LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- If you want to rule your NCAA Tournament bracket office pool, you've come to the wrong place.

I haven't picked the champion since Lew Alcindor dropped skyhooks over Rick Mount (1969 in Freedom Hall 1969). My dog Raja, my Aunt Sonia and Toad the Wet Sprocket have whipped me in bracket challenges.

You don't want me to help you win your pool. You want to invite me to participate in your pool to increase the chances you don't finish last.

But the Monday Muse must go on. I do have information you can use while filling out your bracket and to help you sound like an insider around the water cooler. (CAUTION: Handle with care.)

1. The Four Dual Qualifiers

If you're a fan of Ken Pomeroy's advanced analytics, you understand that one of the surest metrics for picking the NCAA champion is the dual qualifier category.

Since 2002, one team has won the NCAA title without ranking in the Top 20 in offensive and defense efficiency as measured by Pomeroy. His stats, of course, are tempo free. Teams are evaluated by how many points they score and surrender per 100 possessions.

The one outlier was North Carolina -- and the Tar Heels weren't much of an outlier. They finished the 2009 season ranked first on offense and 21st on defense. They were the NCAA favorite for most of that season.

Four teams meet the dual qualifier standard as the 2017 tournament begins -- Villanova, Gonzaga, Kentucky and Wichita State.

There is a reason I italicized the words as the tournament begins. Why? Teams can play their way into Top 20 designation in March. Several are close enough to being dual qualifiers that they deserve consideration.

The teams with a combined offensive and defensive efficiency of 40 or less?

North Carolina, fourth on offense but 25th on defense.

Louisville, 23rd offense, sixth defense.

West Virginia, 28th offense, fifth defense.

Baylor, 22nd offense, 14th defense.

Kansas, ninth on offense, 30th on defense.

SMU, 11th offense, 29th defense.

Purdue, 24th offense, 16th defense.

2. Rick Pitino's Fabulous Coaching Tree

The Rick/Richard Pitino storyline will be written relentlessly as long as Louisville and Minnesota remain in the tournament. But Pitino DNA percolates throughout the 68-team field at a level no coach can match.

Not Mike Krzyzewski. Not Larry Brown. Not Homer Drew.

Including Richard at Minnesota, four former Pitino assistants made the field. The Pitinos are joined by Kevin Willard (Seton Hall), Mick Cronin (Cincinnati) and Kevin Keatts (UNC-Wilmington).

That gives the Pitino Coaching Tree one more branch than the Coach K tree. It has three -- Mike Brey (Notre Dame), Chris Collins (Northwestern) and Steve Wojciechowski (Marquette).

Larry Brown loves attention, so I'll give him love, too. The record shows three former Brown guys -- John Calipari (Kentucky), Tim Jankovich (SMU) and Mark Turgeon (Maryland).

3. The Ballard Connection

Chris Renner has the Ballard High School basketball program parked in its typical March position -- the Kentucky high school Sweet Sixteen. But as Renner tries to bring another state championship to Herr Lane, he's also Muse-Worthy for his fingerprints in the NCAA Tournament.

Three members of the 2013 Ballard squad will compete:

Quentin Snider, you know. You've watched him do wonderful things as Louisville's point guard.

Kelan Martin is respected by coaches across the Big East. He's been a beast at Butler.

To that list, add Lavonne Holland II. He plays point guard for Northern Kentucky, the team that opens against Kentucky in Indianapolis Friday night. Averaging nearly 19 points per game, Holland was named the Most Outstanding Player as the Norse won the Horizon League conference tournament.

4. Beware Conference Tournament Winners

Iowa State is hot. Won the Big 12 Tournament.

Michigan is hotter. Won the Big Ten Tournament.

Duke is hottest. Won the ACC Tournament, winning four games and taking down three teams seeded fifth or better while doing it.

I won't dispute any of that.

But I will toss out this disclaimer: Winning your league tournament has not been a powerful predictor of winning the national title or getting to the Final Four over the last five seasons.

One of the last five NCAA champs won its league tournament. That was Louisville four seasons ago.

Only 6 of the last 20 Final Four teams won their league tournaments.

Concerned by sample size? That's fair. I stretched the data over the last 10 seasons.

During that period, five of the last 10 NCAA champs also won their league tournament. Of the 40 Final Four teams, 19 won their league events.

5. First-Round Draft Pick Theory

This is the time of year I miss Marty Blake, the late NBA Director of Scouting. Blake loved talking candidly about college basketball players and where they fit in the NBA. Every guy was not a five-star guy to Blake. Some were three-star guys masquerading as five-star guys.

For years, Blake teamed with New York Times columnist Dave Anderson to predict the teams most likely to get to the Final Four and win the tournament. The ingredient that mattered most to Blake was not coaching or the draw.

It was talent.

In honor of Blake, I checked the latest 2017 NBA Mock Draft at DraftExpress.com and identified three teams Blake and Anderson would likely have chosen:

*Kentucky -- three first-round guys. DraftExpress ranks point guard De'Aaron Fox fifth, shooting guard Malik Monk (8) and center Bam Adebayo (27)

*Duke -- three first-rounders. That would be forward Jayson Tatum (4), guard Luke Kennard (20) and center Harry Giles (25).

