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Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Behind the Bets


The wiseguys dig Bouldin and the Zags.

For the past three weeks I've done everything I can to make you richer. I asked wiseguys and bookmakers about which coaches they trust most during the tourney (Hint: Stay away from Coach K). The stat geniuses at ESPN helped me come up with new criteria to identify the teams most likely to make not just the Final Four, but the finals (the now or never teams). And the other day BTB offered up the maxims all the sharps believe help guide them through the madness.

Then I realized something: Who in the name of Gary Waters wants to do all that work? It's a heckuva lot easier to just ask my favorite wiseguys who they like. So, on the chance you haven't filled out your bracket, you can just follow their lead. (And if you have, find a square to go head-to-head with and fill out another, it'll be easier money than collecting a bonus from AIG.)

Collecting four brackets and putting them all online was really too much trouble, too. Even with the unlimited space my Internet machine offers. Besides, it's a lot to decipher when you're at work hiding your brackets from your boss. Instead, I had three wiseguys each give me their winners in a region. Alan Boston did the Midwest, Sal from Madduxsports.com took the East and Edward from Right Angle handled the South. I took the West because, really, how hard can any of this be at this point? Behold:

SOUTH

First Round Winners North Carolina LSU Western Kentucky Gonzaga Syracuse Arizona St Clemson Oklahoma Second Round Winners North Carolina Gonzaga Arizona St Oklahoma Third Round Winners Gonzaga Arizona St Final 4 Gonzaga

Edward's Bracket Breakdown: "Arizona State always has played solid defense and their matchup zone can be difficult to prepare for with limited time. The emergence of sophomore forward Rihards Kuksiks, who can open up defenses with 3-point shooting and playmaking, has made the offense much more efficient this year. They get a favorable second-round match-up with Syracuse, who played a gut wrenching seven overtimes in four games in four days last week and will likely not be playing at their peak. The Orangemen have few quality wins outside of New York. Finally, few teams in the Big 12 play zone defense regularly or well and Oklahoma may have trouble scoring against the Sun Devils in possible Sweet 16 matchup.

"Gonzaga flipped the switch in the conference tournament, absolutely blasting two very decent teams in Santa Clara and St. Mary's with Patty Mills on a neutral floor. Their offense has stepped forward since Matt Bouldin was given ball-handling duties in late January, allowing Jeremy Pargo to take on more of a scoring role. They have enough talent and depth to compete with North Carolina in the Sweet 16 and are comfortable playing the up-tempo pace that the Tar Heels employ."

EAST

First Round Winners Pitt Tennessee Wisconsin Xavier UCLA Villanova Texas Duke

Second Round Winners Pitt Xavier Villanova Duke

Third Round Winners Pitt Nova

Final Four Pitt

Sal's Bracket Breakdown: "This is the lamest bracket of the four, in my opinion. It's almost like it was set up so Pitt could have an easy road to the Final Four. The only game remotely interesting was Duke-Nova, which looks like a coin flip game to me. I picked Villanova just to stir the pot. Villanova is ultra-athletic and long so Duke won't out-athlete them like they do most teams. Jay Wright is a good coach and has a superb record against winning teams while Coach K doesn't. There is just something about this Duke team I don't like. I watched them play a couple times on the road and saw them crack, if the 3's are not falling against Nova or UCLA, whoever they get in the Sweet 16, they will lose."

MIDWEST

First Round Winners Louisville Siena Utah Wake Forest West Virginia North Dakota State USC Michigan State

Second Round Winners Louisville Wake Forest West Virginia Michigan State

Third Round Winners Louisville West Virginia

Final Four Louisville

Boston's Bracket Breakdown "This makes me sad, because I hate Rick Pitino. I hate what he stands for, I hate his program, hate the phony-ness he exudes; he stands for everything that is wrong with college basketball, in my opinion. He does a lot of dumb things during a game but is revered. He just rubs me the wrong way with his smug attitude. He ssems to treat his kids like his play things. Like on Christmas break, making his kids stay and play. His team defends well, but takes a lot of bad shots and his half-court offense stinks. If he doesn't have an athletic team he can't win. He couldn't take a mediocre team and win. That to me is the sign of a good coach.

"Now, I like North Dakota State because when Tim Miles first started that program he recruited all these freshman. They went into Marquette and won and went to Wisconsin and won. Now they are a veteran team and they are playing a team loaded with young players. They are very well coached and Kansas isn't. This would be a culmination of all that time they spent together. I expect their gameplan will be laid out better than Kansas' will. Bill Self is no idiot, but I like the other coach better."

WEST

First Round Winners UConn Texas A&M Purdue Washington Utah State Missouri California Memphis

Second Round Winners UConn Washington Utah State Memphis

Third Round Winners UConn Memphis

Final Four UConn

Square's Bracket Breakdown I don't know what Stew Morrill and Utah State have to do to get some respect from the selection committee, but I bet Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles wish they had. Morrill's teams are as well coached as any in college hoops. They've been in the post-season for 10 straight years, win 20 games as easily as most players lace up their sneakers and always have at least one player that gives the other team fits. This year it's 26-year-old Gary Wilkinson, a 6-8 brawler. The Golden Eagles went 1-5 after Dominic James broke his foot. This seeding is as much about the team they were before he was injured, when they were ranked eighth in the country.

As for UConn over Memphis, it's simple: I'm going to live and die with the now or never principle. I won't harp on it, like I've been doing for three weeks, but when it comes down to it I think UConn, with more experience than Memphis, is destined to book a ticket for Detroit.

FINALS

Pitt vs. UConn

These have been the two best teams all season. That won't change after a few weeks of tourney play. I think Pitt wins for a few reasons: 1) DaJuan Blair may be shorter than Hasheem Thabeet, but he's a lot more physical. In an intense game where emotions are high and players are amped before the opening tip, you can't underestimate how tired these guys will be as the game wears on. 2) When I played all the games between now or never teams on our buddy Bracket Predictor, Pitt was the only squad to go undefeated. That's the kind of stat I can believe in.

Got a betting story for Chad? Email him.

Read more Behind the Bets.


Chad Millman is a Senior Deputy Editor at ESPN The Magazine, and once wrote a book called The Odds. His column takes a close look at the culture surrounding the bet.