Sun Mar 13 07:02pm EDT
The time when you spend hours agonizing over the numbers 1-16, looking up trends, comparing matchups, dissecting guard play and team defense all in hopes of winning that $50 NCAA tournament pool and becoming the envy of all your friends for the next year.
But while you're tossing around NCAA statistics sheets, flipping coins, throwing darts and consulting your local psychic, here are a couple other do's and don'ts you should consider as you're filling out your field of 68.
DON'T: Be afraid to pick teams from the same conference to go to the Final Four. In the past 26 seasons since the field expanded to 64 teams, 18 of those years have featured two teams from the same conference in the Final Four. Since 2000, it has happened eight times, but only once since 2006.
DO: Look for one of last year's Final Four teams to return to the Final Four again. Since 1985, 17 teams have been to Final Fours in back-to-back years, including each of the last four years -- Michigan State in 2010, '09; North Carolina in 2009, '08; UCLA 2008, '07, '06; Florida 2007, '06.
DO: Pay attention to the two above trends. Since the field expanded, at least one of those two trends has happened all but one year. Picking one of the two to occur -- or both -- is a pretty safe bet.
DON'T: Pick a team because you think the town in which it resides would be a nice place to live. Santa Barbara and Colorado might be fine and beautiful places, but UCSB and Northern Colorado are two of the weakest teams in the field.
DO: Listen to your significant other that doesn't know anything about basketball. Sure, their picks might sound crazy and they might like Wofford over BYU because it has a cooler mascot or prettier uniforms, but never underestimate the power of beginner's luck.
DON'T: Listen to your significant other who is a competitive basketball aficionado. They're not trying to help you, they're trying to sabotage you and your bracket so they can get all the glory and make fun of you later. And no, this isn't from a bitter, bitter personal experience.
DO: Find a German zoo animal to help you decide the 8/9 game and the 7/10 game. Paul the octopus and Heidi the cross-eyed possum didn't let the Germans down during the World Cup or the Oscars. Or you can do what last year's bracket champion Jake Johnson did -- have your guinea pig make your picks. Seriously.
DON'T: Sacrifice your entire bracket because a team played tough in its conference tournament. There are some teams that take the conference tournament seriously and some that would rather rest players in anticipation of the NCAA tournament. Just because UConn won five games in five days doesn't mean it will be able to cruise through the NCAA tournament the same way.
DO: Ignore the 16 seeds. Yeah, yeah you hear this every year, but this year won't be any different. No. 16 seeds are 0 for 104 in the tournament, and while some have made valiant efforts, there's very little reason to believe that UT-San Antonio, Alabama State, Boston University, Hampton, UNC-Asheville or Arkansas-Little Rock are going to start a new trend.
DON'T: Be tempted by the No. 15 seeds. Similar to 16 seeds, 15 seeds might be fun to look at, but they rarely pay off. No. 15's have only won four times since the conference field expanded to 64 in 1985.
DO: Look at the No. 12 seeds over the No. 5 this year because there are some pretty favorable matchups and the 12 seeds tend to make worthwhile runs. With the new play-in system, the winner of the Alabama-Birmingham-Clemson game could present a challenge to West Virginia. And you can't discount Memphis, Utah State and Richmond, all winners of their conference tournaments.
DON'T: Fall in love with AP-ranked teams. Since 1985, 41 teams started the season unranked and then went into the tournament ranked in the AP Top 10. Those teams, which were often seeded either No. 1 or No. 2, are 0-41 in Final Four appearances.
DO: Tell all your friends after you've finished your bracket how you think Akron could be the next Butler and how Villanova has just been misunderstood this season. Keep them on their toes, don't show them your hand and be sure to throw in something about "feeling really good about Belmont winning it all."
DON'T: Hesitate to give that Kansas-Boston University game a second look. I know this is contrary to the "never pick a No. 16" rule, but Kansas has a tumultuous history playing teams that start with the letter "B" in the first round. Kansas lost to Bradley and Bucknell in back-to-back seasons.