Posted: Monday March 14, 2005 12:31PM; Updated: Monday March 14, 2005 4:55PM
2. Don't try to make up for what you screwed up in last year's bracket.
Western Michigan also happened to be the '04 dance's lone representative from the MAC -- the same conference that produced an Elite Eight team in '02 (Kent State) and a second-round team in '03 (Central Michigan). Poolsters had flashbacks like these when making their '04 picks ...
2002: "Kent State is killing my bracket! Where did these guys come from?"
2003: "#$%&! Central Michigan! Why did I not learn from Kent State and ride the MAC? #$%&!"
... and then overreacted, creating a MAC craze along these lines:
2004: "I'm not getting burned by the MAC again. Western Michigan to the Sweet Sixteen!"
They were burned, all right. Just not in the way they expected.
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Applying the lesson: UAB made a surprise Sweet 16 run last season, knocking off No. 8-seeded Washington and No. 1-seeded Kentucky -- and the chances you called those are slim. Don't try to make amends by dubbing the Blazers bracket-busters once again. They have their hands full in the first-round with LSU, an SEC sleeper team a la Vandy last season.
On the flipside, take a long, hard look at what Florida has accomplished in the past nine days -- two wins over Kentucky and one over Alabama -- before you hand the Gators their customary "choke" label. They may have lost to Creighton in the first round in '02, Michigan State in the second in '03 and Manhattan in the first in '04, but Billy Donovan's team now plays defense. For Ohio -- this year's MAC offering and UF's first-round foe -- that makes an upset much less likely.
3. You may have your heart set on a Cinderella, but make sure the matchup is favorable.
The Broncos had the goods to beat a host of higher-seeded teams in the '04 bracket, but they happened to be paired with Vandy, which had a lock-down defense capable of keeping WMU's backcourt in check. The Broncos, who shot 37.1 percent from beyond the arc for the season, hit just 2-of-19 3-point attempts against the Commodores -- and top-scorer Reed was 0-for-5.
Sometimes Cinderella is just not meant to be.
Applying the lesson: So what if you wasted two hours of last Tuesday night watching Louisiana-Lafayette rout Denver in the Sun Belt title game, and made a mental note along the lines of, Love the Ragin' Cajuns -- a Sweet Sixteen team for sure. Sure, you may have discovered a diamond in the rough -- Louisiana-Lafayette is athletic enough to hang with any team in the bracket -- but are you prepared to sacrifice your find if its first-round matchup isn't right? The Cajuns, seeded 13th, could have stunned a slow team like BC or Utah, but the selection committee handed them Louisville, an underseeded squad (at No. 4) with both athleticism and momentum. Take a moment to decide how much you're actually in love with your pick.
Now that I've told you plenty about who shouldn't be pegged for early exits, it's your turn to read between the lines and pick your favorite maidens: Will the list include UW-Milwaukee? Utah State? George Washington? New Mexico? Northern Iowa? St. Mary's? UTEP? Or different teams altogether?
Choose Cinderellas wisely, and you'll earn the right to crow -- rather than eat it -- in the first round of your bracket. While nobody likes the I-called-the-upset braggart in their pool, deep down, everyone wants to be him.