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Monday, March 17, at Noon ET

Seven Principles for a Winning NCAA Bracket

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Dan Steinberg
D.C. Sports Bog
Monday, March 17, 2008; 12:00 PM

Dan Steinberg of the D.C. Sports Bog will be online Monday, March 17 at noon ET to offer his wisdom and insight about how dominate your NCAA Tournament pool.

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A transcript follows.

Read Dan's advice for filling out your bracket.

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Dan Steinberg: Hey everyone, this is your spot for nerdy bracket chat for the next hour or so. I have to say that I'm entirely terrified that the advice I put in today's paper will look ridiculous within a few weeks. I also have some remorse about a few of my principles. But to start, based on my principles, here are the biggest surprises I've taken on my first-run bracket.

First round: Villanova (12) over Clemson (5).

Second round: Baylor (11) over Xavier (3).

Third round: West Virginia (7) over Duke (2) and then Baylor.

Final Four: Louisville, either to win or to the final.

Ok, looking for your thoughts, questions, and your principles for bracket success.

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Rockville, MD: Any thoughts on making the play-in game contested between the last 2 at-large teams to get in and them making the winner play as a 14 seed against one of the #3 seeded teams? It's a shame that small schools that make it "in" the tournament, have to play in the play-in game, don't you agree?

Dan Steinberg: This is the biggest no-brainer suggestion of the month.

Although I'm told that the winner of the play-in game now counts as an NCAA winner and thus gets one of those postseason revenue share things, while a 16 seed is virtually never gonna beat a one in the real bracket.

Still, those kids don't care about revenue; they care about actually getting to experience the tourney, and Dayton on Tuesday doesn't count. I think some people go overboard in their NCAA attacks--corporate partners certainly aren't unique to this event--but the play-in game is bunk.

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Fairfax, Va.: Here's another rule: Overrated gunners like Tyrese Rice do not light up Final Four teams. Thus pick Carolina and Duke to drop out early, and give mad props to Kansas.

Dan Steinberg: The ratings I received from Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which analzes sports teams for Nevada books, have Kansas as the top team in the country.

I have North Carolina falling short of the Final Four and Duke falling to West Virginia in the first weekend here in D.C., so I'm with you on that count. But I haven't been able to figure out what to do with Kansas.

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Falls Church, Va.: Props to the Committee for how they treated Xavier. The numbers indicated that Xavier "deserved" a 3 or 4 seed, but we all know better. So what does the Committee do? They are "generous" in bumping them to a three, but then they give them a gutsy, power team like Georgia that just marched through the SEC. Then when next year some schedule-driven A-10, WCC or MVC fraud goes whining (since someone has to finish first in those "leagues"), the Committee can point to Xavier losing by 25 and say "Get over yourselves--take your 11 seed and deal with it."

Dan Steinberg: I agree that this was a tremendous matchup. The highest seeded non-BCS team against the lowest seeded BCS team. Certainly one of the most compelling first-round games, and it's right here in D.C.

I'm not sure if you're being sarcastic with this entire question, but I certainly wouldn't bet on Xavier losing by 25. At the same time, I think the 'Eers are at least as good a bet to emerge from that pod as the 'Teers.

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Stoneridge Knoll, Va.: Kornheiser's bracket picks are buried like cheese on the website. Could you provide a link to them? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Here you go

Dan Steinberg: And, to be fair, these should be known as "Eric Prisbell's picks, with witty commentary by Kornheiser."

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Foggy Bottom, D.C.: Hi Dan: Just want to send best wishes to American on their first trip to the NCAA tourney. Hopefully, after this rough season, GW will be back in the dance soon.

Dan Steinberg: Consider your congratulations sent.

I joke around a lot about D.C. area hoops, and so many of the local and nearly local teams got horrendous seeds, but still, the numbers have been impressive lately. Thirteen DC/MD/VA tourney berths over the past two seasons from 12 different programs, plus those four recent Final Four berths (MD, MD, Mason, Georgetown). Not many metro areas can boast anything close to that.

