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Here’s a Primer for Tournament Picks

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March 11, 2018

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Sunday’s column offers suggestions (serious and not) about how to fill out your NCAA Tournament Bracket…and news on a Minnesota club sport that could develop fast in state communities.

If you live on another planet and don’t know, today is Selection Sunday for the men’s NCAA basketball tournament. That means tonight and tomorrow there will be a lot of collective head-scratching as college basketball (and wagering) fans try to figure out who will advance through the tournament field and ultimately win next month’s NCAA championship.

You could pick teams the way certain Canterbury Park patrons wager on horses—by their colors. That method means selecting favorites based on likeable team names, mascots, or school colors. If that’s your thing, pick up the latest issue of Sports Illustrated to “help” with your bracket.

The magazine informs readers that the Wildcats of Arizona, Kentucky and Villanova are 6-3 in tourney championship games since 1985. However, tournament teams with dog names like the Gonzaga Bulldogs are 35-25 against cat teams since 1985.

Perhaps consider too that Sports Illustrated research says in the last 14 years only one team that did not have blue in its colors has won the NCAA title. The exception? Infamous coach Rick Pitino and his Louisville Cardinals. And, yes, now the NCAA has stripped Louisville of its 2013 title because of rules violations.

Jim Dutcher

Maybe just use a favorite coin and flip heads or tails to fill out your bracket, but before turning to that method consider some advice from former Gopher head coach Jim Dutcher who is one of the smartest people I know.

Dutcher follows the college basketball season intently, partly because of his roots in the game including as an assistant coach at Michigan and then as the Gophers’ head man from 1975-1986. His son Brian Dutcher is head coach at San Diego State, a team that won the Mountain West Tournament championship last night and secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Dutcher has seen “The Big Dance” grow into a unique part of Americana that captivates the public and enriches the NCAA. “People who don’t even follow basketball are in the (tourney bracket) office pool,” Dutcher said.

Part of the tournament charm is there are teams and conferences some fans have never heard of. This year’s field includes the likes of Bucknell from the Patriot League, Lipscomb of the Atlantic Sun, and Radford from the Big South.

Chasing Cinderella in a bracket can be fun, trying to see if mid-major teams can knock off the bluebloods of the tournament. “You’re always trying to pick the upsets,” Dutcher said.

But Dutcher cautions fans about falling too hard for Cinderella as you sort through the 68-team tournament field. There’s a reason teams like Virginia, Villanova and Xavier will be given high seeds on Selection Sunday. Those schools, along with other familiar names like Duke, Kansas, Michigan State and Purdue, possess a lot of the best college talent and coaching. “Generally, the No. 1 seeds end up there (in the finals),” Dutcher said

Dutcher acknowledges that historically tournament teams who are No. 12 seeds do have a track record of success in games against No. 5 seeds. Oddsmakers know this and point spreads will sometimes be narrow between five and 12 seeds. That could be the time to make a spoiler pick in your bracket.

Dutcher suggests researching teams playing at high levels right now. He mentioned Arizona and Kansas as two of the bluebloods who are closing fast, but his choice to emerge in San Antonio next month as national champion is Duke.

The Blue Devils? Sounds familiar, and that’s the idea when filling out your tourney bracket. Don’t venture too far away from the facts. Of course, reality also is that even students of bracketology are going to be wrong when trying to predict the outcome of all those games. “March Madness, right?” …

Hugh McCutcheon has developed women’s volleyball into a national power at the University of Minnesota, but he has wondered why there is no boys’ volleyball in the state’s high schools. Last summer he started talking about that with Walt Weaver, the legendary Minnesota girls’ volleyball coach.

Conversations between McCutcheon and Weaver resulted in a developing story. Others picked up the initiative and volunteered their time during the last several months, and the result has been over 400 boys from various high schools have registered to play club volleyball this spring.

“There’s always been a lot of interest…from boys to play,” McCutcheon said. “We have a club team at the U, and so we talked to those players and they’re like, ‘Hey, we would have loved it if we could have played in high school but we never had the chance.’ ”

McCutcheon is hopeful that “if we can show continued interest,” boys’ volleyball will not only expand to more participants and schools, but also be elevated from a club sport to the more fully funded and supported status of sports in the state like baseball, basketball, football, softball and girls’ volleyball. Boys’ high school volleyball is played in Iowa and Wisconsin.

McCutcheon said the North Country Region of USA Volleyball has helped to offset costs of the startup and make participation more affordable for participants.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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