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posted: 3/16/2010 12:01 AM

Breaking down the NCAA tournament bracket

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You know how they say defense wins championships in the NFL? And how pitching and defense lead to World Series titles?

March Madness laughs at those old-school bromides.

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Oh, it's still important to be able to play defense in the NCAA Tournament.

But when you're trying to figure out who'll clip down the nets April 5 in Indianapolis for bracket purposes, go with the "O."

Here's why:

Every team will be on its fiercest defensive behavior during the NCAA Tournament - and they'll be armed with the best intelligence as the game's finest coaching minds get ample time to figure out opponents' schemes.

When that's the case, the teams that have the best offensive improvisers and creators are the ones that rise to the top.

It's not difficult to watch video and crack the code on Kansas' offensive sets, but Bill Self has senior point guard Sherron Collins to make something out of nothing.

Ohio State didn't share the Big Ten title and win the conference tournament because Thad Matta drew up plays.

Instead, he put the ball in Evan Turner's hands. The St. Joseph's product has developed into the likely national player of the year because of his ability to drive wherever he wants whenever he wants to get there.

Need some empirical evidence to back up this theory?

Go to kenpom.com, where statistical guru Ken Pomeroy has been breaking down every school's offensive and defensive efficiency since 2004.

In each of those last six years the NCAA champion finished among the top four teams in Pomeroy's offensive efficiency stat.

Three of those champs - North Carolina (2005 and 2009) and Florida (2007) - featured the nation's most efficient offense.

What does that mean to us, the Gang Addicted to Making Brackets Look Exceptional?

It means we should focus on Duke and Kansas, which are 1-2 nationally in Pomeroy's Adjusted Offensive Rate metric.

I have the Jayhawks and the Blue Devils clashing for the national title in my bracket (see it here), but let's break it down by region.

Midwest

Best first-round game: Michigan State loves to play fast, but New Mexico likes to play even faster. First team to 85 wins. Should be Sparty if Kalin Lucas is healthy and Chris Allen is behaving.

Upset special: Freshman Kawhi Leonard and his San Diego State teammates crash the offensive glass to bounce sixth-seeded Tennessee.

Wild card: When Maryland senior guard Greivis Vasquez is on, he cannot be contained. He has the best chance to derail the Jayhawks.

Winner: Kansas

West

Best first-round game: Ninth-seeded Florida State boasts the nation's best defense, according to Pomeroy. In this instance, it's enough to tip Gonzaga's balanced offense.

Upset special: Murray State has been waiting 22 years for a shot at nearby Vanderbilt. The Racers are great rebounders with four good perimeter shooters. Down go the fourth-seeded Commodores.

Wild card: Butler faces a tossup opener with UTEP, but if the Bulldogs get to the Sweet Sixteen they could shock top-seeded Syracuse - especially if Arinze Onuaku's injury keeps him out.

Winner: Kansas State

East

Best first-round game: This regional features several matchups of like-minded teams, but Marquette and 11th-seeded Washington are really mirror images. Look for the Golden Eagles to play their fifth OT game in their last nine outings.

Upset special: Cornell leads the nation in 3-point shooting (43.8 percent), but here's why fifth-seeded Temple goes down: On Jan. 2, Kansas won at Temple by 32. Four days later, Cornell lost to Kansas by just 5.

Wild card: Wisconsin's precise offensive attack takes out Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. You read it here first.

Winner: West Virginia

South

Best first-round game: Saint Mary's shoots 41 percent on 3-pointers, while Richmond limits foes to 30 percent 3-point shooting. The 10th-seeded Gaels win in the end with superior rebounding.

Upset special: Here's a twofer. Siena shocked Vanderbilt in 2008, Ohio State in 2009 and will do the same to fourth-seeded Purdue on Friday (the Boilers would be Elite Eight material with Robbie Hummel). Utah State proves it belongs in the field by bouncing fifth-seeded Texas A&M with its 42 percent 3-point shooting.

Wild card: Baylor boasts Pomeroy's No. 5 offense and also features great interior defense led by Michigan transfer Epke Udoh.

Winner: Duke

Final Four

Kansas makes it 4-for-4 against Kansas State this season in the opener. Duke grinds out a 65-60 victory over Bob Huggins' first Final Four team in 18 years.

The Jayhawks then claim their second title in three years. Chicagoans Jon Scheyer and Sherron Collins compete like crazy, but Cole Aldrich's presence in the middle provides the tiny difference.

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