And the turnarounds have been dramatic; GW from three-time NCAA team to missing the A 10 tournament, and Coppin State from middling MEAC team to surprise league champion.

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Rockville, Md.: Dan,

Based on your rule of picking 2nd round upsets, which ones do you have down as a gutsy move? I've been thinking about WVU over Duke (maybe due to my anti-Duke bias though), and Oregon over Memphis. What do you think?

Dan Steinberg: Well, as mentioned above, I do indeed have West Virginia over Duke, which simply has to be the 2 seed in this event that would make the most surprising national champion.

I also considered Oregon over Memphis, and may yet go in that direction, but Memphis is being so undervalued right now that I've also considered ripping up everything I have and finding a differently themed bracket with Memphis in the Final Four. The four seed in that region--Big East champion Pitt--certainly fits the profile of a team that may have burned itself out with that impressive run last week.

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Fairfax, Va.: What are your thoughts on picking chalk all the way through to the Final Four? Does history show it to be a good way to do a bracket?

Dan Steinberg: I wish I had a real mathematical answer to this, rather than my anecdotal experience. Last year, you would have performed exceedingly well had you done this, but last year was one of the chalkiest tournaments in my adult life.

Having graded so many hundreds of brackets over the years, my sense is that chalk will keep you out of the bottom third in most pools, but will give you virtually no chance to win. However, I think straight chalk might be a solid first-round strategy. Actually, for years I've wanted to pick the first round without even looking.....all higher seeds, joined by all four 9 seeds. Most years that would have you fairly close to the top after one round. Maybe I'll finally do that this year (along with Baylor).

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Kensington, Md.: I think Butler got hosed with a 7 seed and to top it off, gets S. Alabama in Birmingham.

Which team do you think was seeded and placed incorrectly?

Dan Steinberg: As I mentioned in my advice, I usually say you should pick against mid-majors from a strategy perspective. But this tournament as an event is based on emotion, and my emotion tells me that these first-round mid-major matchups are awful. I hate them. I hated Butler-Old Dominion in the first round last year, and I hate this game, and I hate Drake-Western Kentucky and I hate Gonzaga-Davidson. If all the little guys beat the big guys, my bracket advice would be rendered moot, but it'd make for a bloody great month.

Arizona seems baffling as a 10 seed, since so many people thought they might not even deserve to be in. Ditto with Oregon and a 9, but I guess the committee liked the Pac 10. Winthrop seems awful high as a 13. I think I'd have given Wisconsin a 2 over Duke.

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Washington, D.C.: So, my team (I'm now somewhat embarrassed to admit what it is) just got picked up for the CBI. Um, what is that?

Dan Steinberg: Old Dominion? Rider? Virginia? Richmond? Do tell!

It's a new 16-team tourney run by an events company (The Gazelle Group); there are four brackets of four teams each, and then a re-seeding for the semifinals, and then a best-of-three championship series, which is just bizarre. With the NIT taking automatic qualifiers (mid major conference champs), the CBI is arguing that it has a better field. Personally, I'd take the all-local NIT game (Morgan State at Va. Tech) over the all-local CBI game (Richmond at UVA).

But any excuse for more college hoops on TV is fine by me.

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Montgomery Village, Md.: Dan

What do you think of Bob Knight's suggestion of having NO automatic berths in the tourney? Pick the BEST 64 teams in the country, seed them, and let them have at it. Sounds like he stomped on all the "little " conferences.

However, it is fair to say that those 65 currently still alive are NOT the best 65.

Dan Steinberg:1) As others have noted, when Seth Greenberg rails about how his Hokies are easily one of the best 65 teams in the country, it's an argument that makes no sense. No one ever said the NCAA tournament was the best 65 teams in the country. Coppin State has 20 losses; try to convince me they're better than the most disastrous ACC squad. Virginia would be massively favored over Coppin. Granted, Coppin plays an impossible road non conference schedule, but they lost to Xavier by 49 points, to Dayton by 32, to Marquette by 47, etc. They're not one of the 150 best teams in the country.

