When packing for Illinois' trip to Austin, Texas, to play Colorado in Friday's NCAA tournament matchup, Illini coach John Groce will skip the cowboy hat and boots.
He cannot vouch for his wife, Allison.
"I'll leave that to her,'' Groce said Sunday night. "That's not my style.''
Groce grasps the first rule of the NCAA tournament: Be who you are.
That's the message 68 lucky coaches, from Groce to Notre Dame's Mike Brey to 20-loss Liberty's Dale Layer, will stress to their players this week as March Madness potentially changes their lives forever. Coaches who get teams to stay within their personalities amid the hoopla of the next three weeks will play the longest. Those who don't will have little need to pack more than a toothbrush and will return to campus quickly with a bad taste in their mouths.
"You've got to remind them what has gotten us to that point,'' Brey said.
Groce wouldn't be at Illinois if he didn't understand the immediate challenge Brey described. A year ago, Groce helped 13th-seeded Ohio block out any NCAA buzz and play with enough poise and confidence to get to the Sweet 16. A year later, making the tournament meets a goal Illinois players established the day they met Groce last spring. But if satisfaction seeps into the minds of Illini players, the toughness Groce knows they need trickles out.
"We can't be happy just to be in,'' Groce said. "You've got to be tough and have a desire to prepare and stay focused.''
Or in the case of teams styled like Notre Dame, stay loose. The Irish feed off the demeanor of the coach who leads the country in having fun. At his deflective best again after learning of the date Friday in Dayton, Ohio, against Iowa State, Brey kidded about the polite golf claps from businesslike players when "Notre Dame" flashed on the screen. He refused to get caught up in a No. 7 seed or the specter of Ohio State in the next round.
"You need to erase numbers next to names now,'' Brey said. "I told our guys, don't even look at those projections. We're honored to be in. I never want to take these days for granted.''
Is there a more suspenseful day in sports? Better than Super Bowl Sunday, opening day in baseball or the NFL draft? Butler or Bucknell?
Selection Sunday is the day we all claim to have majored in Bracketology. Over the next 21 days, expect to find out how many credits shy even most college basketball experts are from mastering this impossibly enjoyable course.
We will learn that Bryce Drew draws up instead of makes last-second shots now for Valparaiso, the Horizon League champ. That Marshall Henderson isn't a country music band from Mississippi but a rock star of a scoring guard nobody can stop. That there is a basketball team from Miami making history not named the Heat.
We will learn that MTSU isn't some new Twitter shorthand but a team from Tennessee likely to ruin your bracket. That Akron coach Keith Dambrot has done a lot with his career since coaching LeBron James in high school. That Georgetown's Otto Porter is one of those rare guys from the nation's capital who knows how to get things done.
We will learn why late Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus offered Billikens interim coach Jim Crews a spot on his staff 17 months ago when Crews was coaching an eighth-grade girls team. Why Doug McDermott of Creighton might become this year's D.J. Cooper of Ohio, the name Americans didn't recognize before Saint Patrick's Day but follow on their iPhones into April. Why the Pac-12 got so little respect from the committee and the SEC qualified so few teams (three). Why we still miss Gus Johnson's voice.
Mostly, we will learn if the Big Ten can live up to the hype.
If the conference doesn't send two of its seven teams to the Final Four, sportswriters will spend the entire weekend in Atlanta checking whether overrated is hyphenated. The bracket says Ohio State has the easiest path, but brackets lie. Wisconsin showed at the Big Ten tournament in Chicago never to underestimate a Bo Ryan team, but Gonzaga looms for the Badgers. Michigan? Talented but too young.
Michigan State and Indiana look like the Big Ten's most capable Final Four candidates, joining Georgetown and New Mexico in my bracket. The guess here is 7-footer Cody Zeller and his happy Hoosiers teammates will cut down the nets.
Indiana coach Tom Crean found new motivation in his team dropping to the No. 3 overall seed one day after losing to Wisconsin. Historically, the harder Crean pushes, the more the best offensive team in the country responds. It's just who they are.