(Missouri Basketball App) -- Day one is in the books. I'll acknowledge that it's called round two now, but not by any fan I know. Thursday is day one. It is the beginning of the chaotic cycle of joy and despair that is the latter half of March. It's the mad race to hook up as many TV's as is humanly possible, or get to the nearest sports bar and vie for a good seat. But much like waiting in line for the roller coaster, you may hear the screams, enjoy the sights and dance with anticipation, but until your car tumbles down that first slope, until your team tips off for their first matchup, your ride really hasn't begun.
To survive the ride, there are a few guidelines both teams and fans must follow. I have devised what I believe three helpful tips. You may ask for my qualification to give such advice, but I challenge you to find someone who has spent more time overanalyzing the NCAA tournament than a male in his twenties.
1. Follow the two rules of the three-minute mark.
Simply put, the three-minute mark has proven to be a fantastic gauge for the legitimacy of major upsets and comeback efforts alike. If a team is clawing its way back into the contest, the need to close the gap to under ten points with three minutes to play. With three minutes to go, the leading team can essentially kill the game with four long possessions even if they don't score if they have a four-possession lead. Making it a three possession game allows the team coming from behind a mathematical chance. It also allows the rallying team to play defense without fouling as long as they are able to score. It can be done in another fashion, but as a general guideline, nine points is a lot more doable in three minutes than 11. See: Missouri's comeback against Kansas in 2009.
The other instance where the three minute mark is useful is when gauging an upset threat. Many a 16, 15, 14 seed have been giving a team a run, exciting the crowd, nurturing hope, only to fall off in that stretch between five minutes to go and three minutes to go. If the game is still back and forth at the three minute mark, the lower seeded team can run on adrenaline for the home stretch. Most often, the underdog just runs out of gas, or gets figured out. Once it's under three minutes, it's all wild energy. Plus, if the favorite hasn't figured them out by then, it's not going to happen. It also is the point where the threat of loss becomes real for the Goliath's. Suddenly the game is at a point measured in possessions, not minutes; and the pressure to make each one count can be too much. Similarly, there's no reason to panic if your team is getting challenged by, say, Norfolk State until this time. Almost always, better talent will assert itself.
2. Live and die with coaching.
There's a reason guys like Tom Izzo, Coach K, and Bill Self are household names. They are great generals of the game. Sure, their success is aided by their ease with which they can draw top talent, but there's no greater equalizer than the big dance. Anything can happen in the tournament if you let it, and these guys don't let it. They know how to handle the toughest situations. They know how to run inbounds plays.
They know when to take timeouts. UNLV clawed its way back against CU, but in the end, they had no guidance. They were out of timeouts, never ran a cohesive inbounds play, and each possession was an exercise in panicked desperation. In the end, the guys on the court are between 18 and 23. They are young, emotional, and have the weight of millions of eyes on them. They need a steady hand to manage the game, and recognize when the other team doesn't have one.
3. Keep calm and carry on.
The biggest demon when the game is sliding is the one within. Once players succumb to the despair, fear, or panic, there's almost no coming back. Everyone must remain calm. BYU was down 25 points, UNLV was down 20. Both teams just kept playing steady. Keep playing defense, don't foul out of frustration, and run effective plays, even if they take longer than you would like. UNLV was able to fight their fear long enough to draw within two points, but at the first sign of that comeback slipping away, they couldn't last any longer. Like with most chaotic situations, the party that thinks clearly tends to survive. Stay with what works and more often than not, it will. Then forget what just happened, because you have another game in a a few days.
So rest up from day one. The real ride begins tomorrow.