2) Doing away with automatic berths would be the easiest way for the NCAA tournament to lose its spot as the greatest American sporting event. Nothing could be more stupid than that.

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Alexandria, Va.: It's about time someone called a spade a spade. People, calm down about Drake. Jay Bilas was just blowing smoke last night about them because he wants to salvage ratings for CBS (his other employer). How many real BCS-conference teams has Drake beaten? Uh, that would be zero. Yet somehow because Drake can supposedly shoot in high school gyms, now they're a threat for the Sweet Sixteen or even the Final Four. Even though we all know it's far different shooting in a dome against real competition in the Tournament. Please.

Dan Steinberg: Wait, who called the spade the spade, you or me or someone else?

The Valley has certainly had some nice runs....Bradley and Wichita both went to the Sweet 16 in 2006, I believe, as did So. Illinois last year. These are solid enough teams. All things being equal, though, I'll take the power conference team every time. Even the celebrations are telling....if Drake beat, say, U-Conn in the second round, I'd venture the celebration among both fans and players would be a lot more euphoric than if the Huskies win that same game. To me, that says a lot. No one really expects Drake to win a game like that. Whereas if 5th seeded Clemson beats 5th seeded Vandy, well, sure, people expect that.

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Baltimore: Excuse my ignorance, but what does "picking chalk" mean? I'm sure it's something hip and trendy but it sounds like sports-geek talk to me.

Dan Steinberg: Oh, it's absolute geekiness. I think I made it clear that I'm a geek this month. I have a large folder with hand-written results and old brackets dating back years and years.

Chalk means taking favored teams all the way. A "chalk" elite eight would have one seeds facing two seeds in every regional final.

Actually, does anyone know where the term came from? I have no idea.

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Aldie, Va.: So am I correct in guessing that unlike the rest of us, who merely have to worry about the wink-wink-nod-nod nature of our bosses/IRS/authorities overlooking the trivial illegality/unauthorized nature of betting pools like this, you Post sportswriters actually have to worry about your editor(s) firing you over wagering money on one of these pools? And that as a result you guys have some sort of firewall set up, behind which you have a monster pool working? Just curious...

Dan Steinberg: Great question. I wish I had an official answer for you. After some Posties were slapped on the wrist by our Ombudsman for an extremely small-stakes Masters pool, I'm reluctant to wade into these waters.

Suffice it to say that the sports department's pool last year had an entry fee of $0.00, and that some sports department employees wish that weren't the case.

Also, I can say that even if winning a pool actually cost me money, I would still do it. I understand the thrill of gambling, but for me, the NCAA tournament thrill is about being right. I don't know why I care so much, when so many of the results are obvious toss-ups, but dang it feels good to go to sleep that first Friday night with 28 out of 32.

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14th & G Street: Too bad the non-NCAA teams eligible for the Atlantic 11 can't be convinced to accept bids to a tournament run by you. Heck, UR-UVA, Morgan St-VA Tech and Mount-Coppin (lets be honest, this game really isn't part of the NCAA) are already happening.

And UMBC-Georgetown will help voters too.

Dan Steinberg: I just put up a post about this, but it's true....the three postseason tournaments have four games featuring teams from DC/MD/VA facing each other.

I'm a bit surprised Richmond got a CBI bid over William & Mary. At least, I think I am. Not sure why this wasn't debated on CBS last night.

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Chantilly, Va.: How great was it to see Coppin vs Morgan on ESPN Classic Saturday night for the Baltimore City Championship? W. North Avenue vs Perring Parkway, baby! Assuming anyone other than me was watching, of course. Great prelude to the fabulous Black Magic documentary.

Question about one of the dreaded 8-9 games: Can a talented but inconsistent Arkansas team put Indiana out of its misery?

Dan Steinberg: Lots of really cool local storylines this month. That was high up the list. It's been a crazy month for Baltimore hoops.

