Updated: March 20, 2014 at 8:28 am
DENVER — This is how you start a riot in an NBA locker room:
Break out a bracket. Sure enough, just as I slipped the blank sheet to Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur, the lobbyists infiltrated his locker space, school pride in tow.
"How far you got Baylor?" Quincy Miller wanted to know.
"North Carolina?" Ty Lawson hollered from across the room.
Aaron Brooks ducked over with his inquiry: "Where's Oregon at?"
"They're up here against BYU," Arthur said, pointing to the West Region of the NCAA Tournament. "They lost already. Sorry, they're done."
"Wowww," Brooks said, shooting a glance of disapproval. "You did that?"
He did that.
My man Darrell Arthur has the chops to do that. He actually won the bracket. Not an office pool, the Warren Buffet $1-billion shindig or a random online challenge.
Arthur won the real bracket. He's an NCAA champion, a member of the 2008 champs from Kansas. Along with Carolina's Lawson, Arthur was one of two national champs in the Nuggets locker room prior to Wednesday's game against the Pistons.
This assignment might be tougher than winning a title was: build the perfect bracket for The Gazette. The NCAA Tournament erupts today. "Let's do this," Arthur said.
Yes, let's do this. Here's how a bracket is done, according to a bracket champion.
The No. 1 seeds — Florida, Virginia, Arizona and Wichita State — will avoid the all-time upset. "I don't see a 16 seed beating a 1 seed — yet," Arthur said.
"Some day, it's going to happen. But I don't see it happening this year."
Stick with the chalk in these Thursday-Friday games, he advised. His early upsets are limited to Stanford over New Mexico ("They played a tougher schedule") and BYU over Oregon ("Just to make Aaron Brooks mad").
Take back all those mean things you say about Kansas, Buffs fans. Arthur likes Colorado to beat Pittsburgh. Alas, the road ends Saturday against Florida.
For a Kansas guy, Kentucky-Kansas State is the toughest pick. Old rivalries die hard. "I can't like either one of 'em," Arthur said. Forced to choose, he rolls with K-State.
"I won't be rooting for that game, though," he said.
On their national championship run in 2008, Arthur's Jayhawks withstood the brilliant Davidson squad led by Steph Curry in the Elite Eight.
"He was a monster," Arthur said. Yes, Nuggets fans would agree.
So how does he choose an upset special — such as Davidson — in his bracket?
"Try to see who's hot. Who shoots it well?" Arthur said. "That's a big thing, who can shoot the 3. The team that shoots well can become the Cinderella story."
With that mind, his bracket advice is to steer clear of teams that depend heavily on the 3-point shot. As the tournament moves forward, their shooting legs can wilt.
"That's happened with Duke before, a team with great shooters," Arthur said. "But you've got to have some interior guys, too."
After Arthur scraps my Zags in the third round — "Arizona's defense is crazy," he said — we're on to the Sweet 16. This is where the contenders separate from the cool stories. "The pressure goes up the further you play," he said. "Guys start to get tight."
In the Sweet 16, Arthur likes Arizona over Oklahoma, Wisconsin over Creighton, Louisville over Wichita State, Duke over Michigan, Villanova over Iowa State, Michigan State over Virginia, Florida over VCU and Kansas over Syracuse.
"When you go against that (Syracuse) zone, you just have to attack that middle," he said. "Once you attack that middle, everything else opens up."
As Arthur continued to study his bracket, the locker room continued its bracket trash talk. Lawson said his Tar Heels are a Sweet 16 team. Brooks said his Ducks are bound for the Final Four. Russia's Timofey Mozgov searched for goofy YouTube videos.
"Watch out for Baylor," Miller warned. "We're going to the Final Four."
Old allegiances die hard, too. Arthur's Final Four: Michigan State, Louisville, Arizona and, yes, Kansas. What's the secret to becoming an NCAA champion?
"You have to play defense. You have to lock up," Arthur said. "And you've got to have great possessions offensively. You can't waste possessions."
And the secret to a perfect bracket?
"It's a bunch of luck, honestly," he said with a laugh. "I had a bunch of teams last year that I felt great about. And then by the end of the first weekend, they're all at home."
Ignoring the bracket banter around his locker, Arthur settled on the 2014 national champion. He likes Kansas and Arizona in the title game. Kansas cuts the nets.
Rock, chalk it up.
The bracket champ has spoken.