By Jason Stewart

It’s time to break out your brackets. Let the office pools begin!

The NCAA basketball tournament is here. Grab your best buds, head to a place with lots of big flat screen televisions and chicken wings. Bring a smile and some tissue. It’s going to be an emotional rollercoaster.  I’m going to help you fill out your brackets by sharing with you some tips on how to spot a winning team. There are a few details that I believe make all the difference in identifying a champion.

I’m told that legendary men’s basketball Coach John Wooden was asked, “Who is the best coach?” to which he answered, “The coach with the best players.” You don’t have to be a basketball prophet to understand that you need players with unique talent, size and athleticism when you go to the big dance. You don’t have to have an all NBA potential roster, but it helps.

Take a look at the coach as well. What coaching tree do they come from? Do they have a reputation for being a great leader of young people as well as being intelligent in their strategy? Sometimes how a team acts in adversity late in the regular season can be an indicator of leadership. Great college teams keep leads. They know how to stop an opponent’s momentum and their coach knows how to help them turn tough situations in their favor through strategy and emotion management. You must have talent that can do what others don’t understand or simply can’t do.

Perhaps the most underrated quality of a championship college team is chemistry. This quality is cultivated and grown by expert coaches. It starts in the preseason and continues everyday in practice. It happens during off-court activities and in decisions away from campus.

How can you spot chemistry? When watching a team on television, notice if there’s a leader or two who pulls the team together in a huddle without the coach’s prompting. When a teammate falls down, do the others run to pick him up? Notice the players on the bench. Are they into the game, cheering and genuinely happy even though they are not on the court at the time? Let’s not forget chemistry between coach and players. Have you noticed the coach that started the season fussing and being demonstrative toward his players, but now is having calm discussions with his players on the side, actually getting their input? These are the signs of “TRUST.” Chemistry cannot be complete without trust. This leads us to our final ingredient for now, True Grit.

True Grit
When you fill out your Final Four bracket, don’t just pick teams that you like because they have highly touted individuals. You’ve got to identify teams that have tough-minded players and coaches. Teams that know how to stay disciplined and patient, sticking with the game plan, fighting throughout the match with intensity when the odds don’t look good for them.

You must pick a team that can win in different ways.  Look for teams that can fastbreak as well as grind out the slower tempo of a half court focused game. There’s a level of physicality and toughness that will be required. Are you picking a team that has lost big leads throughout the season?  How many points does your favorite team get from turnovers? The answer to this question will give you an indication of how frustrating their defense can be. How many points does your favorite team get at the free-throw line? This answer may indicate how physically tough they are.

Finally, in close games, you’ve got to have at least one or two players who you know can rise above the pack and make an unscripted game winning clutch play. In every championship run, someone steps up and makes an unpredictable play that changes the game and delivers the win.

Don’t forget
As you begin to fill out your brackets this year, think about these three qualities. It may just help you gain some status at the office as the basketball guru. Of course this article is for entertainment purpose only, but if you do win after taking some of my advice, I only ask for some credit and maybe lunch.

Happy Marching and enjoy!

Jason Stewart can be reached through his website at or by email at