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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI : Former Winner of Office Pool Offers Secrets to Success


It is a question that has befuddled civilizations, confounded the scholars, mystified the learned. It is a question that haunts us now more than ever.

How do you win an NCAA tournament office pool?

As a public service and for entertainment purposes only (no reason for the Feds to become involved, if you know what we mean), we offer the services of Utah Coach Rick Majerus.

Majerus will be in Hutchinson, Kan., today, scouting players at the National Junior College Athletic Assn. tournament, but his heart will be at the NCAAs. Although his team failed to earn an NCAA tournament invitation, Majerus was chosen as handicapping expert for several important reasons:

--He has taken two schools (Ball State and Utah) to the NCAAs, guiding the Runnin' Utes to a Sweet 16 appearance in 1991.

--He was an assistant coach on the 1977 Marquette NCAA championship team.

--He has won an office pool.


Majerus' vision for office pool success revolves around a handful of basic basketball tenets. First and foremost is the theory of seeding.

"Seeding is everything," Majerus said.

According to Majerus, the West Regional is the weakest of the four brackets, which means No. 1-seeded Missouri, No. 2 Arizona, No. 3 Louisville and No. 4 Syracuse "should have more of an opportunity" to advance than the top-seeded teams in the other more difficult regionals.

He is right, of course. Last year, the East Regional was considered the softest of the four brackets and sure enough, three of the top four (No. 1 North Carolina, No. 2 Cincinnati and No. 4 Arkansas) advanced to the Sweet 16, the top two to the round of eight and the top one to the Final Four.

Again using last season's NCAA tournament field as an example, 10 of the teams seeded among the top four reached the Sweet 16. Seven advanced to the round of eight, four to the Final Four.

The lesson: Longshots are nice in the early rounds, but when the going gets tough, the high-seeded teams get going.

"Anybody who picked Santa Clara over Arizona last year (the No. 2-seeded Wildcats lost to the No. 15 Broncos) should be on a street corner predicting Armageddon . . . and we should be listening to him," Majerus said.

Majerus said to look carefully at styles of play. In tournament play, where preparation time is short, a different kind of team can create serious problems for an opponent.

"Kentucky . . . Temple, they play a brand of basketball that is in contrast to the norm," Majerus said. "They have a style of play that you're not accustomed to. Those are the kind of teams I look for. Not many teams play that way, so it's hard to emulate what Kentucky does (full-court pressure, up-tempo offense, lots of three-point shots) in a practice, preparation situation."

That would explain why Majerus is particularly bullish on Kentucky, Wisconsin Green Bay (very deliberate style), Western Kentucky (a Kentucky wanna-be), Southwestern Louisiana (more than 500 three-point attempts this season), Arkansas (offensive and defensive pressure) and North Carolina (two different kinds of inside attacks with the lumbering Eric Montross and the finesse-oriented Rasheed Wallace).

Majerus is an office-pool believer in teams that feature big and small.

"I look at teams that have inside and outside strength," he said, immediately ruling out about two-thirds of the tournament field.

The big-small philosophy is why Majerus isn't so hot on teams such as Texas, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Florida, California--top heavy on guards, but no inside game.

"I said this earlier in the season, the two best guards in the country are at Arizona," Majerus said of Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves. "But (center Joe) Blair is kind of enigmatic at best, while (power forward Ray) Owes gives you what he has. And (6-foot-1 Reggie) Geary is a guard, not a (small forward), which is where they have him right now.

"Then you have Cal. The best two-man punch in the game is (guard Jason) Kidd and (forward Lamond) Murray, but they don't have an inside game to speak of."

On the opposite side is a team such as UCLA, which has a nice low-post weapon in center George Zidek, but no consistent outside threats.

"That's what kills the kid at UCLA," Majerus said. "UCLA has no shooters. (Zidek) has pretty good low-post moves, but they don't have the shooters to take the (defensive) pressure off him."

Never underestimate the importance of momentum, Majerus said. Entering last year's tournament, George Washington, seeded No. 12, had won nine of its previous 13 games. The Colonials reached the Sweet 16. Temple, seeded No. 7, had won seven of its previous nine. The Owls reached the round of eight.

There are exceptions. Majerus said Texas, which has finished extremely strong, has false momentum. Lots of victories, but against crummy competition.

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