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March Madness Bracket Strategy: Do You Make Picks Based On Mascot, Geography Or Stats?

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If the NCAA or the person collecting money in your office pool ever wanted to raise bracket awareness then they might try a public service announcement with the slogan "The Less You Know."

Flipping the message of those ads that began airing on NBC in 1989, this slogan points out the essential truth that no basketball knowledge is required to fill out a March Madness bracket. Of course, if you do follow college hoops and want to apply your knowledge of the field of 68 to your choices then you're more than welcome to do so. Just don't believe that gives you much an advantage when it comes to winning your office pool.

For those of you who have managed to avoid jumping in the office pool this long, here are a dozen last-minute strategies you could deploy to fill out your 2013 NCAA Tournament bracket with plenty of time to spare before the wall-to-wall action begins on Thursday afternoon.

Mascots & Nicknames: LIU Brooklyn did not last long in the NCAA Tournament, losing in the First Four. Is this because of the team's relative lack of basketball talent or because the team's nickname is the Blackbirds? If you think this question is a toss-up then this is the bracketeering process for you. Rather than worrying about the abilities of the players on the court in any given game, focus your attention on the mascots that will be prowling the sidelines. Does a brown bear beat a gopher in the woods? Then you just picked UCLA to eliminate Minnesota in the second round. With so many teams sporting animal nicknames and mascots, anyone who watches Animal Planet can cruise through a bracket with as much ease of someone stuck on ESPN. Of course, things can get tricky when mythical creatures and/or forces of nature enter the picture. What exactly is a Blue Devil and how might it fend off the Flames? It is up to each mascotologist to determine his or her own pecking order of natural and supernatural phenomena. Another choice facing those opting to pick winners based on team nicknames relates the valuation of historical figures and warriors from various cultures. Ever wonder what would happen if a Crusader ran afoul of a Spartan? If so, tune in for the first round game between Michigan State and Valparaiso.

Narcissism: Like most things in this wide world of yours, the bracket is all about you. Rather than pay attention to the seeds assigned by the NCAA selection committee or the fierceness of the teams' mascots, focus on how the teams in the field of 68 relate to you and yours. Does the college that was lucky enough to have you attend have a hoops team that reached the Big Dance? If so, advance it at least a few rounds. Did you grow up near a university with a basketball team in the field of 68? Well, that probably makes them good enough for a Sweet 16 spot. Schools fortunate enough to have associations with people associated with you should be picked whenever possible. Love "Tommy Boy" with Chris Farley? That's a fine reason to send Marquette to the Elite Eight. If you happen to come across a matchup with no connection whatsoever to your life then simply trust your first reaction. Needless to say, you're probably right.

Star Power: Former Chicago Bulls center and two-time NBA champion Bill Wennington once said "With a guy like Michael, we were the rare team that could get away with not being at our best for most of a game and still beat a good team by 15.” To sum up, it helps to have the best player on the floor when it comes time to close out a basketball game. While MJ hasn't played in the NCAA Tournament since 1984, talent is still as effective now as it was when the shorts were short. If you believe that the best players win the biggest games then perhaps Nate Wolters' South Dakota State is the underdog for you. In a star powered bracket, Otto Porter, perhaps the most complete player in the tournament, would likely take No. 2 seed Georgetown on a Final Four run. By this logic, Indiana's individual offensive talents might also trump the team-oriented defense of odds-on favorite Louisville in a potential championship matchup.

Location: The old real estate adage about the three most important things being "location, location location" can be applied to your bracket. When in doubt, select the team playing closer to home. With teams needing six wins spread over about three weeks and three cities, the team that travels least may have an advantage. Of course, the selection committee often rewards top teams with favorable travel itineraries. Either way, home may be where the wins are in March.

Uniform Color: Red and yellow are two of the three primary colors. Syracuse is Orange. Blue is the third primary color according to basic color theory. It is also the hue worn by the last nine NCAA Tournament winners: Kentucky, UConn, Duke, UNC, Kansas, Florida, Florida, UNC, UConn. Before that? The winner was the Orange of Syracuse. Whether or not you believe that a certain color uniform correlates to higher performance, picking winners based on the color of a team's gear gives you an opportunity to count out Notre Dame over those neon mint outfits.

