3. Execution takes many forms. With guard Sean Dockery out with a bum right knee, no real substitute available for frontcourt stud Shelden Williams, and floor leader Daniel Ewing liable to pick up technical fouls (he had four in the last seven regular-season games), Duke can't even be sure that its most important players will be around for the final five minutes. Hence coach Mike Krzyzewski's vigorous working of the refs, lest a Blue Devil get tagged with any fouls he doesn't fully deserve.
4. One well-executed play can turn a season around. Oklahoma runs a set called Circle, in which the point guard circles through the backcourt to gain momentum before taking an inbounds pass and heading up the floor. Guard Drew Lavender ran it to perfection at Kansas State on Feb. 19, receiving the ball and dashing three quarters of the court to toss in a layup to beat the Wildcats by a point. It was the key victory during a six-game winning streak that gave the Sooners a share of the Big 12 title.
5. The ability to execute in the clutch can't always be quantified. Sometimes an ineffable something courses through a locker room and along a bench. Take the case of Michigan State. By almost any empirical measure this season's Spartans ought to be master executioners. At the end of the regular season they were tied for first in the nation in free throw shooting (79.1%) and ranked fifth in assists per game (18.0) and ninth in field goal percentage (49.9). But upon closer examination they hardly resemble coach Tom Izzo's national champs of five years ago, who scored on at least 80% of their possessions after a timeout. Their leading scorer, guard Maurice Ager (13.6 points per game), tends to come up big in little games and little in big ones. The Spartans muffed five of their last eight free throws in a defeat at Duke; at Indiana they blew a six-point lead in the final four minutes; and guard/forward Alan Anderson, 86.1% from the line, missed two free throws with 6.5 seconds left in Michigan State's 71-69 loss to Iowa in the Big Ten tournament. Though the Spartans can point to 22 victories, they have yet to win by five points or fewer.
So don't get caught up in "I'll be the hero." Go Spike Lee on us and do the right thing. And squeeze that orange. Ask any shrink: Possession is just another word for madness, and, madness, thy name is March.