ESPN's new bracket guru guy has an incredibly complicated series of statistics to use in judging 8-9 games. I have to say, as junky as the "science" was that I used, at least I sort of acknowledged that it was all a joke. This guy seemed deadly serious about counting up how many wins each coach had in postseason tourneys over the past six years, or something like that.

So I'll just say this: I like the other three 9 seeds, so I'm taking Arkansas out of ninth-seeded solidarity.

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Fairfax, Va.: Does Mason have what it takes to stop Harangody?

Dan Steinberg: That's a talented guy; not many teams have stopped him. But Mason plays great, great team defense, or can, anyhow. My hunch is that the game is decided less by Harangody than by whether John Vaughan and friends can stop Notre Dame's three-point bombers.

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Re: picking chalk:"Chalk - When a horse is the favorite -- or has the most money bet on it -- that horse is termed the "chalk." Interestingly, this term comes from the pre-computer era of the bookie. When a bookie recorded bets on a blackboard, the odds would change over and over as more and more people bet on the favorite. The horse became known as the "chalk" because the horse's name would disappear in chalk dust as the bookie constantly erased and lowered the horse's odds."

- from random forum

also some say it could be from Kansas' Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk chant

Dan Steinberg: I hope it's the first answer. That would be great. Even if it's false, thanks for sharing.

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Knoxville, Tenn.: Hey Dan --

It's the Tennessee/GW curler here. Would you say Tennessee got mostly jobbed on the seedings, or completely jobbed?

Dan Steinberg: I've heard this, and I don't get it. Yeah, UNC is the top overall seed, but would you rather face a Kansas team that Vegas says is the country's strongest, or a UCLA team that I say is the tourney favorite? How about a Memphis team with a score to settle? I guess you'd choose the latter.

Butler is surely seeded too low at 7, but even so, I'm not sure I wouldn't rather face the Bulldogs than Miami/Saint Mary's or West Virginia/Arizona. To get to the Final Four, Tennessee will need to beat three good teams, no matter where they're slotted. (Sorry American. Just joking.)

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Falls Church, Va.: Dang it Dan. I was really happy with my bracket. And then I read your first post.

Is it completely foolish to have two 1 seeds in the final?

Dan Steinberg: It depends what you're going for. If you want the best chance at having at least 50 percent of the championship game correct, it's not at all foolish. If you want the best chance to "win" a "non-monetary pool," I'd say it's poor strategy. If you balance those two one seeds with a four and a five, and you hit all four teams, you'll "win" regardless.

I've obviously lost a lot of hair in my life, but I'd guess more of it was due to this event than any other single entity, so I'm not going to be of much comfort. Every year, this is agony.

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Arlington, Va. ...: Three most overrrated teams in tourney:

Xavier and Duke and Vandy...

Siena to upset Vandy...

Cornell over Stanford...

Winner of Notre Dame-Mason goes to Sweet 16..

And this guarantees I will not win any pool for the 25th consecutive year.

Dan Steinberg: For the record, some upsets.

And unless you're in a pool that rewards massive upsets, taking a 14 seed to win is just silly. But if it happens, I'll surely remember you, Arlington.

I'm definitely not going to pick Mason to the Sweet 16, because it would completely contravene several of my suggestions, but if you're a Patriots fan you've got to love the draw.

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Mid-Major Land, USA: These people who look down their noses at non-BCS Cartel teams and say, "they don't play anybody" should realize that there are too few BCS Cartel teams willing to play the hoi polloi on anything resembling equal terms like home-and-home. If ESPN wanted to create a real Bracket Buster, match up 15 non-BCS Cartel teams with 15 BCS Cartel teams.

Dan Steinberg: You're absolutely right about the scheduling question. Look what the mid majors of Virginia did on their home courts against Virginia Tech.

But cartel or no cartel, the big boys deliver in early April.

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Washington, D.C.: Is UCLA the most overrated team in the tournament? Without horrific officiating, they are swept by Stanford and USC this year, and lose to Cal and Michigan State. They can't shoot 3s, they're very prone to turnovers and, for the all the talk about their defense, opponents shoot around 45 percent against them.