*UCLA -- a pair of first-rounders. Point guard Lonzo Ball is considered the second-best prospect with forward T.J. Leaf (26) ranked.

Eleven schools start the tournament with one likely first-round picks: Kansas, Arizona, Florida State, Michigan State, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Creighton, Louisville (Donovan Mitchell, 21), Baylor, SMU and Purdue.

Does that disqualify a pair of Number One seeds -- Gonzaga and Villanova -- who lack first-round picks?


6. McDonald's All-American Theory

Measuring talent is not an exact science. Ask the recruiting gurus.

Making the McDonald's all-American game is considered a valuable marker by many. By my count, 39 former McDonald's all-Americans will compete in the tournament.

Eight programs feature more than one McDonald’s all-American. Here is the list:

*Duke 7 (Frank Jackson; Marques Bolden, Jayson Tatum; Luke Kennard; Chase Jeter; Grayson Allen; Matt Jones).

*North Carolina 6 (Tony Bradley; Justin Jackson; Theo Pinson; Joel Berry II; Isaiah Hicks; Kennedy Meeks).

*Kentucky 5 (Malik Monk; Bam Adebayo; De’Aaron Fox; Sacha Killea-Jones; Isaiah Briscoe).

*UCLA 3 (Lonzo Ball; T.J. Leak; Thomas Welsh).

*Kansas 2 (Josh Jackson; Carlton Bragg).

*Michigan State 2 (Miles Bridges; Josh Langford).

*Gonzaga 2 (Zach Collins; Nigel Williams-Goss).

*Arizona 2 (Kobi Simmons; Allonzo Trier)

7. Big East Madness

The ACC is terrific. I wouldn't be surprised to find two, three or four ACC teams at the Final Four. The Big 12 is a beast, the best league in America according to multiple computer ratings.

But does anybody wonder if Jim Boeheim's anger issues have been fueled by his intense attachment to the Big East?

That conference was supposed to disappear after Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Miami, Louisville and Notre Dame fled for the embrace of the ACC.

Check your bracket.

The Big East can't match the nine teams the ACC pushed into the tournament, but I can't remember a league that exceeded the Big East's record of qualifying 7 of its 10 teams.

Only DePaul, Georgetown and St. John’s whiffed. The reports of the demise of the Big East have been greatly exaggerated.

8. More Indiana Malaise

There is no NCAA Tournament for the Indiana basketball program for the second time in four seasons.

Somehow the Hoosiers transformed victories against two Number One seeds into a road game in the NIT (more on that later this week). But there is life in the NCAA Tournament for seven guys who left (or were asked to leave) Indiana.

That includes five players and two former coaches.

Hanner Mosquera-Perea is one of the top frontcourt players for the East Tennessee State team that I have predicted will upset Florida. Former IU center Peter Jurkin rarely plays for the Buccaneers.

Stanford Robinson wears a headband and attacks the rim for Rhode Island. The Rams, an 11-seed, open against Creighton.

Former IU center Luke Fischer left Bloomington after one semester. He starts for Marquette, which plays South Carolina.

Emmitt Holt is a player Indiana could have used in its frontcourt the last two seasons. He's become a force for Providence, which faces USC in a First Four game in Dayton Wednesday.

Mike Davis made the NCAA Tournament in 2006, his final season at IU. Davis has found a comfortable home at Texas Southern. Davis has guided the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons. They'll open against North Carolina.

Rob Senderoff worked as an assistant to Kelvin Sampson when Sampson drove the IU program on to NCAA probation nine years ago. He's quietly resurrected his career at Kent State, winning the Mid-American Conference Tournament this month.

The Flashes open against former IU poster boy Steve Alford and UCLA Friday.

9. This Season's Jay Wright

Every tournament begins with a list of coaches who should have an NCAA championship but have not. Last season that guy was Jay Wright of Villanova. He's off that list -- and trying to move to a more exclusive list of coaches who have won back-to-back tournaments.

Who is this season's Wright, a solid Xs and Os guy that opposing coaches respect even if there is a major resume gap?

I have three nominees and they're all seeded in the top four in the West Regional:

*Bob Huggins, West Virginia: It's fair to say that Huggs would have his ring if Kenyon Martin had not broken his leg during the 2000 Conference USA Tournament. Huggins made the Final Four in 1992 with Cincinnati and again seven years ago with West Virginia. This isn't his best team, but the Mountaineers guard the Gatorade out of you.

*Mark Few, Gonzaga: The only coach of this year's top seeds who has not won a national title, Few enters the tournament with as much to prove as any coach. The Zags's stumbles against Wichita State (2013), Syracuse (2016) and others have fed the narrative that Gonzaga is not quite Final Four worthy.

*Sean Miller, Arizona: He can win the Pac-12 regular season title. He can win the Pac-12 conference tournament. He can recruit McDonald's all-Americans. He can send people to the NBA. But Miller, primarily because of Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin, has not made the Final Four.

10. Poll Results

Do you agree with Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin that seeding for the NCAA Tournament is financially driven?

Yes – 78.1 percent?

No – 21.9 percent

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