- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2012

There are lots of things college basketball claims to be about. It can be about March, about fans, about academic integrity (well, in some places, anyway), about players (under the euphemism “student-athlete experience”). It doesn’t claim to be about money, but that fits in, too.

Ultimately, though, college basketball is about programs and the coaches in charge of them.

Programs have tradition and most importantly history, both ancient and recent, real and perceived. Everything ties together, a common bond that can tie today’s teams to those of decades past.

Coaches are the savvy architects and (on occasion) the unwitting arsonists of those programs. The history they preside over is credited to them and them alone, even if some brazenly covet unaccountability while holding their players responsible for the tiniest infraction.

It is in the programs and coaches where trends can be found for trying to bring sanity to predicting the next three weeks. Some are trustworthy. Others are not. Some haven’t lived up to their reputation of late. Others have moved past a history of underachievement.

Here, then, are the teams to embrace or avoid while trying to forecast how the field of 68 fares in the NCAA tournament.

EMBRACE: John Calipari. Calipari is arguably the most polarizing figure in college basketball. He also reliably avoids massive upsets. In his last seven NCAA trips (at both Memphis and Kentucky), his teams have never lost to a team seeded more than one line below his. Procuring oodles of talent helps, but Calipari ensures it doesn’t massively underachieve. Put Kentucky in the Elite Eight, and probably beyond.

AVOID: Mike Brey. The Notre Dame coach is one of the best people in the business. He’s also 6-9 in the NCAA tournament, hasn’t escaped the first weekend since 2003 and has lost to double-digit seeds in three of Notre Dame’s last four appearances. Look for it to happen again, with the grinding Irish drawing 10th-seeded Xavier in the first round.

EMBRACE: Roy Williams. The Hall of Famer is long past the turn-of-the-century Second Round Roy label. He’s won two national championships at North Carolina and become as close to a sure thing in the regional semifinals as there is, winning seven straight round of 16 games dating back to his days at Kansas. This is another top seed to move to the Elite Eight without much hassle.

AVOID: Jim Boeheim beyond the Round of 16. Boeheim’s been around so long, he was prominently featured in CBS’ first “One Shining Moment” montage. That’s also one of the few times Syracuse stuck around long enough for that to happen. Boeheim is 4-11 in the round of 16, including a pair of losses as a No. 1 seed. Proceed with caution beyond the first weekend.

EMBRACE: Missouri. The Tigers don’t come to mind as a program that always lives up to expectations. But since a 1990 loss as a No. 3 seed in the first round, Missouri’s only defeats to a lower-seeded team came in a 1 vs. 2 regional final (1994 against Arizona) and an 8 vs. 9 game (1999 against New Mexico). Coach Frank Haith even lived up to seeding in his one NCAA appearance at Miami. This could be an Elite Eight team.

AVOID: Georgetown. At least until the Hoyas exorcise their postseason demons, anyway. Their last three NCAA appearances ended with losses to double-digit seeds — No. 10 Davidson in 2008, No. 14 Ohio in 2010 and No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth in 2011. Could 14th-seeded Belmont (or even 11th-seeded N.C. State in the round of 32) join that list?

EMBRACE: Rick Majerus. The Saint Louis coach is 10-1 in his career in the round of 64, including 3-0 in games featuring evenly matched No. 8 and No. 9 seeds. He’s back in the tournament with the Billikens as a No. 9 seed, and a matchup with underseeded Memphis won’t be easy. But Majerus provides Saint Louis a notable edge.

AVOID: A deep run with Tom Crean. The Indiana coach made his name as Marquette’s head coach, but has made it past the first weekend of the tournament only once. That was in 2003, when some guy named Dwyane Wade took the Golden Eagles to the Final Four. Crean’s teams haven’t beaten a higher-seeded team since. Don’t get caught up in Indiana’s earlier upset of Kentucky.

EMBRACE: Purdue. For a day, anyway. The Boilermakers have won 13 consecutive tournament openers, a streak that began with the Glenn Robinson-led team in 1994. Purdue faces a tough task in Saint Mary’s, but history suggests the 10th-seeded Boilers are a decent bet to advance at least one round.

AVOID: Vanderbilt. The Commodores might be as tortured a postseason team as there is over the last four years. There was the 2008 blowout to 13th-seeded Siena, the 2010 defeat against 13th-seeded Murray State and last year’s predictable setback against 12th-seeded Richmond. This year’s winner of Vanderbilt Roulette? Harvard, the underseeded and plenty talented Ivy League champ.

EMBRACE: Shaka Smart. Consider that between three CAA tournaments, a College Basketball Invitational and last year’s NCAA run, Smart is 16-3 in postseason games with a conference title, a CBI crown and an unexpected Final Four to his name. The Virginia Commonwealth coach just might just have this postseason thing figured out.

AVOID: Rick Barnes as a low seed. The Texas coach is 1-8 in his NCAA tournament career when his teams are seeded seventh or below. And lo, the Longhorns are a No. 11 seed this year in the East regional. Move Cincinnati along to the round of 32 and think nothing of it.



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