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The annual NCAA men’s basketball tournament was long ago dubbed March Madness, and it rarely fails to live up to that alliterative moniker — in the first two rounds, at least. There, chaos is the order of the day, with upsets and near-upsets, David and Goliath stories played and replayed until you can’t help but get caught up in the excitement. But once the big dance of 65 teams shrinks to the Sweet 16, there’s usually a severe drop-off in attitude and energy. And that’s when the tournament begins to retain a certain amount of order.

When all is said and done, though, the tournament champion is a team that most people thought had a better-than-average chance of winning from the very beginning. Meaning, it’s not very surprising and has little to do with March Madness.

The key for you, amateur handicapper and wannabe winner of your NCAA tourney office pool, is to navigate these dangerous waters early on, picking up as many points as possible. This is all a long way off, you say, pointing out that you still have a month or so to watch as much college basketball as possible so you can choose your teams wisely. Here’s some advice: Don’t. It will only distract you. Winning your pool will still take a bit of due diligence on your part — checking for injuries to star players and so on — but all you really need to do is follow a few simple rules and trust your gut.
— Zac Crain

-Don’t sweat the play-in game. Not long ago, the NCAA decided, for whatever reason, to expand the field to 65 teams, with two of those squads facing off before the tournament officially begins. Flip a coin. It just doesn’t matter.

-Don’t sweat the games pitting the No. 8 seeds against the No. 9 seeds. Again, this is generally a coin flip.

-Don’t be sucked in by your alma mater. They will only disappoint you. Unless, of course, you happen to have gone to Duke or North Carolina. In that case, you’ll probably be okay.

-Speaking of, don’t necessarily pick Duke to win it all. They’ve had, like, one bad season in almost three decades, and almost always make it into the Final Four. But don’t count on them winning once they get there.

-Fear the underdog that everyone loves so much that they cease to be an underdog. Two years ago, I fell in love with the Gonzaga Bulldogs and picked them to go far in the tournament. I may have even penciled them in as a Final Four team. They lost in the second round.

-No. 3 vs. No. 14 is another spot where upsets happen. Be mindful of this. If any of the aforementioned teams are involved, proceed with caution.

- Always pick a No. 12 seed to upset a No. 5 seed. Always. This happens almost every year. It’s a statistical quirk that has ceased to be anomalous because it is so consistent. How to decide which No. 5 will go down? If Florida, Kansas, Indiana, or Syracuse is involved, simply pick one of them. Yes, they’ve all either won a national championship or come very close. But they’ve also all been toppled in the first round by inferior teams.

-Do not, under any circumstances, pick all four No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four. This never happens. Don’t be stupid. It’s like using 1-2-3-4 as your computer password.