Hot Or Not? 13 of the NCAA champions since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 won their conference tournaments before arriving for the Big Dance. Those teams were hot coming in and didn't cool off until after the nets were cut down. If momentum is going to be the driving force in your bracket picks then watch out for Davidson, Gonzaga, Louisville and Ohio State. Bucknell (8 wins in a row) and Pacific (7) could also be the upset picks for you.

Coaches: As the last few guys who have attempted to coach Deron Williams can attest, the NBA has fully become a players' league. But the college game still belongs to the coaches. They pull down the biggest paychecks and have the greatest say in the year-to-year success of a program. Even if you haven't watched a college hoops game all season (or decade), you're likely still familiar with Coach K, Rick Pitino, Tom Izzo, Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim. Trust in the top coaches and when it comes time to fill out your bracket, heed the words of John Wooden: "Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do." You may not know Cody Zeller from Tom Zeller but you can still fill out your bracket.

Statistics: Whether or not you believed in Nate Silver all along or were just swayed by his work on the 2012 election, this data-driven bracket strategy is worth a look. For starters, Silver published a forecast for the tournament, complete with a list of the 10 teams with the best chance of winning. For those looking to take a deeper dive into the world of advanced basketball statistics then visit Kenpom.com, the website of Ken Pomeroy. A meteorologist by trade, Pomeroy is the preeminent college basketball statistician.

The What-If-Then Conspiracy Bracket: Are you convinced that the NCAA selection committee conspired with the television networks to create promotable matchups in each round (and perhaps screw your favorite team)? If you're into conspiracy theories then this maybe the bracket philosophy for you. In fact, if you're in to "If ... then" statements then this is definitely the way to go. For example, If North Carolina and Kansas both win their second round games, then Roy Williams will face his former school and the coach who replaced him. Did the committee do this on purpose? Did Ole Miss land Wisconsin just so the committee could see the Badgers' defense shut up Marshall Henderson? Remember, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that the selection committee didn't screw Oregon. If someone would have used the If-Then bracket strategy in 2012 then they would very likely have worked toward that Bluegrass Battle in the national semifinal.

Narrative: It's often said that things like backcourt play or defense are the most important elements for March success, but never underestimate the importance of a compelling story. Whether it's underdog heroes or blue blood villains (in Duke uniforms), the NCAA bracket sure seems to love teams who make for good copy and elicit strong emotional reactions from fans. In 2012, the won-and-done Kentucky Wildcats rolled to New Orleans as the embodiment of the best and worst of the modern college game. Love them or hate them, that narrative sure seemed to be significant. In 2011, the UConn Huskies' win was a triumph for "momentum." If you're filling out the bracket with an eye toward teams ready for their CBS-produced montage -- complete with Gumbel's voiceover -- then you'll want to advance Saint Louis deep into the tournament. In a season devoid of a dominant force like Kentucky, the tug-at-your-heartstrings tale of the No. 4 Billikens in the Midwest Region will garner plenty of attention. Saint Louis was coached by Rick Majerus when it reached the 2012 NCAA Tournament. The colorful court tactician left the team before the start of this season due to health problems and passed away in December at age 64. Under former assistant Jim Crews, Saint Louis has won 24 of 27 games since Majerus' passing. While the Billikens hardly hold the only touching story in the field of 68 (go check out Kansas' Ben McLemore for another), this is one that you may hear plenty about.

Experience: If you believe that youth is wasted on the young and the Kentucky Wildcats then perhaps you want to fill out your bracket based on the presence of veteran players on the competing teams. The Kansas Jayhawks, as mercurial a No. 1 seed as you'll find in the field, boasts four starters who are seniors. The No. 1 overall seed Louisville Cardinals entrust the ball to senior point guard Peyton Siva in big moments and rely on juniors Russ Smith and Gorgui Deng. On the other side of the age spectrum, four of the five players getting the most minutes for Michigan are (very talented) underclassmen. Looking for an experienced underdog? How about No. 8 seed Colorado State? The Rams' starting five consists entirely of seniors. Valparaiso is another would-be Cinderella stocked with veteran players, including five senior starters.

Chalk: When in doubt, just pick the "better" team. Advance all four No. 1 seeds to the Final Four and then make your picks (perhaps with some help from one of the theories above) from there. It may be boring but it won't take long and you'll still end with three of the same Final Four teams as Nate Silver as well as three of the four teams at the top of the list produced by the log5 calculations at KenPom.

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