65 Reasons to Celebrate the NCAA Tournament

Rick Barnes (25). How often do you get to coach the best player of your life? Only once, and probably only for one year. Better make hay while you have him.

Thad Matta (26). See above.

UCLA (27). The 2006 national runner-up has lost its past two games, both to non-tournament teams. Now that the Bruins have made The Minutes look bad for proclaiming them the most mature team in the country, we'll see whether they can refocus with the season on the line. Ben Howland is recruiting well enough for UCLA to be good for a long time, but there should be a sense of urgency right now with this group.

Big Trends

Since The Minutes is all about service to the readership, it provides the following bracket handicapping advice that will help you rule your pool. (The Minutes cannot be held liable if Jackson State (28) wins it all and wrecks your bracket.)

It is perfectly reasonable to doubt every Big Ten team not named Wisconsin (29) or Ohio State (30). Fact: The six teams that followed the Badgers and Buckeyes in the league standings went 24-1 at home against each other. If none of them can beat their mediocre peers away from home, they probably won't beat many opponents in a neutral-court setting, either.

The 5-12 mojo (31) remains in effect. For six years running, at least one No. 12 seed has beaten a No. 5 seed in the first round. Last year, it happened twice: Texas A&M over Syracuse and Montana over Nevada.

When shopping for a national champion, remember that coaching experience counts. The past seven championships, and 17 of the past 21, have been won by coaches who previously had been to at least one Final Four. Approximately one-fourth of the coaches in this year's field have worked the sideline on the season's final weekend. Among the significant coaches who haven't: Self, Matta, Wisconsin's Bo Ryan (32), Georgetown's John Thompson III (33), Pitt's Jamie Dixon (34) and Texas A&M's Billy Gillispie (35).

No ACC team made the 2006 Final Four, which means it's time to cuddle up to at least one team from that league when picking this year's regional champions. Last time the ACC went consecutive years without a Final Four rep: 1979-80. From 1981 to 2005, the league produced an incredible 25 Final Four teams.

Big Specialists

Who you gonna call when you absolutely, positively have to have …

A steal: Penn guard Ibrahim Jaaber (36). He's fourth nationally with three swipes per game.

A 3: Texas A&M's Josh Carter (37). He leads the nation in 3-point accuracy at 52 percent and has made 14 of his last 24 attempts from long range.

A clutch free throw: Gonzaga's Derek Raivio (38). He's missed just six of 152 foul shots this season, making him the nation's most accurate man at the stripe.

A last-second shot: A&M's Acie Law IV (39), who has made more clutch baskets than anyone in the country.

A key rebound: Nevada's Nick Fazekas (40), who averages more than 11 boards per game.

A deft pass: Davidson's Jason Richards (41), second nationally in assists at 7.3 per game.

Points in a hurry: Jackson State's Trey Johnson (42), second in the nation in scoring at 27.1 points per game. He had a combined 65 in the SWAC semifinals and finals.

Big Resumes

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