And then there were four.
We're down to the nitty and the gritty, and for most of the Hardcourt Challenge participants, the odds of winning it all aren't pretty. To those of you who are near the top of the leaderboard, I tip my hat to you, and wish you well in this final round of play. Clearly, you don't need my help in making your selections for the final three games of the tournament. However, for the majority of players who find themselves a few Wilt Chamberlain-esque performances behind the highest-scoring entries, there's still reason for hope. After all, there is still a prize to be won by getting the highest score in Week 3 of play, and since we're right there in that boat with you, we're going to search those buckets with a fine-tooth comb in the hopes of uncovering a life jacket or two.
Let's look at this logically. There are only four players left in each bucket. Four buckets have two Huskies and two Spartans. Four buckets have two Wildcats and two Tar Heels. Generally speaking, these four teams aren't going to play any different in this final weekend than they have previously in the tournament. These are the cream of the crop, and they've gotten this far playing a particular style of basketball. While certainly an unsung hero might step up and go nuts for a half, the odds are that the players who have performed well so far will continue to do so, and the benchwarmers will continue to keep those seat cushions at a nice warm temperature.
In addition, we're going to operate under the assumption that, with so few possible combinations remaining, each and every possible lineup will be selected by someone. So we're not going to be able to find that sleeper pick that nobody else has taken a chance on. We simply need to maximize our chances at having the top lineup combination and hope we're right. To that end, we're going to divide the buckets into two groups: those with a "runaway leader" and those without such a performer.
In both of these buckets, whether or not the Huskies win against the Spartans, the fact is that two games of Spartans stats should not equal the one-game total for either Price or Robinson. That means that even if you think Michigan State will win this game, it behooves you to select these runaway leaders, because the odds are that they will each be the best option, even if they play only once this weekend.
The rest of the buckets
Buckets 1 and 7: If you think UConn wins, you go with Jeff Adrien and Craig Austrie. If you think Michigan State wins, you go with Goran Suton and Durrell Summers. You want two games from whomever you select, so pick a team and run with it. And don't overthink it. Yes, Kalin Lucas might outperform Suton, but on average, he hasn't done it so far in this tournament. Don't go looking to make a pick because it might just pan out. Someone else will have gone down that road ahead of you. Go with the percentages on the individual performers and hope you picked the right team to make it to Monday.
Similarly, in the even-numbered buckets, you want to go all North Carolina or all Villanova. Don't hedge, because at two games to one, odds are you won't win if you do. Let's work our way backward
Bucket 4: Dwayne Anderson for the Wildcat fans. I'll give UNC fans a choice here. The spread between Wayne Ellington and Danny Green isn't that large, and Green's been hot of late. I'd still prefer Ellington, but I won't argue if you decide to think Green.
Bucket 2: Dante Cunningham is the choice for Villanova. Again, though, there's a decision to be made for Tar Heels fans. Ty Lawson does run the show, but with the size advantage UNC has over the Villanova lineup, it wouldn't be surprising to see Tyler Hansbrough make up the difference against the Wildcats. The only question would be, assuming UNC wins, whether or not a potential matchup with Mr. Hasheem Thabeet in the finals (assuming UConn also wins) would tip the scales back to Lawson. Again, this decision comes down to the teams you think will win, and not the individuals involved.
Well, that's my best advice to you. Put your money where your brackets are. With the two exceptions noted above, whoever you think plays in the championship game, that's who you should pick to earn you the most Hardcourt Challenge points. But if you don't agree with me, that's fine, too. Just be sure to make your picks before the games tip off Saturday, or forever hold your peace. It's been a great college hoops season, and a fun tournament to watch. I hope you've all enjoyed playing Hardcourt Challenge, and I wish you all the best of luck in the final three games of the season. Namaste!
AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.