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The Cliché Expert Gets Fired Up Over March Madness

Coach K

Mike Krzyzewski, coach at Duke, whose team generates more than a few well-worn descriptives

(In his heyday, Mr. Arbuthnot, the Cliché Expert, regularly graced the pages of The New Yorker, offering his two cents on the Silver Screen, the Great White Way, the National Pastime, and other arenas where catchphrases and bromides rule the roost. Although his wingman, Frank Sullivan, met his maker in 1976, Mr. Arbuthnot has improbably reappeared from time to time, including in the pages of The ChronicleWith the NCAA men’s basketball tournament set to begin, Mr. Arbuthnot is baaa-aaack.)

Q. Ah, Mr. Arbuthnot, long time, no talk. Can I get you a coffee, or maybe a Red Bull?

A. Naw, I’m good.

Q. Selection Sunday is just two days away. How do you break down the brackets?

A. No question, a lot of programs are on the bubble. If you come from a midmajor or minimajor and you want to punch your ticket to the big dance, your résumé, or should I say your body of work, needs to be filled out with signature victories in statement games against quality opponents. Cupcake schedules need not apply. And the committee likes road warriors. If a team ventured into unfriendly buildings, overcame referees’ home cooking—and the infamous “sixth man,” aka the crowd—and emerged with Ws, they’re looking to be in the tournament.

Q. In your view, what are the most important attributes for a team to have if it wants to advance to the Sweet 16 and beyond?

A. First, you need a difference-maker who can create, finish, play above the rim, and score the ball. A floor general at the point who can distribute, of course. You’ve got to have bigs with physicality and good length who can guard in the painted area and clean the glass. A straight-up shooter who can knock down trifectas in crunchtime, and a lock-down defender or two. And of course, blue-collar role players.

Q. Just how important is the coach?

A. Xs and Os can take you only so far. If a team is filled with thoroughbreds and lottery picks, sometimes Coach just has to roll the ball on the floor and let’ em play.

Q. Is officiating a factor?

A. The zebras should let ‘em play, too. Again, I like good no-calls; I don’t like ticky-tack touch fouls. But yet, when you get hacked, you should be able to step up to the charity stripe and stroke nothing but net.

Q. Let’s cut to the chase. Whom do you pick to do well in the tournament?

A. First of all, not Kentucky. This year, the one-and-doners are done. For the Final Four, Duke is definitely looking to be dancing. Even if they’re balling away from the Cameron Crazies, how can you bet against Coach K and his scholar-athletes? The Dookies play the right way and respect the game. Indiana will be there; Cody Zeller is on a mission to prove he’s not soft. Michigan has Hardaway Jr., who’s got a good basketball IQ and a good basketball pedigree. And last but not least, I’ve got those perennial Cinderellas, the Gonzaga Zags.

Q. And the winner?

A. The Zags will be cutting down the nets. They’ve got the best record in the country, don’t they? Ball don’t lie.

Q. That about covers it. Thank you, Mr. Arbuthnot.

A. Not a problem.

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