In just one week, every college hoops fan in America will have a little jump in their step.
Selection Sunday will have come and passed, and the time will come for you to fill out your 2011 March Madness bracket. But before you put pen to paper and make things official, I would ask that you consider the following tips in order to keep your March-sanity.
Some of these tips are meant to help you succeed in your office pool, others are simply guidelines to keep you from losing the respect of your peers along the way.
*#1.*Â Please refrain from selecting a Final Four that consists of all No. 1 seeds. While this is a fool-proof way to guarantee at least one or two correct Final Four selections, itâ€™s also one of the quickest ways you can signal yourself as someone who doesnâ€™t know anything about college basketball.
In 2008, North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA and Memphis all advanced to the Final Four as No. 1 seeds. This was the only time in tournament history for this to occur, and every single wise guy in the country who selected all No. 1â€™s was rewarded mightily as a result. If you were one of those guys, congratulations for being â€œthat guy.â€
Like I said, this isnâ€™t an entirely horrible strategy, itâ€™s just cheesy.
*#2.*Â Donâ€™t be the guy who fills out like eight brackets. Not only does it make tracking the tournament nearly impossible, it gives you no gloryÂ if you pick a great upset in three of your brackets but miss it in the other five. Thereâ€™s nothing worse than the guy who brags, â€œDid you see that 13-seed take out the 4-seed earlier today? I totally had that â€¦ in at least one of my brackets.â€
Keep it simple. Fill out one bracket and stand behind it. Deal with the highs and lows of the choices you make. If you have a terrible year, oh well, maybe youâ€™ll rebound in 2012. Ultimately, you want to have a vested interest in certain teams, not wonder what each game means for all thirty of your brackets.
*#3.*Â Take note of how teams finish. Sure, itâ€™s understandable to have a 21-win team from the Big East going far in your bracket. But what if theyâ€™ve lost six of their last eight games? Hello, Villanova. Compare that with a 22-win Kansas State team that has won nine of its last 11. You look at the two on paper and you see both are from strong conferences with similar win-loss records. But wouldnâ€™t you agree that these two Wildcats are anything but alike at this point in the season? You want the teams that are trending upward, not the ones who stumbled across the finish line.
(Rising: Notre Dame, Kansas State, Florida, North Carolina, St. Johnâ€™s; Falling: Villanova, UConn, Georgetown, Virginia Tech)
#4.Â Take note of how dominant mid-major schools did against top-notch opposition throughout the year. Take Xavier for example: they ran wild in conference play with a 15-1 record, but against quality opponents outside of the Atlantic-10 the Musketeers struggled (blowout loss at Cincinnati, loss to Florida, loss at Gonzaga).
The year Stephen Curry and Davidson shocked the world by advancing to the Elite 8, the team had played an incredibly difficult non-conference schedule against the likes of North Carolina, Duke, NC State and UCLA in order to prepare themselves for the NCAA tournament.
Mid-majors to watch: Belmont, Utah State, St. Maryâ€™s and George Mason.
#5.Â My final thoughts on filling out your bracket next week are this:
Donâ€™t pick teams that rely too heavily on three-pointers, they will inevitably have a game where the deep shots arenâ€™t falling. Understand which conferences are strongest (Big East, Big XII) and which are down this year (SEC, Pac-10, ACC). That understanding will go a long way in anticipating which teams are more likely to make deep runs than others.
If you watch a decent amount of college basketball, you might be best to just go with your gut feeling. And if all else fails, dismiss everything I just said and just pick which mascots you like the best â€¦ or maybe find an octopus that will make the selections for you.
Who am I kidding? Itâ€™s March Madness time â€¦ anything goes.
Sports Editor Joel Hafnor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.