- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2011

For the fourth straight year, you can’t pick Virginia Tech to make a run in the NCAA tournament.

For the first time since 1993, you can’t pick Maryland to make a run in any postseason tournament.

As usual, you can pick Georgetown and George Mason to enjoy an extended stay in the postseason, though it isn’t necessarily advisable for a variety of reasons — the Hoyas because Chris Wright’s ability to return to form immediately is a legitimate question, the Patriots because Ohio State looms in the second round.

So, locally, scribbling in a bracket might not be the most enjoyable long-term project. But that won’t stop many fans from doing so.

There are do’s and don’ts to filling out a bracket every year. Here are a few that spring to mind a day after the 68-team field was announced.

DO sprinkle in a pair of victories by a No. 12 seed. In nine of the past 10 years, at least one of these two scenarios has unfolded: A No. 12 seed made it to the second weekend, or two No. 12 seeds sprung first-round “upsets.” One team to feel particularly good about is underseeded Atlantic 10 champ Richmond. The Spiders drew Vanderbilt, which lost in the first round as a No. 4 seed in 2008 and 2010.

DON’T pick a No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed. It hasn’t happened yet, and while past performance is not indicative of future results, only one of the six teams on the No. 16 line won 20 games. That was Hampton, which has the misfortune of facing Duke. Speaking of which …

DO pick Mike Krzyzewski against any double-digit seed he comes across. Duke is 29-3 against teams seeded 10th or worse under Coach K. The losses came against Boston College (a Gary Williams-coached No. 11 seed in 1985), Providence (the God Shammgod-led No. 10 seed in 1997) and Virginia Commonwealth (a No. 11 seed in 2007). It’s a once-a-decade proposition, and Krzyzewski’s not due for another for another five or six years.

DON’T buy into Utah State as a trendy upset pick. The Aggies are one of the most consistent programs in the country, Stew Morrill is a fabulous coach and superfan Wild Bill is a riot. But Utah State is 1-7 in the NCAA tournament under Morrill, and just 1-4 as a plucky No. 12 seed. The lone win came a decade ago in overtime against Ohio State. Kansas State might seem vulnerable, but bank on the Wildcats surviving.

DO pencil Texas A&M into the second round — but no further. Coach Mark Turgeon is 4-0 in first round games (2006 at Wichita State, 2008 to 2010 with the Aggies). But that’s where things sputter. Turgeon did have a Sweet 16 run in ‘06, but has flamed out on the first weekend in all three years in College Station. Move Notre Dame along to the regional semifinals instead.

DON’T bet against North Carolina within its own borders. Please don’t. The Tar Heels are 27-1 all-time in the NCAA tournament in a variety of in-state venues, and they play the first weekend in Charlotte. That means they’ll be playing the second weekend of the tournament in Newark, N.J.

DO pick at least one Colonial Athletic Association team to win its first game. In the past 20 tournaments, only one conference that sent at least three teams to the tournament failed to win a game (2004 Mountain West). At least one of George Mason, Old Dominion and Virginia Commonwealth is going to collect a victory. Consider that a warning.

DON’T get too caught up in Temple coach Fran Dunphy’s 1-12 career record in the NCAA tournament. Last year, when Dunphy’s Owls lost to 12th-seeded Cornell, was the first time he had a team that wasn’t a double-digit seed. That’s not to say Temple will beat Penn State in a revival of an old Atlantic 10 rivalry. Just don’t disqualify the Owls based on that bit of history.

DO take your chances on a Big 12 tournament champion — in this case, Kansas. Despite the Jayhawks’ loss in the second round last year, the Big 12 tournament winner made it to at least the round of 16 eight times from 2000 to 2009. Seven of those teams reached at least a regional final. Expect the Jayhawks to be capable of going far.

DON’T get overly excited about new blood. Yes, John Calipari (2010), Russ Pennell (2009) and Bob Huggins (2008) all made it to the Sweet 16 in their first (and in Pennell’s case at Arizona, only) year on the job. Only four first-year coaches are in the tournament this season — Clemson’s Brad Brownell (play-in game), Indiana State’s Greg Lansing (No. 14 seed), Northern Colorado’s B.J. Hill (No. 15 seed) and Steve Lavin (No. 6 seed) of St. John’s. If anyone can continue the recent trend, it’s Lavin. Just don’t count on it.

DO value Final Four experience. Not since 1959 has a Final Four failed to feature a coach making a return trip. Only three times in that span — 1979, 1987 and 2006 — did the Final Four not include a coach who hadn’t reached that stage in the previous five seasons. Consider that a warning to anyone who was pondering a Xavier-Notre Dame/Purdue-Pittsburgh-Arizona assortment for a trip to Houston.

DON’T even remotely consider advancing a No. 8 or No. 9 seed from a major conference to the round of 16. That means Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee and Villanova shouldn’t be picked to win more than one game. Why? Since 1997, No. 1 seeds are 31-3 against major-conference teams in the round of 32 and 19-3 against teams outside the six power conferences. The only three power conference schools to win that span were 2000 Wisconsin (over Arizona), 2002 UCLA (against Cincinnati) and 2004 Alabama (toppling Stanford). If you must pick a No. 1 seed to get upended, go with the Butler-Old Dominion winner against Pittsburgh.

DO keep your wits about you and pass on picking an Ivy League champ to make a run again. Cornell made it to the second weekend last year, but the last time the Ivy won games in consecutive tournaments was 1983-84. Move Kentucky along to the round of 32 against Princeton.

DON’T fall in love with a Big East team coming off a miracle run in the conference tournament. In 2008, Pittsburgh won the league tournament as a No. 7 seed, then fell in the second round of the NCAAs to Michigan State. In 2006, Syracuse sizzled as a No. 9 seed in the Big East tournament, then was promptly upset in the first round of the NCAAs by Texas A&M. Connecticut looked great in New York, and Kemba Walker is an extraordinary player. Just tread cautiously with the Huskies.

• Patrick Stevens can be reached at pstevens@washingtontimes.com.

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