Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
According to a study done by Chicago-based consulting firm Challenger, Gray &Christmas, March Madness will account for about $1.1 billion in lost productivity among American businesses.
That number stands to go even higher now that CBS and the NCAA are teaming up to provide online streaming video of 56 of those 66 NCAA Tournament games. Of course, it's a whole lot more fun to watch those games if you have an interest in the teams who are playing. And what better way to build up that interest than to make your own bracket prediction?
After all, wouldn't it have been awesome last year to tell all your friends "I picked George Mason to make the Final Four!" (Of the 1.5 million-plus who played ESPN.com's online bracket prediction challenge, 1,853 picked George Mason to make the Final Four. Just 4 brackets correctly picked the Final Four of Florida, George Mason, LSU and UCLA.)
I don't know what kind of logic you'll use to fill out your bracket, or even if you'll use any logic at all. Here's just a few of the things I'm looking at as I fill out my bracket, however.
Take a geography lesson: If you're a top seed, don't worry, the NCAA Tournament will take care of you. But for everyone else, you're at the luck of the draw, and where a team plays can have a tremendous bearing on its outcome in the tournament. For example, even if Notre Dame makes it past upset-minded Winthrop, they might have to face Oregon in Spokane, Wash. Also consider that if the Big Ten No. 11 seed Illinois and No. 5 Virginia Tech both advance, the game will be in Columbus, Ohio (home of the Big Ten's Buckeyes), and No. 6 Louisville and No. 3 Texas A&M could meet in Lexington, Ky. Any "home court" advantage can be huge.
Find the 5-12 upset: There are few things that can be taken as a given when it comes to the NCAA Bracket. But one thing you can count on is there will almost certainly be a 5-12 upset game. It has occurred in 18 of the last 19 tournaments, with the only exception coming in 2000. In fact, last year there were two (Montana over Nevada and Texas A&M over Syracuse).
Right now, I'm probably looking at Long Beach State over Tennessee as my 5-12. The Vols cannot play on the road (3-10 in games played anywhere other than in the state of Tennessee) and teams who cannot win on the road usually do not do well in the NCAA Tournament. Plus, LBSU has an interesting subplot in the fact that its coach's contract expires after this season and there's no guarantee he'll be back next year – his players might want him to stick around as long as he can.
Leave the top three seeds alone: Yes, sometimes a No. 2 seed gets upset. And if you pick it, you get to brag forever. But the problem is those No. 2's also often end up Final Four contenders. Especially in pools that give a bonus based on games picked later in the tournament, it's just not worth it to try and pick the "Upset of the Century" and not only get it wrong, but then see the team you picked against go on to win the whole thing. (I did this in 2004, when I picked No. 3 Georgia Tech to go out in the first round to No. 14 Northern Iowa and Tech advanced to the championship game. Oops.)
Pick one of the Fantastic Four to win it all: Quick trivia question. What was the last team seeded less than No. 4 to win the NCAA title? Answer: You've got to go all the way back to 1988 (No. 6 Kansas). It just doesn't happen. Yes, there are upsets in the early rounds, but by the end of the day, the cream always rises to the top. Since 1990, a No. 1 has won the entire thing 12 times.
But don't pick them all: A Final Four has never consisted of all four No. 1 seeds. That wouldn't be March Madness now, would it?