Tue, June 18

Eight perfectly sane tips for filling out your March Madness bracket

Arizona’s Allonzo Trier reacts after a play against UCLA during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 men’s tournament in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Arizona’s Allonzo Trier reacts after a play against UCLA during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 men’s tournament in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

It’s that time of the year when office productivity drops like a clutch buzzer beater.

According to the American Gaming Association, Americans fill out 70 million men’s Division I basketball tournament brackets.

Although it seems like the bracket that was picked based on the mascot or the colors always wins, this year is your year.

Here’s a little guide on how to pick ‘em but in case you want to fill out a bracket not based on mascots.

Don’t be a homer

It seems weird to pick against teams you root for but that’s usually not the best way to win.

Don’t go against what you believe, but don’t pick your favorite team to go far unless you truly think they will. If you pick with you head and not your heart then the worse case scenario is your team goes further than you expected and that’s fun.

If you just blindly advance the team you like and they lose then you’re burned twice.

Chalk is OK

There’s a certain stigma about picking the favorites but that kind of thinking can lead to trouble.

If you fill out your bracket and feel there must be a certain amount of upsets then you’re not picking who you really think will win. Upsets are upsets because they upset the status quo. Picking too many is a good way to get burned.

The tournament is a new start

Much will be made of teams limping into the tournament but that’s not necessarily a deal breaker.

Many times teams come into the tournament with records like 4-6 in their last 10 games or having lost early in the conference tournament. Pundits will often say those teams are vulnerable but remember the NCAA tournament is a different beast.

Teams play their conference mates less nowadays, but there is still a lot of similarity, so it’s a different situation when they play a team they haven’t seen in the neutral Big Dance. Plus teams that lost early in the conference tournament get more rest.

However a team in free fall isn’t a smart pick and since the tournament expanded to 64 teams, no team has ever won the national title after losing their first game of their conference tournament.

Do your homework

It’s hard to watch enough basketball games during the regular season to feel comfortable with your picks and obviously it’s too late to watch intriguing mid majors this season before the tournament so leave that to the experts.

College basketball analysts’ job is to know about those overlooked teams and know how each team plays. A lot of the games are determined by the match ups.

A team might be a high seed but if they don’t defend the 3 well and they face a team that’s really good at shooting 3s, they could toast.

Just make sure you’re watching or reading content from good analysts. Some are more style than substances, like Dick Vitale BABY!!!

Location, location, location

When you’re picking teams, be aware of where the game is.

Last year who would’ve thought that No. 7 South Carolina would upset No. 2 Duke, the ACC tournament champions? However after North Carolina’s bathroom troubles, Greensboro, N.C. lost the NCAA tournament and it went to Greenville, S.C. and the Gamecocks got a near home court advantage.

Duke and North Carolina usually get to play in their home state in the first two rounds.

It’s not just the obvious home court advantages like Tennessee getting to play in Nashville that you should consider.

Each first and second round site has two pods (mini tournaments that feed into the Sweet 16). At the beginning of the tournament teams from the same conference don’t play each other except in extreme cases but they can certainly travel together.

So North Carolina and Virginia could play together in Charlotte and their fans will cheer for each other, doubling their fan base. However North Carolina fans will cheer for the underdog if they travel with Duke.

Pay attention to the seeds

A piece like this would be negligent if it didn’t mention that a 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1.

A 12 seed beating a five seed is pretty much inevitable. According to the NCAA, No. 4 seeds have won 80 percent against 13s, while five seeds have won 64 percent versus No. 12.

Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 15 seeds have only beaten No. 2s eight times. However, half of those have come in the 2010s and in 2012 it happened twice.

The big fish are the most important

Most of the focus on brackets is upsets and the first couple of rounds but pools are won at the end.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget but it is a tournament and the winners are most important of course. Don’t waste time researching directional schools who might get one win or two if you haven’t nailed down your champion.

Picking the Final Four and the national champion adds way more points to your bracket than doing well on Thursday or Friday of the first week. If you pick the champion, it just keeps paying off and adding points to your total.

Don’t worship No. 1 seeds

Although much of this piece has previously mentioned things like “chalk is okay” and “the big fish are most important” you also must be wary of putting too much stock on the top seeds.

Yes, they are 132-0 against No. 16 seeds, but they’ve lost 18 times in the second round (since 1985). That’s over half the time.

Although the bracket is set up so that they should all meet in the Final Four, only in 2008 have all four No. 1s made the Final Four. Only seven times since the expansion has the national title game been one against one.

You can dive very deep into picking your bracket – like did you know blue is the winningest color and they’ve won 21 national titles compared to seven for red, three for orange, one for green and yellow and zero for everyone else — but don’t go too mad this March, just have fun and bracket responsibly.