A guide to the Madness: Bracketology 101

It’s time.

“March Madness” is everything it sounds like, and then some. Thursday marks the beginning of the greatest playoff system in sports, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.

Before you start feverishly scribbling down your selections, there are a few things you must know to give yourself an edge at getting those coveted bragging rights around campus (and maybe a few bucks).

If you’ve watched even a few college hoop games this season or checked the box scores once in a while, then you know who the top dogs are. So if there is a team from each quadrant that you think will head to the Final Four or Elite Eight, put them there first before filling out the rest. This will prevent you from talking yourself out of your picks when filling it out solely round-by-round.

Perhaps the best piece of advice I could give someone filling out a bracket is not to overthink it. Anyone who has done it in the past has had those moments where you wished you didn’t change a game at the last minute. To avoid that, when you have it entirely filled out, just stop and come back to it later on.

If you ever find yourself in a position where you are analyzing South Dakota State’s fourth-quarter score differential or Montana’s field goal percentage against opposing point guards, just stop and proceed to slap yourself in the face.  Sure these things could matter in the tiniest ways, but more often than not you are wasting your time.

The next best piece of advice I could give has to be to go with your gut. If you have an inkling of who might win the 7-10 or 6-11 matchup, go with it because there’s probably a reason you feel that way. Just because a team is seeded 11th or even higher doesn’t mean they won’t win the game.

However, it doesn’t stop here. There are a few trends in the NCAA Tournament that occur way too often to be ignored.

Look particularly at the 5-12 matchups. If you don’t have at least one No. 12 seed upsetting a No. 5 seed, you aren't done. Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the No. 12 seed has pulled the upset 38 times in those 27 years. South Florida and VCU both completed the task last year.

The 5-12 upset is becoming relatively well known and has become more of a rule than an exception. As a result, you need at least one in your bracket; it’s just a matter of which (Hint: Oregon).

Another interesting trend to look at is the now five-year streak in which a No. 13 seed has beaten a No. 4 seed.  Last year’s version was the Ohio Bobcats, who stunned the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines.  It’s a risky move to pick one, but it’s another trend that must at least be considered.

From here, look at your Final Four.  If you see you have all No. 1 seeds advancing, you have done something wrong. Since the tournament went to its current format, only once have all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four (2008).  Don’t be the amateur that submits that bracket.

Another thing: don’t fully listen to anyone on television or online. They know as much as you and I do. They all try to tell you who will be this year’s Cinderella team and be the next double-digit seed in the Elite Eight or Final Four. None of them are ever right. If you have your own version of the Jim Larranaga’s 2006 George Mason Patriots or Shaka Smart’s 2011 VCU Rams, then by all means roll with it; you may just be right.

VCU, might I add, defeated Kansas to advance to the Final Four in 2011:

The worst thing you could do to yourself is try to be a hero and pick the first 16-seed to ever win a game over a No. 1 seed.  Just don’t do it.  Anyone that has to this point has looked like a complete and utter idiot and had their bracket basically eliminated before the Round of 32. So don’t go there.

Let’s face it, the odds of any of us getting a perfect bracket are next to none, so if you don’t get one, don’t sweat it; neither does anyone else.  Now all that’s left is for the tournament to play itself out and for us to hope for the best.

You’re ready to go.

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