the stretch.

Be Wary Of: Connecticut- Overall this team shoots about the same as Big East foes Pittsburgh and Louisville, however three UConn starters- Jeff Adrien, Stanley Robinson and Hasheem Thabeet- all are below 64 percent on the year. The trio went just 12 for 26 in the Huskies six overtime loss to Syracuse in the Big East Tournament.

Juniors and Seniors Win Championships, Not Freshmen and Sophomores:

Remember that stacked Kansas team that cut down the nets last year in San Antonio? As freshman and sophomores in 2006 they lost in the first round to Bradley.

How about this year’s North Carolina squad? They lost in the second round as a heavy favorite to George Mason in Tyler Hansbrough’s freshman year.

Although there are some exceptions (Carmelo Anthony’s Syracuse squad in 2003), age and experience do matter. Even the Greg Oden-Mike Conley led Ohio State team that made it to the National Championship game two years ago had seniors like Ivan Harris and Ron Lewis in supporting roles.

The bottom line is, the NCAA Tournament is one of the most pressured-packed sporting events out there. That is why it is always good to have guys who have been through the grind before.

We aren’t saying that Wake Forest can’t win it all, just that history tells us that the Demon Deacons will probably struggle with the pressure associated with the game to game intensity of the NCAA Tournament.

As Jim Boeheim and Carmelo proved, it’s not impossible to win with a young cast, but it won’t be easy either. And newsflash to all you hopefuls out there: there’s no Carmelo in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Stay Away From: Wake Forest- The Demon Deacons were the Jekyll and Hyde of college basketball in 2009, beating ACC heavyweights Duke and North Carolina, as well as Clemson twice. That same Wake Forest team also lost to Miami, North Carolina State and Georgia Tech. They’ve been inconsistent all year, why should the NCAA Tournament suddenly change things?

It’s Always Easier If You’ve Been There Before:

In regards to what was said about winning a National Championship, if you’re looking to pick first round upsets, go with the lower seeded teams who aren’t playing in their first NCAA Tournament games.

Some of the greatest upsets in the NCAA Tournament have happened with small schools taking their second, third and fourth crack at the Big Dance.

Remember Bryce Drew’s epic shot for Valparaiso against Ole Miss in the 1998 NCAA Tournament? It was his fourth consecutive tournament, and first win. The Crusaders went onto the Sweet 16 that year.

In 2005, it was Vermont’s turn at tournament magic, as Taylor Coppenrath and T.J. Sorrentine shocked Syracuse in overtime. It was also the Catamounts third NCAA Tournament, and with the experience, they feared no one that March.

Like anything else, comfort comes with experience, and these small schools won’t be intimidated by the bright lights that come with the NCAA Tournament. They also won’t be intimidated by the school with the recognizable name on their chest, or the opposition’s All-American point guard.

These schools have been there and done that and come ready to play. To get to back-to-back tournaments, it usually takes experienced players who can handle the pressure of a one-and-done elimination tournament. Heck, they usually have to win one (their conference tournament) just to get to the Big Dance.

So when looking for those upsets, don’t go with the school your co-worker is touting, or even the one everyone on television is raving about.

Look for the one flying under the radar, that isn’t happy just to be playing in March, but is coming in looking to win.

Because more often than not, they will.

Keep An Eye On: Temple- For the second consecutive year, the Owls wouldn’t be dancing had they not won the automatic bid from the Atlantic-10. But they did, beating Xavier along the way, as well as Tennessee and Penn State in the regular season. Temple was in the tournament last year, losing to Michigan State in a game that was closer than the 11 point final score indicated. Did we mention that they happen to be playing Arizona State, a team with no one on their roster who has ever played an NCAA Tournament game?

Don’t Try to Pick the Upsets:

If you happen to be the one guy in the pool who correctly picks the 15 seed to win in round one, you’ll have inter-office glory for all of one day.

But if that same 15 seed loses by 25 points, and goes to the Final Four, you can pretty much rip up your bracket on day one.

It is simply not worth trying to pick any team as a one, two or three seed as an upset victim. The risks are too high.

At the end of the day, it will be highly unlikely that we see a Final Four with all No. 1 seeds like last year. But there’s a reason that those same No. 1’s have never lost in the first round. They’re the best teams!

Play it safe and take pretty much all chalk until at least the Sweet 16. Sure you can pick a 12 to upset a 5, or 6 over a 3 in the second round, but don’t go crazy.

Most all pools are based on a point system, and while you will likely need to pick the correct National Champion in a big pool, it’s the smaller points in the first few rounds that add up and win you the whole thing.

So don’t give those points away, just because you have a “feeling,” Louisville or Michigan State won’t show up in the second round. Because if they do, and then show up again in the next round and the Elite Eight, you’re in big trouble.

Mental Note: In the last three years, only one No. 1 seed has been eliminated before the Elite Eight, Duke in 2006.

Finally, Just Have Fun:

Most pools you’re going to enter are usually no more than five dollars, with the occasional big office pool reaching no more than 20.

So have fun. If you feel like picking your alma mater because of school pride, do it. Or if you like a certain player or coach. Ride them.

At the end of the day, we remember the upsets and champion, but more importantly, the camaraderie that we build with friends, family and co-workers watching these games.

So have fun, because remember even if you follow all these rules, and make the smart picks, Doris in accounting is going for the win for a fourth year in a row.

You had no chance from the beginning.

(author’s note: This article was originally published at www.aarontorres-sports.com)