Dan Steinberg: Haha, I've heard this a lot, I feel about it much the same way I feel about the Georgetown "lucky" talk. I know this will infuriate those who follow the Pac 10 a lot more closely than I do, but at some point, don't you get credit for finding a way to win? It's hard for me to hate a team with the recent tournament success UCLA has had.

I believe my Vegas odds-setting friends would say that Vandy as a four seed is easily the most overrated team in the tourney.

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Detroit: Here is my conundrum. Being an MSU alum, my heart clouding my judgement and is telling me MSU can make a run. My head is telling me that this team has underachieved all year and is ripe to lose to Temple. Do I go with my head (since I get the point differential in seeding) and just hope that MSU goes far?

Dan Steinberg: With the point differential bonus, yeah, go with your head. Anyhow, either way you're happy if you go that route. If MSU loses AND you saw the upset coming and left all those points on the table, the total agony would far outweigh the disappointment of any other possible result.

Avoiding agony is key this month.

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To Fairfax: Yeah, right. Did Kansas get rid of Bill Choke, er, Self? Until they do, pick against them. His record of Final Four runs is perfect. As in Never. Despite always being hyped before the Tournament.

Dan Steinberg: This truism was being bandied about the office last night, but remember how many years in a row Arizona was considered the surest bet for an early flameout? And then the Wildcats started winning again.

I think I'm more inclined to put faith in coaches with great tourney pasts (Izzo) than to penalize coaches who've had their hiccups.

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Bethesda, Md.: The Committee set up a bunch of mid-major against mid-major matchups because they want to make sure there are at least a couple playing on the weekend. They knew if they put those teams against BCS-level teams, they'd be lucky if one or two made it. This goes to show just how fraudulent this crop of mid-majors truly is this year.

Dan Steinberg: And here's another view of mid majors.

Although is it really better for tourney rankings if, say, South Alabama is playing on the weekend and Arizona isn't? Does the Drake/Western Kentucky winner bring more followers than, say, the Kentucky/Marquette winner? Probably not, I'd think.

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Charlottesville, Va.: Does your advice also apply to brackets for the CBI (or as I like to call it, the Atlantic 11 Invitational)? And can a postseason tournament have any credibility when it invites a 13-18 team (Cincinatti)?

Dan Steinberg: I've entered an NIT pool pretty consistently in recent years, and I've always done just horribly. I can't figure out any logic at all in which teams do well in the secondary events.

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I haven't been able to figure out what to do with Kansas...: Neither have I and I am a KU grad!! They didn't play great on the road and didn't have a lot of great road wins (USC, A&M, BC, GT) but lost their other big road games (Texas, K-State, Okla State). They can be sloppy and sleep walkly at times, but IF they get it going they win it all.

Dan Steinberg: And here's a different view on Kansas.

My problem with the Jayhawks, more than Self, is that no Big 12 team has won the tourney since Kansas in 1988. I know that the 1991 winner has absolutely no bearing on this year's winner, and I know that trend will change eventually, but that stat bugs me every time I think about putting a Kansas or a Texas on that last line.

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Reston, Va.: I was wondering if you could recommend a particular cheese for each weekend or round of the tournament.

Dan Steinberg: Might as well finish up with this one.

First round: Brin d'Amour, French sheep's milk, natural rind covered with rosemary thyme, coriander seeds and savoury, aromatic herbs. Wild and unpredictable but still tremendous.

Second round: Sottocenere (with truffles). High-end Italian cow's milk cheese, classy and yet a bit unexpected.

Third round: Vermont Shepherd, an artisanal American offering. It's unique, but the flavors are classic.

Fourth round: Reggiano. Simply the best

Fifth round: A triple creme, like Brillat-Savarin, Saint Andre or Castello Blue. It's decadent, but often not as complex as you might wish.

Final: Havarti with dill, pepper jack, and Old Bay-flavored cheddar. By this point, the best stuff is in the past, and you're just trying to cram all the little leftover tasty bits in your mouth.

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