Time to fill in that bracket!
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
If you're a sports fan, the odds are pretty high by now that you've filled out an NCAA bracket. If your last name is Gretzky or Neuheisel, the odds are even higher.
Here are several important facts to keep in mind as you consider the nuances of Northwestern State and South Alabama.
Always pick a 12-5 upset: Seemingly every year, there is at least one of these upsets and often there is more than one. There's a good reason for this. The No. 12 seeds are almost always the conference champions of smaller school conferences, while the No. 5 is often a middle-of-the-road big conference team. This year, there are several tempting candidates for the upset. I'd stay away from Syracuse-Texas A&M, but Utah State, after hearing for days about how it doesn't even belong in this year's field, looks primed for the upset over a young Washington team and Montana could pull the shocker over Nevada.
Always have a No. 4 seed or lower in your Final Four: There is always some team who gets hot in March and runs all the way to the Final Four. Last year it was Louisville (No. 4 seed) and Michigan State (No. 5 seed). Who will it be this year? My favorite lower seeds who have a chance to get hot and also have a realistic path to Indy are Syracuse (No. 5 seed), Marquette (No. 7 seed), Michigan State (No. 6 seed) and Nevada (No. 5 seed).
The No. 1's and No. 2's are there for a reason. Pick one to win it all, but no more than two to make the Final Four: Two No. 1 seeds faced each other in the championship game last year and a No. 1 or No. 2 seed has won the whole thing 14 of the last 16 years. My opinion of the No. 1's, in order from strongest to weakest, is Villanova, Connecticut, Duke and Memphis. The No. 2's, in the same order: UCLA, Ohio State, Tennessee, Texas.
Take a geography lesson: It is advantageous to look at where the early rounds are being played. Usually a team will have a distinct advantage if it is near the site, such as Florida opening the tournament in Jacksonville. North Carolina is being shipped out to Dayton, which could be a factor, especially if it ends up facing Michigan State in the second round.
Avoid the temptation to pick the Upset of the Century: At a bare minimum, you should pick four games correctly on your bracket. A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed before, although some teams have come close. Hoops afficionados might remember Holy Cross giving Kansas a scare in the 2002 tournament, but usually these games are massacres. Go with the No. 1's, and usually the No. 2's. Just four No. 2 seeds have lost to No. 15 seeds since the field expanded to 64 in 1985. I know No. 15 Winthrop is becoming a trendy pick to beat No. 2 Tennessee, but I'm not buying it.
Top ranking doesn't mean a thing: Only four times has the team ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll at the end of the season gone on to win the national championship. Be wary of Duke, even if they were the last team to accomplish the feat back in 2001.
Repeats are rare: Duke won the tournament two years in a row from 1991-92 and nobody has done it since. Sorry, North Carolina.
The bridesmaid almost never dances two years in a row: Over the last 10 years, only once has a team lost the national championship game and made the Final Four the following year (That would be Kentucky, who lost to Arizona in the final in 1997 but won it all in 1998). Avoid Illinois.
The Missouri Valley Conference was good this year: This mid-major conference received four bids, the same number as the ACC. A conference doesn't get that many bids unless it's got some talented teams. Consider picking No. 7 seed Wichita State, No. 10 Northern Iowa, No. 11 Southern Illinois or No. 13 Bradley as one of your Cinderella teams.
Don't sweat it: You could spend hours doing research on Xavier's three-point shooting percentage and Belmont's record against Top-50 RPI teams, or you could pick your winners based on how much you like their uniforms. No way is perfect, and the tournament is so large that unpredictability is a given. Have fun with it.